On Aug 24, 2017 NBC News reported: WASHINGTON, D.C. — By age 11, Maybelline Rivas was living in the streets of San Salvador. Her school expelled her for wearing makeup to and acting too feminine. Her mother, who at the time opted for punishment and rejection, kicked Rivas out of the house.
It was at that time, after being left to fend for herself, that Rivas took full control of her identity.
“At age 11, I was already defined and on hormones. I was already a trans woman,” she said.
Play One Trans Woman’s Fight for Asylum and LGBTQ Rights 3:43Rivas, currently living in Washington, D.C., is one of many cases of Central American LGBTQ refugees awaiting asylum and work permits in the United States. Rivas, who received countless death threats for being a trans activist in El Salvador, left the country in 2015 and is now studying English and volunteering several times a week at Casa Ruby, an LGBTQ homeless shelter in Georgia Avenue.
Ava Benach, an immigration lawyer handling Rivas’ case, said that trans women from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico can make the case for why they qualify for asylum.
“The violence and oppression and danger and persecution these women face—and the trans men, for that matter— is enormous,” Benach said. “I would say that almost any trans individual who has fled those countries has a certain claim. Maybelline is a little more interesting, in a way, because she was a serious activist for trans rights, which is a tremendously courageous thing to do in a country like El Salvador.”
Benach, a transgender woman, is currently working 22 cases with LGBTQ refugees. Her D.C. law firm, Benach Collopy, has a fellowship program in collaboration with Whitman-Walker Health, where law students spend an entire summer working on LGBTQ asylum cases.