Andrea Vargas is not afraid to be attacked on her way home anymore, now that she is working in the first hair salon in Argentina, recently opened by 10 transgender people who were former sex workers.
“Now I feel different,” she told EFE, explaining that because they work at night, trans sex workers are exposed to a wide range of violent assaults — from being robbed, beaten up, to murdered, with 15 cases recorded in 2016.
Vargas recently started working at the self-managed hair salon in Buenos Aires, an initiative meant to empower transvestites, transexuals and transgender people, and counter stereotypes and stigmatization.
The idea dates back to 2012, when Claudia Vasquez head of the human rights group Otrans, launched the project without public funding.
“Las Charapas” project allowed the women to find an “identity,” the activist told EFE, insisting the state should provide them with alternatives — as sex work affects 90 percent of trans people, “degrading” them and “reifying” them.
The project especially supports trans migrants like Vargas, who came from Peru two years ago in a bid to continue working as a hairdresser, her profession, but eventually “fell into the street.”
“It’s not that I wanted to … but I did not have any income,” adding that her activity also led her to drug addiction.
But the hair salon changed her perspective on life: “when you are in the street, you don’t think about studying, and now I am considering studying journalism or law, so I can help my peers.”
Usually associated with show business, drugs and crime, the cooperative seeks to change stereotypes about the trans community as neighbors interact more closely with the collective.
Vasquez denounced the institutional violence against the trans community, especially immigrants, observing a surge of attacks since conservative President Mauricio Macri was elected in 2015 — “imposing xenophobic policies.”
The “terrible persecution” adds up to the difficulties of finding a job and a place to live, as Macri’s policies have sparked a wave of mass layoffs.
The state must implement public policies that better protect trans people, said Vasquez, denouncing the lack of political will to properly apply a bill approved in September 2015 in the Buenos Aires province.
Vasquez, who came from Peru 16 years ago, started as a hairdresser, and now has become an activist leader and professor of journalism at the University of La Plata.