After suffering discrimination in employment, she became involved in activism and later with the political parties. “I want to be the voice for many.”
By Dánae Vílchez
HAVANA TIMES – The first time Athiany Larios spoke in a meeting of the Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS), she was so nervous that she mixed up the numbers she wanted to give.
“Instead of saying that we were going to provide 100 poll-watchers for the elections, she said that we were going to put up ten thousand. For a long time, I’d tease her that she had to organize 10 thousand trans girls to become party poll-watchers,” recalled Joel Zuniga, founder of the MRS Network for Sexual Diversity, the group that promoted Athiany’s candidacy in the internal party elections, held at the beginning of June.
As a result of those elections, Athiany became the first trans-gender woman to occupy a position of leadership within a political party. She’s the MRS departmental Vice President for Managua, and among her functions is that of organizing the party’s grassroots and holding activities that shed light on social problems.
“I didn’t expect it, but this is a validation that I’m doing my work well. I’ve earned it. I feel some fear with this level of responsibility, but I’m also very pleased that this party is really doing what they talk about, what they tell the public. We trans are people who can think, who can exercise a political role,” Athiany declares.
The “gay” guy
Athiany wasn’t always involved in political causes, nor did she have that name. She was born with masculine sexual attributes, and from a very young age she concentrated on her studies, trying to have the least possible amount of contact with people. She studied public accounting at the National Technological Institute. Although she came out as a homosexual at 17, the worst suffering came from discrimination in the workplace as a result of her sexual orientation.
“I worked at a private plastics business. As soon as they hired me, other workers began to complain to my immediate boss, as in – How could they have hired a homosexual in the company? I argued with them that if I was a good worker, why would they want to fire me, but after two and a half years they let me go,” Athiany tells us.
Nevertheless, shortly afterwards, they needed her services again as an assistant bookkeeper in the same company. However, the harassment continued, and with the arrival of a new boss, she was given other duties. At that time, she hadn’t made her transition although she already had internal doubts about her own identity.
“I was the gay gay and there was always that same witch hunt. Before they fired me the second time, they switched me from assistant bookkeeper to cashier, but I felt like a female cashier and began to wear unisex styles of clothing. I began leading a double life – him by day, her by night. They told me to hide myself and they placed me in the warehouse so that no one would see me. Finally they sent me the pink slip. That was in 2005.”
Afterwards, she began working in a gas station where she didn’t last very long, since she considered it a “subtle kind of workplace slavery.”
She didn’t want to go back to a place where she felt discriminated against, and opted at that moment to participate in activist groups linked to the topic of sexual diversity. After two years of jumping from group to group, she was sent to a convention in Guatemala. That’s where she got the courage to make the transition and to dispel the doubts that she had harbored throughout her life.
Adopted the name of Athiany and a female identity
“I only brought men’s clothing on that trip, but with the money I had I bought women’s clothing and gave away the men’s wear. I felt like a woman. I began to read the Constitution, and to ask: “Who says that I can’t be whoever I want to be?” the activist explains.
“I don’t want to be a martyr, but I’m not going to be silent”
She participated fully in the campaign to decriminalize homosexuality in Nicaragua; up until 2008, this had figured as the crime of “sodomy” in Article 204 of the antiquated 1974 Penal Code.
She was a founder of the Nicaraguan Transgender Association (ANIT) and maintained ties to organizations that defend human rights. She took courses in leadership through the Information Center & Advisory Services in Health (CISAS), where she met the director, Ana Quirós.
“Athiany has always been very active, and she had a lot of interest in learning. She’s been a volunteer at different times and always had the desire to educate herself. She’s a serious and responsible person, and it seems important to us that she’s decided to enter politics,” states Quirós.
Athiany began her party links with the MRS in 2013 when Joel Zuniga invited her to form part of that party’s Network for Sexual Diversity. “She was a key participant when we began to trace strategies. She’s always ready to work, and very dedicated to what she believes in and what she does,” Zuniga notes.
Nevertheless, her participation in a political party of the opposition caused a stir among her companions in the other movements she belonged to, and at a certain moment began to generate fears. “Now these movements have died out; you only talk because the donors are going to give money and also – they don’t say this – but the State tells you how you’re going to demand your rights or what right yes you can demand, and what right no. And I didn’t like that. The group didn’t like what I was doing; they said that I was involving the group in party politics. However, I defended my right to participate as an individual,” the activist recalls.
“They told me:’ join these groups, don’t hang with the others’, or that we trans people should only talk about our right to an identity. And the other things? In the end, I left that group. Even my mother can’t shut me up, much less a president who has a duty to give me my rights… I don’t want to be a martyr, but I’m not going to keep my mouth shut,” she adds.
Although she had never considered entering fully into a political party, Athiany had already participated in activities of the FSLN and even served as a poll-watcher for that party during the 2006 elections.
Her neighborhood had always been a bastion of the FSLN and her community participated actively in all the events they promoted. Nevertheless, little by little her vision of the party led by Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo began to change.
“They had already called on me to coordinate District IV with the theme of sexual diversity, but I said that I really wanted to talk about the rights of the sexually diverse. They never called on me again. In the FSLN, I didn’t have a face; the MRS has allowed me to have a face, a voice and a vote. In the FSLN you’re only cheap or free labor,” Athiany assures.
Currently, she’s fully dedicated to activism. For her subsistence she sells bleach together with her mother. “It’s very complex, but live off what we can earn. I’m not complaining, I don’t have any expectations of the high life,” she indicates.
The voice of many
When the opportunity arose to become a candidate for a municipal MRS office during the recent party elections, Athiany didn’t have a lot of expectations. She tells us that she didn’t do a lot of publicity in the campaign and that on voting day she was focused on coordinating the event’s logistics.
Nevertheless, her fellow party members bet in full on her candidacy. “She represents that living example of the diversity in which we want to live; it is something that can be achieved when everyone participates. She comes and says: ‘Here we are; we can offer something to this country’. We demand rights, but we can also talk about our responsibilities as citizens,” Zuniga affirms.
When she found out that she’d been chosen by the members of the party, Athiany felt a mixture of nerves and satisfaction. On the subject of the participation of sexual minorities in the social movements, the activist assures that you need to lose the fear of talking and participating. And although she’s the first transgender person to occupy a position of this kind in Nicaragua, she hopes not to be the last.
“If all the sexual minorities could unite, it would be another story. I don’t expect to be the heroine of the story. I want to be the voice of many, but that voice must also be theirs for me. It’s about demanding our collective claims, because I continue to be an activist for human rights.”
For her part, CISAS director Ana Quiros believes that the fact of recognizing the trans community in politics is fundamental for the advance of Nicaraguan society.
“Hopefully, soon we’ll see male and female deputies, male and female mayors openly from the LGBTQ community. We know there’ve been some in previous years, but they’ve been in the closet and unrecognized. I hope that Athiany’s participation will open doors,” Quiros concludes.