Women’s History Month is a hugely important time of year when we highlight the contributions women have made and continue to make to history. But as we acknowledge and celebrate how they broke barriers and pushed society forward, it’s crucial we don’t just talk about one type of woman. We need to learn about how women of different races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and nationalities have shaped our lives. That’s why we’re looking at trans Latinas currently making their mark within both LGBTQ communities and overall. These women, like Sylvia Rivera and Angie Xtravaganza before them, are currently building lasting legacies. For the most part, their work goes unrecognized, but they deserve to be a part of the conversation as well.
Here are eight trans Latinas we can’t forget as we observe Women’s History Month.
Many people first heard of Jennicet Gutiérrez when she interrupted former President Barack Obama to demand accountability for his actions on immigration. But she’s also been doing good and hard work for trans women and immigrants for years. The Mexico-born activist is one of the founding members of La Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, which “works at local and national levels to achieve the collective liberation of trans, queer, and gender nonconforming Latinxs through building community, organizing, advocacy, and education.” Much of her work focuses on trans and other LGBTQ Latinx caught up in the immigration system. She works so that undocumented trans women can be free, safe, and successful in the United States.
Leiomy Maldonado is one of the Queens of the Ballroom scene and a true legend. This Puerto Rican trans woman is known as the “Wonder Woman of Vogue” for the way she’s revolutionized and led the LGBTQ dance and ballroom community. She appeared as part of the Vogue Evolution dance crew on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. From there, she’s gone on to choreograph and star in music videos, such as Will Smith’s “Whip My Hair” and Icona Pop’s “All Night.” Most recently, she starred in a Nike #BeTrue TV ad in support of Pride Month. The commercial made her the first trans woman to star in a Nike ad.
Salvadoran activist Ruby Corado founded the Washington, DC-based Casa Ruby, a bilingual, multicultural LGBT organization. Casa Ruby’s mission is to make “success life stories among transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual people.” Casa Ruby offers support groups, housing referrals and case management, legal services, hot meals, clothing exchange, and more to some of the LGBT community’s most vulnerable members. She also fought to make the Washington, DC Human Right Act cover protections for gender identity and expression. She’s won many awards for her service.
As the founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition in Los Angeles, Mexico-born Bamby Salcedo not only advocates for the needs of trans Latinxs who have immigrated to the United States, but also speaks about and fights for the rights and safety of those living with HIV and AIDS. In 2016, the Obama Administration invited her to speak at the White House United State of Women Summit, where she spoke out about ways to help prevent violence against women. She continues to speak and work with LGBTQ Latinxs and win awards for her advocacy and community work.
Mariah Lopez is a former sex worker who now serves as the executive director for the Strategic Trans Alliance for Radical Reform (STARR). In 2006, she was arrested for “loitering with intent for solicitation” in New York City. Police officers and prison workers abused her and ordered her to undergo a “genital check” before allowing her into a women’s prison. When she refused, they placed her in a men’s prison, where she repeatedly faced sexual harassment and assault by both inmates and officers. Since then, she’s fought hard to make sure that transgender inmates have safe facilities in prison, where they’re protected from that kind of abuse. She also speaks and advocates for LGBTQ people of color with low incomes.
Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano
Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano is an Ecuadorian activist who, in 2013, became the first openly trans or even LGBT candidate to run for office in her home country. She’s fought to include the right of trans people in the workplace, so that employers will respect their gender identity and name changing rights. She’s also worked to end discrimination and stigmas against LGBT people in Ecuador. She continues to fight today and work with the government in order to improve life for trans Ecuadorians.
Victoria Cruz, a contemporary of famous trans activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, continues fights for trans and women’s rights. At age 4, she moved from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn and transitioned at a young age. In the ’90s, she started a long career helping LGBT people who have been victims of violence and rape when she joined the Anti-Violence Project. She worked as a domestic violence counselor and received an award from Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012 or her service to victims of violent crimes.
Felicia Elizondo is an HIV positive activist and speaker who has actively fought for LGBT rights since the 1960s when she participated in Compton’s Cafeteria Riots, which preceded the famous Stonewall Riots. Since then, she’s also worked with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Shanti Project, and other organizations that improve the lives of people with serious illnesses. Apart from her HIV/AIDS activism, she’s also worked with other trans women of color to fight racism. She was named the Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal of the 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade.