SF Weekly Letters: Web Extra

In any event, the exact phrasing of what I said about the women's reasons for coming to the United States is a moot point, since my subsequent reporting and the final story show that most women don't know they can get asylum when they arrive, and many don't learn until after they've been here several years.

Finally, I don't believe the story exaggerated a small number of asylum applicants to represent the whole. Various attorneys I spoke with characterized the portion of applicants with prostitution arrests as "a good number," "about half," and "many, many." While the general discrimination faced by trans-Latinas in San Francisco is an important story, too, my article wasn't about that. It was about the asylum system, and so Ms. Byerly's quotes ended up not making it into the story. I had hoped to talk with her more specifically about the asylum angle as my reporting progressed, but she did not return a message I left at her office.

TAG, you're it: The Transgender Advisory Group (TAG) is an advisory body to the San Francisco Department of Public Health, HIV Prevention Section (HPS) comprising community members, service providers, and public health professionals with the mission of reducing HIV infection among all transgender communities by providing leadership and guidance to HPS and the San Francisco HIV Prevention Planning Council (HPPC). The TAG is gravely concerned by Lauren Smiley's recent article, and considers such sensationalistic journalism to negatively affect the health and wellness of transgender Latinas and other transgender people.

This article perpetuates stigmatizing stereotypes about transgender Latinas and other transgender people. Such stereotypes are harmful to transgender communities. We are truly disappointed in the author and in SF Weekly for publishing an article that is counterproductive to our goals of celebrating our communities' resiliency and empowering transgender people to live healthy and vibrant lives. There is a dire need for public education about transgender lives, not sensationalistic journalism that reduces us to stereotypes.

Although the intentions of this article may have been to engage readers in a thoughtful manner about the realities and struggles of transgender immigrants, the author's framing and tone are offensive to transgender Latinas and contribute to widening the health disparities faced by transgender Latinas and other transgender people. Such disparities include lack of access to primary health care, greater risks for HIV, lack of access to behavioral health services and providers' inability to provide culturally and linguistically competent services to all transgender individuals.

Descriptions such as "with all the porn-worthy ass a backroom peddler of industrial-grade collagen could inject" and "transgender Latina hookers" not only blur and compromise the harsh realities and struggles of transgender Latina immigrants lives, but also contribute to the systems of oppression and discrimination many transgender people experience. These ideologies and belief systems lie at the root of transgender discrimination and oppression that impacts the health and wellbeing of the community. The racist, anti-immigrant, anti-trans, and criminalizing undertones of this article fail to substantially contextualize the day-to-day hardships and multiple social, environmental, behavioral, and health issues identified by the TAG, HPPC, and numerous HIV-prevention leaders and researchers.

The complex lives and experiences of transgender Latinas and other transgender people are laden with racism, immigration, stigma, low self-esteem, behavioral health issues, discrimination, homelessness, unemployment, poverty, violence, sexual harassment, abuse, and commercial sex work (by choice or necessity). We believe that these confounding issues and cofactors contribute to high HIV prevalence rates among transgender Latinas and transgender women. This article reduces transgender Latinas to sexual deviants, criminals, and social outcasts, adding to the stigma already faced by this community. It is disheartening to witness the mainstream media perpetuate oppressive systems and participate in an adversarial role against the transgender movement of equality and visibility.

Beyond Smiley's ignorant and negative portrayals of transgender people, there are exciting and positive aspects of the community we have much to celebrate about. In recent years, transgender people have slowly made their way into mainstream media, have become leaders and advocates for the community, contributed immensely to the socio and political LGBT consciousness, and have much to boast about local transgender services and program that models San Francisco as one of the most transgender accepting metropolitan city in this nation. Programs such as El-La Program Para Trans Latinas, TRANS:THRIVE, the Transgender Center of Excellence, the Transgender, Gender Variant & Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center, Ark of Refuge, the San Francisco Transgender Empowerment, Advocacy & Mentorship (SF TEAM), Transgender Law Center, Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative (TEEI), Tenderloin Health, Ark of Refuge and countless programs and community leaders have contributed to the vitality and wellness of the community.

In addition, some may feel that transgender and gender variant individuals, who move to San Francisco from other parts of the state, country and world, may be a problem. It is only a problem because anyone, regardless of gender expression or identity should be able to thrive anywhere in the world. Unfortunately this is not the case, and San Francisco, a leader of the LGBT movement, has services and protections for everyone, including transgender men and women. We want to remind the author that the city and county of San Francisco has adapted a "sanctuary" policy for all immigrants, regardless of status, assuring that all residents have fair and equal access to city services without making immigrants vulnerable to federal immigration authorities. The Sanctuary City Ordinance helps to maintain the stability of San Francisco communities and has been one of many reasons transgender Latinas choose San Francisco as a safe place for refuge.

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