The Bessy Ferrera Fund supports LGBTI people in emergencies

November 17, 2022

In the run-up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, honoring the lives lost to acts of transphobic violence and systemic oppression, we want to share the story of Bessy Ferrera and the fund she inspired us to create.

Bessy Ferrera was a young Honduran trans woman and activist who was killed in 2019 by a hate crime. Her legacy inspired Hivos to create an emergency fund for LGBTI people in life-threatening situations. The fund has already helped over 30 people, some of whom live in Costa Rica.

A typical case

At the end of 2021, a trans woman was violently assaulted in a hotel in San José, Costa Rica. The aggressor not only beat her, but also injured her eye. Without any money for health care, and being an illegal Nicaraguan migrant, her situation was precarious.

These cases are largely ignored, especially when the victims are people in vulnerable situations and rejected by society, like trans women. Discrimination and lack of opportunities force many of them to do sex work to earn a living. This obviously exposes them to all sorts of dangers and violence.

Transvida upholds the rights of trans women

Antonella Morales is the leader of Transvida, an organization that has worked to uphold the rights of trans women in Costa Rica since 2009. “The Nicaraguan woman was taken to the hospital and operated on. But if you’re not insured by the state, social security only pays for emergency care. So the next day they threw her out on the street,” Antonella says.

Transvida, founded by and for trans women, provides free services that include information workshops, school and college education, condoms, and direct support in emergencies, as in this case. Since 2015, Hivos has had a close relationship with Transvida through the Costa Rica HIV Project.

The Bessy Ferrera Fund

Transvida was able to help the woman from Nicaragua thanks to the Bessy Ferrera Fund. Laura Sánchez, who works for Hivos, explains. “The Bessy Ferrera Fund supports human rights defenders who face various types of danger. Through the fund, Transvida was able to cover her health care, rent and food expenses for two months,” she says.

Bessy Ferrera

Bessy Ferrera was a trans woman and an activist fighting for her rights and those of her peers in Honduras. After several death threats, she was murdered in 2019 by a man who ran her over and shot her several times. The man was only charged for illegal possession of a weapon, not for murder, let alone for a hate crime. This shows how little the lives of LGBTI people are worth in this part of the world. And how much work remains to be done.

Her name, her courage and the legacy she left of seeking justice and rights for trans women, are all reflected in the Bessy Ferrera Fund, which has already been used several times in Costa Rica.

“It’s an emergency fund for immediate assistance that can mean the difference between life and death,” says Anna Kiebert, one of the fund’s promoters in the Netherlands.

A new identity

In another case, the fund helped a woman in Costa Rica do the paperwork to apply for a new identity card “Thanks to the fund, the woman now has her identity card, which you need to access basic services like health care, school, open a bank account, or get a job with benefits,”  says Antonella.

The work of organizations like Transvida is essential. They fight against the discrimination and trans and homophobia that leads to so much violence and abuse.

“Since many trans women do sex work on the streets, anything can happen out there. Recently a sex worker was diagnosed with cancer. So we applied again for support from the fund, and now she’s getting chemotherapy,” Antonella adds.

We all have the same needs

“We have the same rights and needs as everyone. Some suffer violence, others get sick. That’s why a fund like this is so important. Because emergencies, as the word indicates, are emergencies and can’t wait”, concludes Antonella.