“My dream is to get married and be able to guarantee my partner the right to stay on the small piece of land I have.” When Valeria Rodriguez heard this request from Erica, a travesti recyclables collector in Franco da Rocha, Brazil, she knew it fit perfectly with the mission of Instituto Nice.
On July 22 Erica’s dream came true. Before a crowd of thousands she and Jorge, her partner of 16 years, received a community-funded fairytale wedding as part of the city’s second pride festival.
This spectacular granting of a small wish is just one of the hundreds of practical efforts to support LGBTI Brazilians by Instituto Nice.
In 2011 Valéria Rodrigues organized a group of transgender and transvestite women to create new opportunities for trans prostitutes and those caught up in sex trafficking to re-engage with society. Together they have demanded the rights guaranteed in law but restricted by social intolerance. Instituto Nice received NGO recognition in 2016 and now works in several cities across Brazil.
According to Valéria “The primary causes of violence against trans people are prejudice and discrimination by gender identity linked to the lack of public policies that allow the entry of this population into the formal labor market. As a result many turn to the streets to earn money to have the least dignity, because there is no dignity without money to pay rent, eat and dress.”
Instituto Nice members are true grassroots activists working in communities to identify and educate individuals who “no longer want to live in prostitution, who are sexually enslaved by people who use them until they can no longer afford to make money on their bodies. Our history is to bring life where the last hope was already drying up.”
The organization’s long-term goals include “repatriating transsexual and transvestite Brazilians who have been trafficked as sex slaves to European countries such as Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Germany and France. We want to bring them back to their homeland and empower them with new opportunities in their communities as so many suffer and come to death as indigents away from people who love them.”
They also have plans to provide education and shelter to the broader LGBTI community.
Valéria first imagined her future activism as a 15-year-old transvestite kicked out of her family home and seeking support for people like her living at the economic and social margins of Brazilian society. Sixteen years later she and Instituto Nice are creating the support network she imagined as a teenager.
Brazil is in the midst of a political crisis including the questionable jailing of this year’s leading presidential candidate by a legal system run by a cadre of evangelical judges and politicians. The likely victor in October’s election is an open admirer of the military dictatorship of the 1960s and 70s. In this environment, Instituto Nice’s efforts to support individual empowerment will only become more necessary.
“Today we operate in cities across the country. Our struggle for dignity and the guarantee of rights never ends. Daily, and without rest, we seek support from public officials and business leaders who have previously ignored our demands, yet we remain confident that one day we will be able to overcome hatred and prejudice,” says Valéria.