Guatemala strikes down law criminalizing abortion and homosexuality, activist speaks out

As activists, we must deconstruct and come to know ourselves; to study our place in society. As strategists, armed with the power of respect, we can fight the conservative groups attempting to limit our expression. Together with people from other sectors of society, we can grow in strength.

  • 2 years ago
  • July 24, 2022
7 min read
Whether fighting for the rights of the Queer community or women's autonomy over reproduction, activists like Javiera Javier are making a difference in Guatemala Whether fighting for the rights of the Queer community or women's autonomy over reproduction, activists like Javiera Javier are making a difference in Guatemala | Photo courtesy of Reed Naliboff on Unsplash
Javiera Martinez
Interview Subject
Javiera, 37, goes publicly by Javiera Javier Martinez and is an
artist, drag performer, activist, and member of the team for Diversa magazine and podcast in Guatemala. Find her @Javiera_Javier on Instagram or on Facebook.

Learn more about Diversa magazine and podcast.
Background Information
Guatemala, the largest country in terms of population in Central America, declared itself the Pro-Life Capital of Ibero-America on March 9, 2022. The president of this country, Alejandro Giammattei, attended the event in support of the announcement.

In this context, the proposed law known as Law 5272 or the Law for the protection of life and family emerged, which promotes heterosexual marriage and rejects sexual diversity and sexual education within academic establishments. It also sought to establish extreme prison sentences for women who have and doctors who give abortions, even if it threatens the life of the mother.

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala ꟷ Years ago, my brother competed in a pageant for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and I followed suit. In 2007, I entered a contest as a woman. In the years that followed, I presented as female on and off, at a Halloween party or a diversity parade. Yet, dressing like a woman did not become part of my everyday life for 11 more years. At the end of 2018, I became Javiera and started to live as a trans woman.

Today, I am an activist. I am constantly on the move. When we reach one goal, another appears on the horizon. You climb one mountain only to return to the valley to face another peak. Recently, we narrowly defeated Law 5272 in Guatemala – which would have imprisoned women and doctors for abortion even if the mother’s life was in jeopardy; and it criminalized homosexuality. The battle rages on.

When I feel tired, I wonder if I’m doing the right the thing. Then, someone appears and says, “You inspired me,” and the activism resurges in my soul.

The awakening of Javiera’s transgender identity

As a child, I watched my older brother, Leo, come out as gay and become part of the LGBTQ+ community. I saw his gestures and the way he dressed, and I always viewed him as perfectly normal. Then, one day, I heard someone call him a derogatory word.

Witnessing homophobia surprised me; I always saw my brother’s identity as perfectly natural. That moment scared me because I thought I might be gay too.

Looking at life through my brother’s perspective helped me. He never walked away from his religion. He received respect at the Catholic Church he attended and from his friends. Yet, when he left those circles, he faced discrimination.

I surprised my brother when I came out openly because I did not “appear” to be gay. Perhaps it is because I had more freedom than he had. My brother serves as a fundamental part of my life today. When I came out, we began to share a common experience. Homosexuality became a regular topic of conversation in our house.

Together, we began to frequent clubs and community spaces for LGBTQ+ people. My brother had no gay friends at the time, and he adopted mine. While our lives eventually took different paths, we love each other and spend time together often.

Later, when I came out as trans, I sought to create my own spaces – ones filled with respect and tolerance. I work hard today to make sure the environments I create are respectful; that they follow the values ​​I learned at home. I know now that realizing my identity proved vital in accepting my brother.

Accepting her trans identity came through adversity

My journey to accepting my trans identity began when I reunited with an old friend who I had not seen in 10 years. At first, the reunion felt good, but soon an uncomfortable situation arose.

Another mutual friend and I had gone out to buy makeup. We both enjoyed photography and agreed to take photos of one another’s transformations. We repeated the ritual for four consecutive weekends, enjoying the looks and costumes we created.

The experience proved so positive; it helped my friend overcome a very difficult moment in his life. As time went on, I decided to publish the photos. The man whom we hadn’t seen in 10 years sent me an audio message.

“Oh, I see you let Javiera out,” he said in a derogatory tone. The message felt like an attack on my feminine side, filled with macho, misogynistic undertones. That moment deconstructed my identity and allowed Javiera to be born.

I experienced my second coming out, first as gay then as trans. I always loved my birth name Javier, so I kept it, using the attack on my femininity to my favor. Today, nobody stops Javiera from speaking out.

When I began to live more outwardly, I received hateful messages from heterosexuals, but I also experienced hate from own community. “You look so ugly,” my peers would say, “You are nobody. How ridiculous!” If the comments became too offensive, I simply blocked them.

I learned quickly how to deal with those who discriminate, and I maintained my motto, “Where it hurts the most, that is where I have to be.” I went on a television show with a host who openly mocked the LGBTQ+ community. Though some criticized my decision, I believe this is where I can make difference.

A call to activism, international support for gay rights in Guatemala

My work is rooted in a personal commitment to the fundamental value of respect. On one occasion, I found myself working with a pilot. He did not know about my trans identity and said he couldn’t understand why homosexual people were fighting Law 5272, which sought to imprison women for abortion and criminalize homosexuality. [The law, which originally passed, was eventually struck down due to social outcry.]

I wanted to tell this man right away, “Hi, I’m gay!” I found it funny, but I refrained. He said many things based on his understanding of Christian beliefs that day. I respectfully responded that homosexuality existed for a long time and even appears in the Bible. Then, I told him about my Catholic faith and, though we claimed different denominations, asserted that we believed in the same God.

I suggested that Jesus commands us to love our neighbor and that includes all people. He pondered my words as I challenged him to question his beliefs. Through respectful dialogue, I have watched some people change their positions.

Likewise, I believe while it is important to focus on youth, we mustn’t forget the older generation. They also have the right to information. When talking to adults, I choose my words carefully. Whether in society at large or at work, I remain easy going, but firm.  

As activists, we must deconstruct and come to know ourselves; to study our place in society. As strategists, armed with the power of respect, we can fight the conservative groups attempting to limit our expression. Together with people from other sectors of society, we can grow in strength. For example, in rural areas, indigenous and agricultural communities often support diversity.

In Guatemala, the trans community faces serious attacks. We lack protection and the system deprives us of certain rights. We can call upon the international community to join our fight.

The Pride Movement in Guatemala continues to grow

Over 100,000 people attended Guatemala’s Pride Parade on June 25, 2022. While the media and State sell the idea of Guatemala as a strictly conservative country, we showed a different picture. Seeing so many people and families gathered with one voice, moved me.

At Guatemala’s first Pride Parade in 2003, I stood by as a spectator, afraid to be myself. I saw courage in the trans, gay, and queer people in the streets. As time went on, spectators became fewer because more people participated in the parade. We all got involved, with our colorful flags and rainbow masks.

Today, we have the Diversa magazine and podcast – the first LGBTQ+ media outlet in our country. At times, the network has brought together 400 or more people for events. The work proves hard and tiring, but I keep climbing the mountain. I cannot throw in the towel.

Those in power want us to believe conservatism defines Guatemala because that feels convenient for them, but our movement continues to grow. We take up space now. Like a flower that you plant and water, it takes time to grow. I have faith in Guatemala.

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