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Recognizing Transgender Leaders in Colombia for their Work in the AIDS Fight

January 24, 2024
A group of ENTerritorio health workers in Cartagena, Colombia | Photographer: Federico Rios

Though we’ve made tremendous progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, progress in Latin America is lagging tremendously. The region faces a range of issues, including limited access to healthcare in remote areas, stigma,  and discrimination that discourages testing and treatment, and rising numbers of new infections among marginalized populations.

The AIDS crisis disproportionately affects members of the LGBTQIA+ community; transgender people are 14 times more likely to contract HIV. Widespread stigma and discrimination contribute to social exclusion, creating barriers to preventive care and testing, sexual health education, and life-saving treatment for those living with HIV. LGBTQIA+ communities often face higher rates of poverty and homelessness, which can also exacerbate the risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS. 

During an impact trip to Colombia in May 2023, the (RED) team had the privilege of meeting Learsy Batista, a Trans Peer Educator at ENTerritorio who has devoted her life to increasing awareness of HIV and expanding access to testing and treatment.

Portrait of Learsy Batista | Photographer: Federico Rios

As a transgender woman, Learsy Batista knows firsthand the barriers LGBTQ+ people face when accessing life-saving health care and services. After learning she was HIV positive, Learsy turned to ENTerritorio, a (RED)-supported comprehensive health center in Cartagena, Colombia, for psychosocial support and medical care. Learsy described seeking help as a “long, hard process” but said her peers at ENTerritorio helped her find the strength to move forward.

After receiving the care she needed, Learsy channeled her energy toward helping others by stepping up as a Peer Educator. In her new role, Learsy helps detect positive cases of HIV and TB in her community and works to provide compassion, resources, and care to people seeking help at ENTerritorio. “Here, you have a hand to help you get back up. You’re not alone. You have a community, you have a friend, you have a sister,” Learsy explained.

Learsy said she enjoys being a peer educator because it has allowed her to develop new skills in entrepreneurship and has sparked a new passion for making her own clothes and textiles. She also emphasized the value of helping the community around her: “I like bringing the knowledge that I’ve learned in my day-to-day life to my community. I like knowing that people don’t feel alone, the same way I had support.”

 LGBTQ+ Peer Educators at La Corporación Stonewall Antioquia, Colombia | Photographer: Federico Rios

Despite the obstacles she faces, Learsy has dedicated herself to changing the narrative around the LGBTQ+ community. Through her work at ENTerritorio, she’s making positive change possible. 

“This support gives you the strength to move forward,” she said.

Learsy is a powerful reminder that community-led efforts are making a meaningful and positive impact in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We’re grateful for leaders like Learsy for the work they do to support their community members. To end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, we must allocate resources and support not only to sub-Saharan Africa but also to Latin America. Continued funding and comprehensive community-led strategies are vital to ensuring that the region can achieve its goals of reducing new infections, improving access to treatment, and ultimately ending the HIV/AIDS crisis within its borders.