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Joanna Cifredo, a human rights activist, smiles while leaning on a pole that has a poster with a rainbow pride flag on it
LGBTQ+ Stories

There are allies and then there is community: Be community

One day last year, I was at home thinking about the case of Michelle Ramos Vargas, a transgender woman who was shot and killed in September 2020. Michelle’s story resonated with me as a trans woman because we were both the same age, 33. Later that evening, I dreamed of walking from the place where she was murdered to the steps of the Capitol and arriving for the one-year anniversary of her murder. I would call the event “La Caminata por la Equidad,” or the Walk for Equity. 

In January 2020, Puerto Rico’s Governor Pierluisi declared a State of Emergency because of gender-based violence. Puerto Rico is the jurisdiction with the highest rate of transgender murders, based on data gathered from the FBI. With rising anti-trans violence in Puerto Rico and beyond, I needed to take action. 

I planned to walk over the course of seven days, stopping in various towns where trans people had been murdered. On September 30, exactly one year after Michelle’s murder, Eleven Jolie and I arrived at the Capitol grounds to demand the approval of Senate Bill 485 which seeks to establish a Bill of Rights for LGBTQ+ people living and visiting Puerto Rico. While the bill remains stalled in the Senate in Puerto Rico, we continue to demand its approval and raise awareness about the urgent needs of our trans, queer, and nonbinary communities.

I began my advocacy career as a young transgender teen fighting for my healthcare needs in Central Florida and continued to Washington, DC before coming back to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. At just 27 I was given the opportunity to testify before United States Congress on violence against transgender women. My career journey has included grassroots community-based work and public policy, advocating for essential human rights. 

I’m proud of my trajectory. My walk was a way of empowering myself. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to actually complete the walk or if my body would fail me along the way, pero I did it. And it made me feel really powerful. 

I’m inspired by the greatness of those around me—the everyday revolutionaries that feed us strength, courage, patience, love, and in their own way make this world a better place just by being themselves. I’m inspired by the great leaders for justice of our collective past, and I am inspired by remembering that they were imperfect people, just like you and me. 

The great justice leaders of our past were people no different from us. They, too, were people whose voices trembled and palms sweated, just like the rest of us. Pero, they had the courage and valor to speak up in their time, and because of them, we are all a little freer. 

Young people give me hope. Young people keep me doing this work. I feel a responsibility to those who came before me to do as much as I can to expand the world of possibility for the generation coming after me.

There are allies and then there is community. Be community. When you commune with someone, you are telling them, “Your issues are my issues. What impacts you, impacts me.”

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