When she was 16 years old, Diane Rodriguez turned to sex work for survival. At age 18 she began her human rights activism in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
This past Sunday, Rodriguez became the first openly transgender person elected to political office in Ecuador. Born Luis Benedicto, the Ecuadorian legislator has been involved in social activism for more than 15 years. In 2008 Rodriguez founded Silueta X, a non-profit association whose mission is to help children, adolescents, young people and TILGB people (Transexual, intersexual, lesbian, gay and bisexual), with emphasis on transsexuality.
In 2013 Rodriguez unsuccessfully ran for the Ecuadorian National Assembly. Despite the setback and violent hatred she faces, she told NBC News, “Being a public figure comes at a price, but I see that cost is a sacrifice for younger generations so that they don’t have to suffer the same experiences that I have to suffer through now.”
The discrimination and violence that trans people face in Ecuador will have a political voice which will stand up for them in the legislative branch. Transgender rights in Ecuador are still being challenged; it was only this past February that transgender residents were able to vote according to their chosen gender.
In Ecuador men and women are separated in different lines to cast their ballot, which can be very uncomfortable for transgender individuals. A bill in Ecuador was passed where people could choose a gender on their identity card so that they would not fear harassment. Small steps such as these are what interests Rodriguez. “The rights of trans people are among the least protected from all the groups in the LGBTI community,” she told NBC News. “What interests us mainly is that we don’t get killed on the streets. That is our main fight. Trans people are still walking targets.”