Originally from El Salvador, Karla Avelar is a Trans woman who has been an activist and human rights defender since the 1990’s, fighting to make life better for the LGBTQ+ community, People Living With HIV, and other marginalised groups.
Karla has bravely fought intolerance, brutality, death threats and assassination attempts in order to ensure a greater future for others who cannot raise their own voices. The path may not have been easy, but she continues undeterred.
Karla shares her story as part of the United Nations video campaign, Diversity in Adversity, which highlights and celebrates LGBTQ+ human rights defenders and activists around the globe and shares the incredible work they do.
Karla describes the beginning of her own activism as around 1991 or 1992 when “the HIV situation became quite intense. And I guess it was out of the HIV crisis that LGBTI organisations and people started to become active. But it happened bit-by-bit.”
The activist continues, “Trans women began taking a political stance, denouncing the decades long denial of our rights.” This fight for fairness did not go down smoothly, as Karla details; “The discrimination became so intense that I was the victim of two attempted assassinations.
“But the precise moment when I said to myself ‘I want to dedicate myself to this, I want to protect my rights and ensure others enjoy theirs too,’ was when I took a trip to prison.”
However, this wasn’t a simple visit, this was a two-and-a-half-year sentence for what Karla describes as an act of self defense after being attacked by a man. While incarcerated, she was tortured, sexually assaulted and denied access to medical treatment for her HIV status. The culmination of it all was that when Karla was eventually released, she was very unwell indeed.
Her treatment drove her to fight more intensely for others – “I was tortured, raped…I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of being silent about the things that I had lived through and that others were living through in that place.”
Karla began by calling for appropriate provision of HIV medications and greater access to justice within El Salvador. In 2008, along with five others, the activist founded COMCAVIS Trans, El Salvador’s first organisation for Trans women with HIV. In 2013, she made history by becoming the first Trans woman to appear before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Along with her mother, Karla eventually sought refuge in Switzerland when the situation became too dangerous at home. The difference in this new place was immediately startling, as she describes: “The simple fact of walking down a street without being insulted, without being told you’re going to be killed, without being constantly told that you are a f****t, that gives me the piece of mind I always wanted and I believe this is what every person needs.”
Karla brings her interview to a powerful close by calling on the community to stand together in the face of adversity and bigotry – “I believe it’s important to raise our voices for those who can’t. We won’t be able to find answers if we keep working individually, we need to raise our voice, we need to mobilise ourselves; denounce violations; make demands – and never again be silent.”
Follow the UN Diversity in Adversity campaign over the coming weeks and keep up-to-date by visiting the dedicated UN webpage here.
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