Patagonia, Argentina — A Catholic nun helps homeless transgender sex workers getting off the streets and provides them with jobs and free housing.
Monica Astroga is a nun of the Discalced Carmelites order. She realised many transgender sex workers in Patagonia were struggling to find jobs, housing, and accessing basic healthcare.
Recently she received a letter from Pope Francis, who congratulated her for her work and encouraged her to keep working with the local transgender community.
She has been working with homeless transgender women for the last 9 years, including them in the activities of the church and providing them with free housing, access to healthcare, a sewing workshop and the ability to learn different skills, such as cooking, hairdressing and sewing.
“One day, one woman came to me and said: Sister, there’s a transvestite in the church. What is she doing here?
She is a transgender woman. What are you doing here? I replied.
A few days later, the woman apologised to me and greeted the transgender woman with a hug.”
Many of these transgender women do not receive palliative care in hospital. The majority of these women have terminal illnesses and hospitals only treat the symptoms of the illness and try to make them comfortable. However, they are normally discharged when they have just a few days left to live.
In an Interview, Monica tells us that initially, all that these girls asked for was a clean bed where they could lay down to sleep and die in peace. “It was heartbreaking to hear that.” She added.
Monica tells us that the girls are working very hard. “They are trying very hard to integrate into the labour market.” She said.
They are, in her own words, very intelligent and capable, but our society treats them very badly.
“It is us the ones who force them into sex work by denying them opportunities. If our society changes their mind [about them], we will be able to help them. I want to continue helping getting them off the streets, the addictions to drugs and alcohol.”
“Transgender women are sisters. They are God’s daughters.” She added.
Under Argentina’s Identity act (2012) transgender people are able to legally use public bathrooms corresponding with the gender they identify with, as well as accessing free healthcare, hormone treatment and reassignment surgeries. A large number of transgender people still struggle with the social stigma, the bullying and harassment, despite being protected under law.