Rita Hester, a black transgender woman, was brutally murdered in her United States apartment in 1998. Her death became one of the catalysts behind the International Transgender Day of Remembrance held every November 20. The day memorializes members of the transgender community who have lost their lives to acts of violence caused by transphobia.

On 2020’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, Ecuador’s transgender community organized its first-ever National Trans March which was celebrated in cities across the country. La Red Comunitaria Trans (the Trans Community Network), based in Guayaquil, was in charge of organizing the march. Pachaqueer, one of the participating collectives, sent out a press release explaining the importance of the march:

#marchamostrans (We walk as trans) against culture and pølitics because ##estamoshartas (We’ve had enough) øf the LGBTIQ+ elites and cønservatism. we march tø claim spaces where trans peøple can be recøgnized starting with the autønømy øf øur existence. we march in memøry øf øur dead and in resistance før øur bødies.

The first National Trans March of Ecuador, November 20, 2020. Photo by Andrea Romero, used with permission.

Coca and Mota, both founders and managers of Pachaqueer, spoke with Global Voices on Zoom.

Carlos E. Flores (CF): What was the objective and political agenda for the first National Trans March in Ecuador?

Coca (C): We organized the march on our own with the community mainly because we are fed up, we are tired of the social debt, of the State debt, of the commodification of the struggle of trans people. Since the decriminalization [of homosexuality] in Ecuador 23 years ago, we are no longer being arrested simply because we exist, but there is still social discrimination and criminalization in the streets against the female trans body.

During all this time, the elites or the leaders that have fought for the LGTBI in our country only have profited from the deaths of trans people, from the needs of the trans population. We feel that we have reached a point where we no longer want to dialogue with these organizations, because we feel instrumentalized, despite the fact that the fight for the decriminalization [of homosexuality] in the country was led by trans people. And, ironically, it is this same population that has been left behind throughout history […].

The first National Trans March of Ecuador, November 20, 2020. Photo by Andrea Romero, used with permission.

CF: What concrete demands did you make to the State with this march?

C: Well, our demands are countless. For example, the introduction of a quota on trans labor within the Labor Code, guarantees and rights for children and adolescents, free access to hormonal procedures, inhibitors for trans adolescents, rights for trans adults and older adults, rights for sex workers […] These are the ones that mainly pushed us to take action against the State.

Also, the compensation for our fellow trans people who were murdered during the 1980s and 90s under the dictatorship of León Febres Cordero, when homosexuality was criminalized and when [Article] 516 [of the then Criminal Code] allowed the persecution of trans people and transexuals in the streets, where they were murdered, forcibly disappeared, and tortured.

Now a lawsuit was filed about a year and a half ago with the prosecutor’s office, with the State, for cases against humanity. The lawsuit is still pending, so the march was an opportunity to create some pressure. The same police who were responsible for all of the abuses against the transgender population, they are now retired and they have economic stability, while our sisters, our champions of decriminalization, are fewer and fewer, and they are in a state of absolute precariousness, they are forgotten. So [the march] is also an invitation to remember and to demand visibility.

La primera Marcha Nacional Trans de Ecuador, 20 de noviembre 2020. Foto de Andrea Romero, utilizada con permiso.

CF: When you talk about compensation, what are you referring to?

Mota (M): The main compensation is that the State recognizes that there were cases of torture, murder and forced disappearances carried out by the national police, in complicity with the State, against the transgender population and against the LGBTI population. This would be the minimum, to get the recognition of the State.

From there, there are obviously other types of compensation, such as economic compensation and social security compensation, for example. It is an ongoing process for the people who were victims of the aggressions at that time. There is a long list of people, but the list is getting shorter over time; as we are waiting for justice to be made, unfortunately, trans women continue to be killed.

CF: Finally, do you know what the situation is like for trans people in prisons in Ecuador?

M: We receive regular information from the Trans Community Network, which works closely with trans women who have been deprived of their liberty and also with transmigrant women. Unfortunately, as we said at the beginning of the interview, there is a monopoly of organizations, not only in Ecuador but throughout the region, that place themselves as pro-LGBTI or pro-trans federations, but they only make profits on the deaths of people and they only gather information that is publicly available. But they do not go beyond that, in other words, they do not follow up on the issue of compensation and justice. That’s one thing.

The second thing is, of course, the prison system in the country fails tremendously in terms of equality, respect for gender, and recognition of transgender identity. Unfortunately, trans women are sent to men’s prisons, which is where they transit. Many of them even have to put a stop to their transition or they somehow have look for ways to start their transition while being locked up and deprived of their liberty. It is humiliating for a trans woman to have to go to a men’s prison. It is humiliating. It is also exposing us once again to two, three, four times as much vulnerability, because we are going to be subject to rape, humiliation, and countless other abuses because of our gender identity.