International Women’s Day: Lisa’s Story

For International Women’s Day, we are honored to share the story of a brave woman who received asylum after enduring horrific violence in Honduras and immigration detention in Texas.

Lisa’s life in Honduras was far from easy. She was born a man with dark skin, a Garifuna of West African descent. After transitioning from male to female, her gender identity made her an even greater target of discrimination. From an early age, Lisa felt isolated as a Garifuna. But, after accepting her gender identity, Lisa faced such horrifying violence that she eventually had to flee the country of her birth.

In 2007, while still living in Honduras, Lisa dressed as a woman for the first time to take part in a Pride parade. A photo of her at the event spread across the tabloids and social media, where Lisa was ridiculed both for being black and transgender. But now that Lisa had experienced the freedom of presenting according to her identity, she started dressing as a woman regularly.

Not long after the parade, a group of men brutally gang raped Lisa in her home. Filing a police report only led to threats from other gang members and their families. Fearing retaliation, Lisa left the area to recover from her injuries.

Several years later, Lisa was again attacked by a group of men, two of whom had raped her after the parade. They started coming to her home regularly, raping her, and calling her their “sex slave.” Lisa went to the police. But, they refused even to take her statement. “You should just do what they tell you,” they said.

Lisa, fearing for her life, escaped to Texas, where she was promptly locked up in immigration detention. “Horrible, it was horrible,” she said. Lisa was isolated along with other detainees who identified as gay or transgender. They were unable to work, participate in recreational activities, or go outside regularly. “At times I wanted to give up,” she said.

But, Human Rights First met with Lisa and worked to find her a pro bono lawyer. “They saved my life. They gave me a voice,” Lisa later said. Lisa worked closely with her lawyers to prepare her asylum case. The process, to be sure, was long and difficult: “Talking about it was like reliving it. But we worked so hard and prepared so much. And when the judge said, ‘You are granted asylum,’ I felt such relief.”

Lisa’s lawyer, Alicia Handy of Latham Watkins LLP, was strongly affected by Lisa’s case: “Taking Lisa’s case was surprisingly more emotional than I anticipated. It was a very enriching experience. Lisa is by far one of the most articulate, cooperative, and gracious clients I have ever worked with. There were times when she told her story and we were all in tears. I am grateful I was able to represent Lisa and help her receive much-deserved asylum.”

And of Alicia, Lisa said, “She became more than my lawyer, but also my friend. Knowing her was a beautiful experience.”

Lisa now lives in New York City, where she hopes to go to beauty school and launch her own salon. She has found new community, both with Garifuna and transgender groups. “It’s a radical change,” she said, “living in a place without fear, being free. It’s really beautiful. I don’t know what would have happened if Human Rights First hadn’t come into my life.”

International Women’s Day is an occasion to celebrate women like Lisa who have overcome grave challenges to be a force for good within their communities. For more stories of inspiring women, check out our refugee voices series.

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Published on March 8, 2015

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