Background : Violence against transgender people in Latin America is common. In 2015, Latin-American countries accounted for 79% of all murders of transgender people worldwide. For Latina immigrant transgender women fleeing such violence, the U.S. can offer a comparatively safer environment. Living in this haven, however, is not without costs—particularly in the country’s current social and political climate of increased anti-immigrant and anti-transgender sentiments. Using an intra-categorical intersectionality approach that focuses on the intersection of multiple social locations (i.e., being Latina AND immigrant AND transgender), we analyzed how the U.S. context can influence well-being among Latina immigrant transgender women.
Methods : Data for this analysis came from a larger study about PrEP awareness and use among Latina immigrant transgender women living in the D.C. area. We conducted individual in-depth interviews with 13 Latina immigrant transgender women (M age= 35), mostly from El Salvador (n= 9), who had been in the U.S. between 2 and 28 years (M= 10.5). We used thematic analysis to explore how participants talked about their experiences in the U.S. and their home countries, and how they related these contexts to their well-being.
Results : Although the U.S. context was not a focal area in the study, it emerged organically as a key theme throughout the interviews. Women described stark differences between their home countries and the U.S., especially in terms of discrimination and violence towards transgender people. Many women also talked about how moving to the U.S., and specifically to the D.C. area, allowed them to find support from peers and services for their gender affirmation processes. On the other hand, many reported that finding and keeping jobs was particularly difficult because of discrimination. Participants described how their experiences of employment discrimination were compounded by their intersectional identities as transgender women (e.g., dress-code), immigrants (e.g., documentation) and Latinas (e.g., language). Employment instability, coupled with the economic costs of living in the D.C. area, was one of the most pressing stressors for several participants, and they talked about various ways in which it impacted their well-being.
Conclusions : This study describes how Latina immigrant transgender women living in the D.C. area perceive the U.S. context as influencing their well-being both positively and negatively. With its attention to the complex interplay of factors at the intersection of multiple subordinate social locations (i.e., being Latina AND immigrant AND transgender women), intersectionality is an ideal framework for developing effective interventions to promote the well-being of minority populations.