• Thu. Oct 29th, 2020

Haitian center a refuge for transgender people

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Prejudice and discrimination against transgender people is common in Haiti, but at least one organization is providing a haven where they can feel welcome.

The Kay Trans Haiti center in the capital, Port-au-Prince, provides lodging and care for up to 10 transgender people. Funded by a Spanish health care company and the United Nations Development Program, Kay Trans Haiti is open to transgender people who have been victims of verbal or physical abuse. It provides services including a psychologist free of charge, and allows residents to stay for up to a year.

Once people graduate from the center, the program pays their rent for up to a year, after which they must become self-sufficient.

Kervens Mesidor sits on the floor of his bedroom eating a serving of rice and beans at the Kay Trans Haiti center, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020.Dieu Nalio Chery / AP file

Residents say the neighborhood surrounding the center has gradually become more accepting of them, creating a safe island in a city where they can often feel vulnerable and subject to abuse at any moment.

Haiti’s LGBTQ community continues to experience social stigma. Thousands of people in July marched against gay and transgender rights in a rally organized by some churches demanding that President Jovenel Moise rescind a decree that rewrites the 185-year-old penal code recognizing same-sex unions and tacitly allowing homosexuality.

In 2016, an LGBTQ cultural festival in Port-au-Prince was canceled after organizers received threats and a local official, calling it a violation of moral values, sought to ban it.

Laurent Voltus, a resident at the Kay Trans Haiti center, exhales cigarette smoke while dancing with friends at a club in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2020.Dieu Nalio Chery / AP file

In 2017, Haiti’s Senate passed two bills targeting LGBTQ Haitians. One would formalize a ban on same-sex marriage, and prohibit public demonstrations in favor of LGBTQ rights.

Residents of the Kay Trans center can bring their partners there, go out to clubs, and shop without fear of mistreatment from neighborhood shopkeepers, who have become increasing friendly and welcoming.

One of the residents, Semi Kaefra Alisha Fermond, 24, said she had a traumatic childhood because neighbors didn’t want her to play with their children.

“I am proud of myself now because I can wear women’s clothes and go everywhere,’’ she said. “At my mother’s home I can’t be like that.”

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