In Mexico caravan, LGBTQ migrants stick together for safety

In Mexico caravan, LGBTQ migrants stick together for safety
In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Alexa Amaya, who part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, uses a compact to apply makeup while riding in the back of a flatbed truck to Sayula, Mexico. "I know it will be difficult to win asylum," said Alexa, a 24-year-old from Copan Honduras, "but we have to make the attempt." (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (Rodrigo Abd)

MATIAS ROMERO, Mexico (AP) — Dozens of transgender women and gay men in the caravan moving through Mexico with hopes of seeking asylum in the United States have banded together for protection — not from the uncertainty of a journey fraught with danger from the gangs who prey on migrants but from their fellow travelers.

Fleeing violence and discrimination back home because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, these LGBTQ migrants have found the journey north to be just as threatening amid catcalls and even physical abuse.

"Sweet little thing!" ''Baby, where you going?" ''How much do you charge?" These all-too-familiar jeers are spewed at them as they make their way with the caravan of several thousand.

Loly Mendez, a 28-year-old who began transitioning to a woman in her native El Salvador, knows all too well the dangers her fellow transgender migrants faced back home: Her best friend, also a transgender woman, was murdered for doing the same.

Then Loly herself began getting threats — "that if my breasts were going to grow, they would cut them off," she said. They were always anonymously delivered, which only made her more fearful and finally drove her to flee.

In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, members of a LGBTQ group who are traveling with the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, run towards a truck who stopped to give them a ride, on the road to Sayula, Mexico. Much of the trek has been covered on foot, but hitching rides has been crucial, especially on days when they travel 100 miles or more. For the LGBTQ group, it's been tougher to find those rides. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, members of a LGBTQ group who are traveling with the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, run towards a truck who stopped to give them a ride, on the road to Sayula, Mexico. Much of the trek has been covered on foot, but hitching rides has been crucial, especially on days when they travel 100 miles or more. For the LGBTQ group, it's been tougher to find those rides. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

"In my country there is violence, a lack of work and opportunities," said Loly, who like many of the transgender women in the group preferred using only her first name. "In the caravan there is also violence — against the LGBTQ community."

In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Alexa Amaya, who is traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, tries on a pushup bra she selected from a pile of donated clothing left alongside the road to Sayula, Mexico. Fleeing violence and discrimination back home because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, about 50 LGBTQ migrants, including Alexa, have found the journey north to be just as threatening and have banded together for protection against mistreatment from their fellow travelers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Alexa Amaya, who is traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, tries on a pushup bra she selected from a pile of donated clothing left alongside the road to Sayula, Mexico. Fleeing violence and discrimination back home because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, about 50 LGBTQ migrants, including Alexa, have found the journey north to be just as threatening and have banded together for protection against mistreatment from their fellow travelers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

Loly linked up with the caravan in Tapachula, in southern Mexico, and hopes to work in the United States and save up to start a beauty products company — perhaps in Los Angeles or New York. It's something she has planned for a long time, all the way down to the business' logo, but she's never had the money.

In this Nov. 1, 2018 photo, Valentina Guerrero, of El Salvador, right, and Sinai Cortez, from Nicaragua, center, part of about 50 LGBTQ migrants who are traveling with the caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, wait their turn to use a portable toilet at a temporary shelter in Donaji, Mexico. Fearful of being attacked violently or sexually assaulted, they've stuck by each other's side 24 hours a day, even using the buddy system for going to the bathroom. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 1, 2018 photo, Valentina Guerrero, of El Salvador, right, and Sinai Cortez, from Nicaragua, center, part of about 50 LGBTQ migrants who are traveling with the caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, wait their turn to use a portable toilet at a temporary shelter in Donaji, Mexico. Fearful of being attacked violently or sexually assaulted, they've stuck by each other's side 24 hours a day, even using the buddy system for going to the bathroom. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

"I am going to a country where I know I will achieve my dreams," Loly said, hopefully.

In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, Central American migrants who hitched a ride on a flatbed truck jeer at members of about 50 LGBTQ migrants who are also part of the caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, on the road to Donaji, Mexico. For the dozens of transgender women and gay men, the journey has meant putting up with insulting catcalls and even some physical abuse. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, Central American migrants who hitched a ride on a flatbed truck jeer at members of about 50 LGBTQ migrants who are also part of the caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, on the road to Donaji, Mexico. For the dozens of transgender women and gay men, the journey has meant putting up with insulting catcalls and even some physical abuse. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

Reports are common in much of Central America of LGBTQ people being murdered, assaulted and discriminated against, due to their gender identity or sexual orientation.

