By: Nat Paul, member of the HHS SOAR Technical Working Group
I am a transgender survivor of trafficking and homelessness. When I was young, I escaped rural life by reaching out to individuals in online chatrooms. I fell into a world of exploitation. I came home after a suicide attempt to seek a psychiatric facility and went into isolation, taking care of my grandmother until she died. I reached out to the online community again and discovered that they were being exploited. I wanted to help my online friends but appropriate services were not available to them because they were LGBTQ.
For victims I have worked with, there are stigmas that knock individuals down. The pervasive narrative of trafficking is that females are trafficked for sex and males are trafficked for labor. The vast majority of victims I work with, male and trans female, were kicked out of their homes, suffered physical and sexual abuse, face homophobia or transphobia, have dropped out of school, and do what they must to survive. We face homelessness, addiction, HIV, and systematic judgment based on our gender or orientation. Survival sex is not a choice, it is survival.
With current bathroom bills aimed to marginalize transgender individuals and an attack on a gay bar in Florida, it is apparent that LGBTQ individuals still have unmet needs in their journey to equality. The history of the LGBTQ movement in the United States from the riots in the Tenderloin District and the Stonewall Inn are still showing relevance today. I hope you can see the fiery spirits that make the queer community what it is. The fight for legitimacy against institutional bias is an ongoing struggle that needs to be addressed within the anti-trafficking movement as well.
I joined the SOAR technical working group because I have a hopeful spirit that a national training program would be a good starting point for developing not only inclusive services, but beneficial services for a population that has only recently been added to the conversation about trafficking.
“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” –Paul Farmer
The LGBTQ community is complex and diverse. So let us remember a few simple things when serving LGBTQ victims and survivors of trafficking. You can’t help someone if you condemn them. Speak up and work within a community they trust. Open up meaningful conversations to start seeing not only their needs but also your own limitations to offering them the best services. Together we can make meaningful and beneficial services that are inclusive of all the needs of all human trafficking victims.