Peruvian transgender individuals emerge from invisibility to claim their humanity and citizenship in a hostile but evolving culture.
Five years ago in my birth city of Lima, Peru, I interviewed a group of transgender women and LGBT activists. These individuals were beginning to bravely stand up for their rights to be and live as they are in a society that was so openly hostile to their very existence and their demands for basic protection and respect. These interviews resulted in the creation of an award-winning documentary, EN EL FUEGO, ( In The Fire ) that screened at Outfest, Frameline and other film festivals and activist organizations.
Last summer I returned to Lima to revisit most of the past interviewees and to document, in a new film, their individual and collective struggles for justice and equality. Sitting with them in conversation and following their daily chores, I was able to get a glimpse of how their own personal growth reflected the status of the movement.
The resulting film is entitled EL FUEGO DENTRO ( The Fire Inside ) .
EL FUEGO DENTRO ( The Fire Inside )
EL FUEGO DENTRO demonstrates how activism has transformed the lives of these transgender individuals and has had a profound effect on their personal growth. Their personal quantum leaps are seen against a larger societal and political shift towards visibility, accountability and equality that is taking place in a historically hostile and entrenched culture. Through their empowerment and the possibility of seemingly small, but better choices, they are developing better lives. Through their strength in the wake of daily challenges, they have become inspiring beacons of hope.
EL FUEGO DENTRO captures the evolution of individuals immersed in the forward movement towards securing equal and just laws protecting the transgender community from discrimination and abuse. Revisiting the key players in the movement in full evolution, we capture the pulse of a society in full flux. The perseverance, resiliency and leadership of these individuals have now made inroads into the halls of political power where substantial and lasting societal change can occur for them and the Peruvian LGBT community as a whole. We discuss their actual achievements in terms of concrete initiatives that they have helped to enact to better their status in society.
EL FUEGO DENTRO develops around the shared issues of the individuals in three areas: their visibility and invisibility in the culture; the importance of their relationship to their families; and their personal achievements.
FILM SYNOPSIS for EL FUEGO DENTRO :
- A thread that ties this journey together is the presence of Anayely, a young transgender woman intern, whose path epitomizes the struggle of young transgender individuals in Peru. I met Anayely the day I started filming at Promsex. She was my assistant, guide and chaperone but she came to represent much more than that. She, like other MTF transgender individuals, is finding a way to leave the streets through education, support, empowerment and mentoring. She meets the individuals in all of the locations and absorbs their insights along with the film's audience. The people we are meeting includes:
- Belissa Andia Perez, the internationally renowned transgender activist at her offices where she runs a political transgender NGO: RUNA. We are invited to attend a meeting with a congressman to demand inclusion of gender identity on a hate crimes bill that he is sponsoring for review.
- We also meet up with Gaby Llamoja Marino, another internationally reknowned activist who invites us to her beauty salon for an interview and to meet her mother. She is part of the committee that meets the congressman.
- At this meeting I am introduced to Mishell Romani, a transman who has just been hired by a local phone company as a call center manager, making him one of the first openly transgender individuals hired by a private entity. During our interview he candidly told us about being male in Peruvian society and how he has adjusted to his newfound status.
- That night Anayely and I attend a PFLAG Lima meeting which is run by Maria Cristina Liendo. She started the group two years ago in her home and has become a very vocal, militant and visible advocate for equal rights.
- A few days later, we meet Leyla Huerta who lives with her boyfriend and her mom in the outskirts of Lima. She used to be estranged from her mom but they have reconciled and the mother is now a staunch advocate in Maria Cristina's PFLAG group. Leyla has been working as a data manager at a HIV Prevention and Management NGO for years and now feels inspired to explore employment opportunities outside the LGBT realm.
Seeing others proudly fighting for their rights has given Anayely hope. Role models and choices now exist for her, based on the work of the trailblazers she and we have met.
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