A Letter from Ecuador's Human Rights Hero
In November 2015, Diane Rodriguez was one of 120 human rights defenders gathering at the Front Line Defenders Dublin Platform in Ireland. She spoke about the danger she faces in Ecuador as a transgender activist. While more than 1,350 trans people have been murdered in the last seven years in Central and South America, Diane recently went public with the news of the pregnancy of her partner — a trans man. Here is Diane’s story, as told to Kay Cairns.
I’ve always thought of myself as a girl, but when I came out to my parents when I was 16, I told them I was gay. I didn’t know what transgender was. They took it really badly, and so I left home and started sex work. Whenever I tried to go back, I was forced to get rid of my female clothes and had to go to conversion therapy.
It wasn’t until I was 23 that I became independent. I was working as a male banker during the day and socialized as a woman with my friends at night.
I educated myself on who I was and started to form Silueta X, which is an LGBTI organization in Ecuador. I’ve had a really tough time because of my work.
In 2012 I took a taxi outside the office. It looked like a normal cab, but when I got inside I realized it wasn’t at all. Two men jumped in from another car and made me cover my eyes and stay silent, or they said they’d kill me. They said they knew who I was and what I do. They took everything from my purse and one of the men sexually assaulted me and tried to rape me. It lasted three hours.
At the time I was kidnapped, I was working on a report on the murders of LGBTI people in my country. This isn’t the only time I’ve been attacked.
In August 2014 a group of men came looking for me at the office. I didn’t think much of it because they were young. A month later, just after I got married to my husband, four men came looking for me again at the office. There was a standoff between Silueta X’s accountant, an armed man, and three others.
I work in politics, and have run for congress. But after this event, I stood down for a while. It wasn’t long before I got back involved, but then I got another death threat and resigned. The police never found out who the caller was, and the threat’s still being investigated. In my country, cases open, but they never really close. The threats have gotten worse, and my attackers have said they want to cut off my breasts.
I’ve asked for help from the state and Front Line Defenders, and so now the office has more security cameras and I have guards that are always with me. My interaction with the media helps too. If something happens to me, people will know and an investigation will be launched.
I have the happy news that my husband and I are starting a family. He’s a trans man and can conceive. So far not many people know where we live, and we’re thinking of changing house again before the baby is born just to make sure we’re safe. We’ve been using the office address instead of our own for everything.
My husband has really struggled with the health care system as a pregnant man. We went for an ultrasound with a private consultant and the doctor refused to address him as a man, constantly telling him he was a pregnant woman. It was awful.
We went to the media about it and moved to public treatment. The private health care provider apologized, and things are getting better.
We’ve made loads of advances in Ecuador for the gay community, but not for intersex or trans people. I fought hard for trans people to be able to change their name, I fought hard to run for congress, and I fought hard to help lesbian, gay, and bi people be able to marry.
But my husband and I have been called selfish, sick, and ill for wanting to have a child. In Ecuador, people confuse gay rights for trans and intersex rights. And so when we ask to be legally recognized and supported, we’re accused of being greedy, because we already have “gay marriage.”
People need to know that sexuality and gender are different and that we all just want to be equal. I know I can’t enjoy equal rights as an LGBTI person, but I work so future generations can.