The Guatemalan asylum seeker who created a refuge for gay and transgender migrants on the US border

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04/08/2021

Kissing his partner goodbye on a normal day before heading to work changed the life of 32-year-old Estuardo Cifuentes forever. It was mid-2019 when he stepped out of his front door in Guatemala City and said goodbye to his boyfriend before getting into a waiting Uber. A police patrol that witnessed the scene approached to carry a supposed routine check, and one of the officers started to hit Cifuentes while shouting insults about his sexual orientation. Cifuentes complained about the incident but all he achieved was to invite further harassment. According to Cifuentes, his identification was taken from him at the police station and he was placed under 24-hour surveillance. In fear for his safety, he decided the best thing he could do was leave the country and seek asylum elsewhere, even if this meant leaving behind his comfortable life in the Guatemalan capital. “Despite the fact that the LGBT community is discriminated against in Guatemala, I had managed to live with it. I had been with my boyfriend for eight years and we had a marketing and publicity firm that we had been running together for seven years. At times we were blackmailed by the gangs and we had to make some adjustments. But we had managed to make a life for ourselves in spite of all the bad conditions in Guatemala. We had adapted,” he says. Like the hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans who try to make their way to the United States every year, Cifuentes sought the aid of a coyote, the name given to people who take money to smuggle migrants across borders. Cifuentes embarked on a 17-day odyssey, sometimes walking 12 hours a day, sharing a trailer with dozens of other migrants and eventually being kidnapped and held for 21 days in Reynosa, in the north of Mexico.

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