In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, a member of a group of about 50 LGBTQ migrants traveling with the caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, looks at polaroids taken by a colleague who is documenting their journey, on the road to Sayula, Mexico. The LGBTQ migrants traveling together, most of them in their 20s but some as young as 17 or as old as 60, say they banded together for safety in numbers, a sort of caravan within the caravan. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, a member of a group of about 50 LGBTQ migrants traveling with the caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, looks at polaroids taken by a colleague who is documenting their journey, on the road to Sayula, Mexico. The LGBTQ migrants traveling together, most of them in their 20s but some as young as 17 or as old as 60, say they banded together for safety in numbers, a sort of caravan within the caravan. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

But getting U.S. asylum is difficult even with proof someone has been the victim of persecution for being transgender, said Lynly Egyes, director of litigation at the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, California.

In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, a member of about 50 LGBTQ migrants hoping to reach the U.S. border, chases after an overloaded pickup in hopes of hitching a ride to Donaji, Mexico. Much of the trek has been covered on foot, but hitching rides in the beds of pickups, minibuses and tractor-trailers has been crucial, especially on days when they travel 100 miles or more. For the LGBTQ group, it's been tougher to find those rides. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, a member of about 50 LGBTQ migrants hoping to reach the U.S. border, chases after an overloaded pickup in hopes of hitching a ride to Donaji, Mexico. Much of the trek has been covered on foot, but hitching rides in the beds of pickups, minibuses and tractor-trailers has been crucial, especially on days when they travel 100 miles or more. For the LGBTQ group, it's been tougher to find those rides. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

It often takes days or weeks for transgender immigrants to get a hearing before an asylum officer. If they are allowed to move forward in the process, many are traumatized and struggle to tell their story, Egyes said. They are also much less likely to be granted asylum without a lawyer.

In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, a Honduran gay couple, who is traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, wait alongside the road for an offer of a ride to Sayula, Mexico. The couple is fleeing violence and discrimination back home because of their sexual orientation. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, a Honduran gay couple, who is traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, wait alongside the road for an offer of a ride to Sayula, Mexico. The couple is fleeing violence and discrimination back home because of their sexual orientation. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

"It is a horrifying process, and not everybody makes it through," she said.

In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Teresa Perez, who part of about 50 LGBTQ migrants traveling with the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, gathers her hair into a ponytail, on the outskirts of Donaji, Mexico. Sticking out among the crowd for their bright clothing and makeup, the group has suffered verbal harassment, especially from men. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Teresa Perez, who part of about 50 LGBTQ migrants traveling with the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, gathers her hair into a ponytail, on the outskirts of Donaji, Mexico. Sticking out among the crowd for their bright clothing and makeup, the group has suffered verbal harassment, especially from men. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

Many of the migrants have said they joined the caravan because it offered safety in numbers. The 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling together, most of them in their 20s but some as young as 17 or as old as 60, say they, too, banded together for safety — a sort of caravan within the caravan.

In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, Mexican transgender and activist Nakai Flotte, center front holding a flower print backpack, listens to caravan leaders during a morning meeting, in Sayula, Mexico. "We have problems when it comes time to go to the bathroom," said Nakai. "We bathe in the men's, sometimes in the women's, but it's difficult. There isn't one for us." (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, Mexican transgender and activist Nakai Flotte, center front holding a flower print backpack, listens to caravan leaders during a morning meeting, in Sayula, Mexico. "We have problems when it comes time to go to the bathroom," said Nakai. "We bathe in the men's, sometimes in the women's, but it's difficult. There isn't one for us." (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

Sticking out in their bright-colored clothing and makeup, the group has suffered verbal harassment, especially from men, and has been the victim of robbery and other aggressions. One recent day as they walked in a row on the highway to Isla, in the Mexican Gulf coast state of Veracruz, a group of fellow migrants passed by on a flatbed truck and showered them with water, oranges, rinds and other refuse.

