How a trans woman from Venezuela is fostering inclusion in Colombia
“It’s important to support the LGBTQ+ community because, as human beings, we should have the same responsibilities and rights. The more inclusion, the less discrimination we’ll experience.”
November 14, 2023
Meet Candy: 33-year-old transgender woman, passionate community leader, and fearless dance teacher.
In June of 2019, Candy faced a tough decision. She had to leave her home in Venezuela, where more than seven million people require humanitarian aid. “It was not an easy experience, I had never been out of my country, nor had I wished to,” Candy explains. “But the situation was critical. There was food scarcity, finding food was very hard. Even as a professional with a formal job—the salary was not enough.”
Her journey was long and arduous. It took her a day to reach the border town of Cúcuta, and then another day to travel across Colombia.
Finding a community
However, Candy faced numerous challenges once she arrived in Colombia. “It’s not easy when you get to a country and you don’t know anything about it at all,” Candy recalls. “You don’t know how to use public transportation; you don’t know how to get to a certain place. People can sometimes be rude because of xenophobia.”
Photo: Julian Ruiz for the IRC
Eventually, Candy found a job at a local restaurant in her new town in Bogota. There, she worked alongside a fellow trans woman who introduced her to an organization that provides support to LGBTQ+ people. “She told me ‘I’ll take you there’, so that’s how I got to learn about Red Somos.”
Red Somos is an IRC ally organization that works for the recognition of sexual and gender diversity and community strengthening. Candy, who has always been shy, found the center to be a place where she could meet new people, receive valuable advice and information, and feel like she belonged to a community.
Becoming a leader
Keen to help support others and share the information she’d learned, Candy now proudly works as a community leader for the organization.
“I’ve always liked to talk, being a communicative and participative person, but I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “Red Somos gave me the tools and knowledge to reach people who are migrants, trans, gay or lesbian who, just like me, as part of the LGBTQ+ community, have specific needs and fears.
Photo: Julian Ruiz for the IRC
A key focus of Red Somos is supporting victims of gender-based violence, which Candy has been instrumental in managing since the program's inception in December 2022. The program was originally developed in collaboration with the IRC.
“Gender-based violence happens every day and the worst thing about it is that we, women, see it as something normal,” she explains. Services include awareness-raising and prevention sessions, case management for survivors and psychosocial support groups.
“I’ve learned about the different types of violence and that we must not accept something that we don’t want to do even if it’s our partner who’s asking for it,” says Candy. “The program has allowed me to educate other people that accepting mistreatment from a partner is not normal.”
Establishing “Danza Cabaret”
Among her activities, Candy also leads a dance workshop called “Danza Cabaret”— a safe space for building new dance skills and confidence.
“It’s a space that allows me to free myself. I feel very comfortable every time I come here. It’s very fun,” said Daniel, who is part of the regular group led by Candy.
“Danza Cabaret is a safe space between peers in which they can express themselves through art. Through dance,” Candy says.
Candy feels fortunate to be in Colombia, where attitudes are generally open-minded and accepting of trans people. “However, I know that there are places where it is much harder for trans women,” she points out. “We need to fight for our ideals, our dreams and that’s why I am here.”
“I want the world to know that we’re human beings, normal people, who have decided to transition as we were not conforming with the gender assigned at birth. We’re people, just like anyone else: we have defects and virtues, and we just want to be accepted in our society.”
Looking to the future, Candy dreams of a world that is inclusive everywhere. “We just want to be treated decently, to be respected, to be accepted.”
How the IRC helps
For years millions of Venezuelans have been leaving their country due to the deteriorating living conditions. In response, the IRC is providing direct assistance and collaborating with local partners in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. We also extend assistance in Venezuela through local partners. So far, we have helped over 502,400 people in these countries by providing healthcare, education, livelihood support, women’s protection and empowerment, and children's protection. The IRC also works to strengthen government systems to address the various needs of both host communities and migrants.