Migration and Diversity in South America: A Road of Obstacles
LGBTIQ+ people face particular challenges associated with stigma and discrimination when they migrate. Photo: IOM/Ramiro Aguilar
Migrants and refugees in South America with a diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression or sexual characteristics (SOGIESC) usually face a series of differentiated difficulties in their migratory processes that place them in a situation of greater vulnerability in comparison with other people on the move.
In the last three years, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has conducted several diagnostic studies in the region, where, through a series of interviews and surveys, it has analyzed how the migration process of people belonging to the LGBTIQ+ community is carried out and how it differs from the migration processes of the rest of the population.
In 2020, the IOM Peru national office prepared a situational diagnosis of the Venezuelan LGTBIQ+ population in Peru. Ecuador did the same in 2020 through the Diagnosis of the Situation, profiles, needs and capacities of the LGBTIQ+ population of Venezuela. In 2021 IOM Colombia carried out the Situational Diagnosis of the process of migratory transit and social integration of Venezuelan LGBTIQ+ persons in five Colombian localities.
The findings of the three studies allowed to identify spaces and situations where human rights violations and limitations to equal opportunities in institutional, labour, and community environments tend to occur for migrants due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, knowing that many of the people from the LGBTIQ+ community who migrate do so precisely to escape situations of violence, abuse, and discrimination in their countries of origin.
The violations may begin in the land transit process, where the vast majority of the people interviewed stated that they preferred to hide and/or try to conceal their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to "go unnoticed" or keep a "low profile" in the different migratory journeys, thus avoiding possible situations of violence, coercion and abuse by the migration authorities at the border points.
Transgender people are particularly affected by this situation, as hiding their self-perceived gender identity to increase the chances of experiencing safe passage negatively affects their mental health, especially for those who lack proper identity documentation that matches their identity, have had to use clothing and appearance that matches their national identity documents.
Once settled in the host communities, many transgender people faced difficulties in accessing the labour market because they did not have an identity document from their country of origin that matched their gender identity, a fact that further hinders the already complex process of labour integration of migrants and pushes people to perform occupations that are risky for life and health, such as the sex trade, especially in the transgender community, which in Latin America has a life expectancy of only 35 years (IACHR, 2022).
In turn, several migrants, especially gay men and transgender women, reported that their physical appearance, gestures, way of speaking and expressing themselves generated situations of discrimination among employers, especially in the commerce sector, which is the sector that produces the largest number of jobs in Latin America and in which the rest of the migrants are most commonly inserted quickly. This forced them to hide their sexual orientation and/or gender expression to earn a livelihood and not risk losing a job due to discriminatory dismissal for reasons of homophobia, lesbophobia or transphobia.
In addition, there are other differentiated difficulties they reported facing related to access to housing. Due to their limited economic resources, most migrants cannot rent a single-family dwelling but rather a room within another residence. Same-sex couples stated that it was challenging to get a room as a couple since tenants are reluctant to rent to homosexual couples, so many of them were forced to hide this dimension of their identity, denying their status as a couple and pretending that they were two friends or family members, limiting any public expression of affection, to avoid being evicted from the housing.
In addition to violations of rights related to work and housing, there are various situations of verbal and psychological violence in the public sphere through uncomfortable comments, hurtful jokes, harassment, denigrating, fetishized, hypersexualized phrases, and street harassment. All these situations result in greater difficulties for the social insertion of migrants and a safe and orderly migration process.