In this Nov. 1, 2018 photo, members of the LGBTQ community who are part of the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, break into a celebratory dance outside an abandoned hotel after arriving in Donaji, Mexico. The 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling together, most of them in their 20s but some as young as 17 or as old as 60, say they banded together for safety in numbers, a sort of caravan within the caravan. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 1, 2018 photo, members of the LGBTQ community who are part of the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, break into a celebratory dance outside an abandoned hotel after arriving in Donaji, Mexico. The 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling together, most of them in their 20s but some as young as 17 or as old as 60, say they banded together for safety in numbers, a sort of caravan within the caravan. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

Fearful of being attacked more violently or sexually assaulted, they stick by each other's sides 24 hours a day, walking and sleeping in a group and even using the buddy system for going to the bathroom.

In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, members of the LGBTQ community who are traveling with the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, wait on the side of the road for a ride to Donaji, Mexico. Fearful of being attacked violently or sexually assaulted, they've stuck by each other's side 24 hours a day, walking and sleeping in a group. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, members of the LGBTQ community who are traveling with the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, wait on the side of the road for a ride to Donaji, Mexico. Fearful of being attacked violently or sexually assaulted, they've stuck by each other's side 24 hours a day, walking and sleeping in a group. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

In Matias Romero, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, rather than sleep outdoors they took over an abandoned hotel damaged in last year's deadly earthquake. Dirty, windowless and with no electricity or running water, it was nonetheless a place to have a roof over their heads and be safe. They bathed by the light of a small lantern, dressed themselves and applied makeup as dozens of men milled about outside.

In this Nov. 1, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Junior Castro, 22, who is part of the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, stands still as a friend applies foundation to her face, in Donaji, Mexico. Sticking out among the crowd for their bright clothing and makeup, the group has suffered verbal harassment, especially from men. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 1, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Junior Castro, 22, who is part of the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, stands still as a friend applies foundation to her face, in Donaji, Mexico. Sticking out among the crowd for their bright clothing and makeup, the group has suffered verbal harassment, especially from men. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

Each night "the girls," as they call themselves, sift through piles of donated clothing to try to look as sharp as possible. And they face a dilemma: Where to dress and relieve themselves?

In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Alexa Amaya, who is part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, tries on donated footwear at a shelter in Sayula, Mexico. Each night "the girls," as they call themselves, sift through piles of clothing donated by locals to try to look as sharp as possible. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 3, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Alexa Amaya, who is part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, tries on donated footwear at a shelter in Sayula, Mexico. Each night "the girls," as they call themselves, sift through piles of clothing donated by locals to try to look as sharp as possible. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

"We have problems when it comes time to go to the bathroom," said Nakai Flotte, a transgender woman and activist. "We bathe in the men's, sometimes in the women's, but it's difficult. There isn't one for us."

In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Teresa Perez, who is part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, catches a sandwich tossed by a local, while riding in the back of a truck on the road to Sayula, Mexico. The caravan has traveled more than 1,000 miles from its origin in San Pedro Sula to the central highlands of Mexico. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, Honduran transgender Teresa Perez, who is part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, catches a sandwich tossed by a local, while riding in the back of a truck on the road to Sayula, Mexico. The caravan has traveled more than 1,000 miles from its origin in San Pedro Sula to the central highlands of Mexico. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

Flotte was accompanying the migrants to provide support and information about making asylum claims.

In this Nov. 4, 2018 photo, two transgender women who are part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, apply face makeup at a shelter in Cordoba, Mexico. Sticking out among the crowd for their bright clothing and makeup, the group has suffered verbal harassment, especially from men. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 4, 2018 photo, two transgender women who are part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, apply face makeup at a shelter in Cordoba, Mexico. Sticking out among the crowd for their bright clothing and makeup, the group has suffered verbal harassment, especially from men. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

The U.S. "should take into account their condition of vulnerability and violence," she said.

