84, and living in fear: Mexican LGBTQ residents still face backlash, even after reforms

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In the early hours of Christmas Eve 2015, a transgender sex worker was found murdered with an ice pick in Guadalajara, Mexico. Incidents like these — alongside reports of trans women being dismembered, their remains strewn across neighborhoods — are, tragically, not uncommon.

Samantha practices her daily yoga in her bedroom in Mexico City.

Samantha practices her daily yoga in her bedroom in Mexico City Benédicté Desrus

Despite legal reforms benefitting the LGBTQI community in Mexico — last year the Supreme Court ruled against bans on same-sex marriage, and President Peña-Nieto is currently attempting to push a bill through Congress that would permit such marriages nationally — stigma and hate still run deep. Just this week, tens of thousands of people in Mexico City protested the new bill. As LGBTQI visibility has increased, ironically, so has violence, and violence against transgender women in particular.

Samantha practices her daily yoga in her bedroom in Mexico City.

Samantha, with her friend Tico, makes up and wears a traditional Tehuana dress to celebrate the Gay Pride Day in Mexico City. Benédicté Desrus

Samantha Flores — now 84 — came out as a transgender woman in Mexico City 23 years ago, though she wasn’t able to officially change her gender identity until recently. In 2015 she was baptized as “Samantha Aurelia Vicenta Flores García,” a lifelong dream. In the late 1990s, when a close friend contracted HIV, Flores was witness to the doubly vicious discrimination that HIV-positive gay men faced. Since then, she has been an advocate for gay, transgender, and sex-worker rights.

Samantha practices her daily yoga in her bedroom in Mexico City.

Samantha dances at “The Living” nightclub in Mexico City. Benédicté Desrus

Today, Flores is working toward opening a center called Laetus Vitae (Full Life) for older gay men, who are marginalized both because of their age and sexual orientation. Raising funds for the center has been an uphill task, but Flores remains committed — hoping that when it opens, at least eight men will be able to find a home and community in Laetus Vitae.

Samantha celebrates her 81st birthday with close friends in Mexico City.

Samantha celebrates her 81st birthday with close friends in Mexico City. Benédicté Desrus

Samantha celebrates her 81st birthday with close friends in Mexico City.

Samantha celebrates her 81st birthday with close friends in Mexico City. Benédicté Desrus

Samantha is accompanied to her baptism by her close friend Abril Campillo and her godfather Arturo Coste at the 'Sagrada Familia church' in Mexico City.

Samantha is accompanied to her baptism by her close friend Abril Campillo and her godfather Arturo Coste at the ‘Sagrada Familia church’ in Mexico City. Benédicté Desrus

Samantha is accompanied to her baptism by close friends and her godfather at the 'Sagrada Familia church' in Mexico City. Pictured here (from left to right): Abril Campillo’s son, Abril Campillo, Samantha Flores and Jorge de La Rosa.

Samantha is accompanied to her baptism by close friends and her godfather at the ‘Sagrada Familia church’ in Mexico City. Pictured here (from left to right): Abril Campillo’s son, Abril Campillo, Samantha Flores and Jorge de La Rosa. Benédicté Desrus