Genesis is a transgender woman who is fighting for the right to be free from discrimination, abuse, and life-threatening harm.
Genesis was raised by her grandmother in Honduras; however, she often visited her mother on the weekends. When she was about 10 years old, her stepfather began molesting her. She was also abused by boys in her neighborhood when she was very young.
As she matured into adolescence, she began to identify as female, instead of male. “I began to feel like a woman, and when I looked in the mirror, I saw a woman,” Genesis told the Florence Project.
However, Genesis’ family and friends in Honduras refused to accept her gender orientation and continued to call her by the male name she was given at birth. She was also bullied at school by her classmates. Eventually she dropped out of school, and even though she was a skilled hairstylist, she struggled to find employment because of discrimination.
Genesis decided she had no choice but to leave Honduras when she was targeted by the Mara 18, a deadly gang. Members of the gang approached her and demanded that she help them find and capture their rivals. She refused, and they threatened to kill her. She knew that she would never escape the gang if she stayed in Honduras, so she fled the country. Her journey to the United States was harrowing, as she was assaulted and raped multiple times.
When she reached the United States border, she was apprehended by immigration authorities and detained. As a transgender woman detained in a “pod” with 40 men, she suffered constant verbal abuse from her fellow detainees. She even stopped showering and tried to bathe herself in her cell to avoid them.
“I stayed locked up in my cell most of the time. I cried and cried. Nobody paid attention.”
After being detained for months, Genesis represented herself at her final hearing, turning in an asylum application another detainee helped her fill out. The other detainee told her not to include information about her gender or sexual orientation on her application, so she turned in the application without any mention of the years of abuse she’d suffered in Honduras. During her final hearing, she tried to speak about the abuse, but the judge would not allow her because it was not mentioned on her application.
To her horror, the immigration judge denied her asylum claim and ordered that she be deported back to Honduras. “I fell to the floor and cried,” she recalled. “I didn’t want to go back.”
Thankfully, Genesis encountered the Florence Project. Florence Project staff met with Genesis, and quickly realized that she had not revealed the discrimination she suffered as a transgender woman on her asylum application. Staff helped Genesis gather additional evidence and submitted an appeal, arguing that Genesis must receive a second chance to tell her story in front of a judge.
After submitting the appeal, the Florence Project team also requested a bond hearing, in hopes that Genesis might be released from detention while her case was pending. It was a great relief to Genesis to have a team at her side after months of representing herself. After a grueling hearing, the judge set a reasonably low bond.
“My heart stopped,” Genesis recalled. “I remember my Florence Project team jumping up and saying ‘You did it! You did it!’” Luckily, a family member was able to pay her bond, and she was released from detention the next day.
Thanks to her determination and resilience, and to the tireless advocacy of Florence Project staff, Genesis will be spending the holidays out of detention.