In this Nov. 4, 2018 photo, Nicaraguan transgender Sinai Cortez wrestles with her colleague Estrellita, of Honduras, because they were pressured by the men to get in the ring and battle it out, at a temporary shelter in Cordoba, Mexico. Fleeing violence and discrimination back home because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, about 50 LGBTQ migrants have found the journey north to be just as threatening.(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 4, 2018 photo, Nicaraguan transgender Sinai Cortez wrestles with her colleague Estrellita, of Honduras, because they were pressured by the men to get in the ring and battle it out, at a temporary shelter in Cordoba, Mexico. Fleeing violence and discrimination back home because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, about 50 LGBTQ migrants have found the journey north to be just as threatening.(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

However, a decision by then Attorney General Jeff Sessions this year to deny asylum to victims of domestic and gang violence could also have a negative impact on transgender women and men because many are victims of gang violence who are targeted for being transgender.

In this Nov. 8, 2018 photo, members of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, ride the subway during a rest day, to the historic center in Mexico City. For the dozens of transgender women and gay men, the journey has meant putting up with insulting catcalls and even some physical abuse. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 8, 2018 photo, members of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, ride the subway during a rest day, to the historic center in Mexico City. For the dozens of transgender women and gay men, the journey has meant putting up with insulting catcalls and even some physical abuse. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

"I know it will be difficult to win asylum," said Alexa Amaya, a 24-year-old from Honduras, "but we have to make the attempt."

In this Nov. 8, 2018 photo, a couple who is part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, share a kiss while taking in the sites during a rest day in Mexico City. The caravan has traveled more than 1,000 miles from its origin in San Pedro Sula to the central highlands of Mexico. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 8, 2018 photo, a couple who is part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the migrant caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, share a kiss while taking in the sites during a rest day in Mexico City. The caravan has traveled more than 1,000 miles from its origin in San Pedro Sula to the central highlands of Mexico. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

The caravan has traveled more than 1,000 miles (more than 2,000 kilometers) in the month since its initial participants set out from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and as it traverses Mexico's central highlands it's still about the same distance from its goal of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego. It's unclear how many will make it. A similar caravan earlier this year fizzled to just about 200 who reached the U.S. frontier.

In this Nov. 6, 2018 photo, Honduran transgenders Alison Marisela, 19, from left, Naty Banegas, 16, and Nelsy Teresa Ponce, who are part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, visit the Zocalo, during a rest day for the migrants, in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 6, 2018 photo, Honduran transgenders Alison Marisela, 19, from left, Naty Banegas, 16, and Nelsy Teresa Ponce, who are part of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants traveling with the Central American migrants caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, visit the Zocalo, during a rest day for the migrants, in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

Much of the trek has been on foot, but hitching rides in pickup trucks, minibuses and tractor-trailers has been crucial lately, especially on days when they travel 100 miles or more. For the LGBTQ group, it's been tougher to find those rides.

In this Nov. 4, 2018 photo, members of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants, stand on the race track at the Jesus Martinez stadium that was turned into a makeshift shelter, in Mexico City. Fleeing violence and discrimination back home because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, the LGBTQ migrants have found the journey north to be just as threatening and have banded together for protection against mistreatment from their fellow travelers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this Nov. 4, 2018 photo, members of a group of 50 or so LGBTQ migrants, stand on the race track at the Jesus Martinez stadium that was turned into a makeshift shelter, in Mexico City. Fleeing violence and discrimination back home because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, the LGBTQ migrants have found the journey north to be just as threatening and have banded together for protection against mistreatment from their fellow travelers. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

"A taxi driver kicked us out of his car," said Lady Perez, a 23-year-old from Honduras, adding that sometimes truck drivers who often transport migrants for a small fee have doubled or tripled the price for her group.

Lady began identifying as transgender at age 5, and her father ultimately disowned her. She was subjected to insults and beatings, her boyfriend was killed and she was warned to leave Honduras or else.

"In our country the rights of the LGBTQ community are not respected, and anti-social groups take advantage of that," Lady said.

Walking on the highway in a black miniskirt, red lipstick and black eyeliner, she said many men in the caravan have been harassing her and the others.

"They have denigrated us. Supposedly you're emigrating from your country because of the violence, the discrimination, the homophobia, and it turns out that in the very caravan you face this kind of violence," she said.

In the face of the near-constant harassment, march organizers and human rights workers have sought to provide the group some security in the form of two men in green vests who travel with them and try to ward off any attacks.

If the verbal harassment doesn't cross the line, "we feel protected," Loly said. "If someone does cross the line, human rights is with us to protect us."

___

Associated Press writer Astrid Galvan in Phoenix contributed to this report.