For the 15th year, the Colin Higgins Foundation is honoring LGBTQ youth with their Youth Courage Awards, to be held Saturday in Los Angeles. This year, the winners are transgender and bisexual youth activists Alex Bergeron, 20, of San Francisco.; Anthony James, 20, of Columbus, Ga.; and Victoria Villalba, 19, of Phoenix. They each will receive an all-expense paid trip to LA PRIDE and $10,000 as part of the award.
Victoria is 19 years old. An undocumented immigrant, Victoria first came to the U.S. at age 3. When her father was deported, the family returned to Mexico. It was there that Victoria, at age 15, came out to her parents. When they rejected her, this put Victoria in an unstable and dangerous situation. For three years, she lived on her own, and as a queer transgender woman she encountered physical, emotional and verbal abuse while seeking employment and housing. She then sought political asylum at the U.S. border. However, her request was denied, and she was held in a detention center. The situation drew more dire still after Victoria reported the injustices taking place in the detention center. Victoria was then put in solitary confinement for three and a half months; a community outcry led to her release. Here is her story, in her own words:
There I sat in my cell, crying and wishing it was all over. My choices were going back and facing torture and death, or staying here where I was facing the same thing. The hope of getting out was the only thing that kept me running. I did not have someone outside waiting for me, neither did I know what would become of me when I did — getting killed in my country of birth for my gender expression or in this detention center. Asking for help, getting treated in a way that is indescribable, getting your dignity and humanity taken away, and all you get in return is a uniform used by many others that had been here before you, and a 6 x 8 cell. That is how I felt every day of my life for three and a half monhts.
Today I am out of Immigration Custody and on June 16, 2015 it will be a year since my release. Unfortunately, there are many other transgender womaen in detention who have felt like how I described — for six months, a year, and even two years. The Immigration Prison Industrial Complex nearly destroyed my life, as well as the lives of many other transgender folks who actually did get out.
I am 19 years old and suffer from depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, claustrophobia, panic disorder, and monophobia (fear of being alone). I have suffered from all of that since last year when I was released. I found strength, and now fight against the Immigration Prison Industrial Complex; that is my medicine and healer. Fighting my fear makes me feel so much better that all the medication I must take. Every release from a detention center boosts me up and reminds me there is more to be done to end this atrocity that dehumanizes LGBTQ migrants.
After detention there are economic difficulties — no clothes, shoes, food, or a home. Going from friend's home to friend's home is very mentally and emotionally difficult. LGBTQ migrants need a lot of help when they get released, so I and others like me founded the organization Transcend Arizona. There is a lot of work to be done to end the deportation monster and liberate brothers and sisters from detention. We must remember always that wanting freedom is a human right; wanting to express yourself is a human right. Being you in every single unique way is a human right.
Transgender folks are more susceptible to discrimination, rape, medical negligence, and murder while in detention, and we need to sound the alarm that is happening under Immigration and Customs Enforcement's watch.
"It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains." —Assata Shakur
XOXO — Victoria V