San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Transvestite Aims to Help Youth

Transvestite prostitutes around San José are charging their clients a little extra these days, not to account for inflation but to raise money for a fledgling foundation that hopes to help transgender youth and their families.

According to transvestite activist Luis Gerardo Mairena, 46, the foundation is just getting its start. Last month, Mairena opened the foundation’s bank account with its first ¢50,000 ($97).

“At the moment, we are not helping anybody because we lack the resources,” Mairena said during an interview at his small home in the northern San José neighborhood of Guadalupe. Lamenting a lack of support from government institutions such as the Child Welfare Agency (PANI) and the Public Health Ministry, the transgender advocate said he hopes to find a location to house the foundation.

“The first thing we would do is make all those hypocrites in the government – excluding President Oscar Arias because he is quite humane – more aware, and tell them that they’re not excluded from procreating a boy or a girl with different sexual preferences,”Mairena said.

With more resources, Mairena said he plans to open a counseling center that would employ “human rights professionals,” and offer services to transvestite youth, many of whom he says have no other option but prostitution.

“They are rejected by their parents since they are young. Their families begin to tell them at age 8 or 9 ‘put your hands in your pockets because you walk like a playo (disparaging term for homosexual).’ Maybe they are raped or abused by a neighbor or relative and nobody believes them, so they are demoralized and thrown out on the streets,” the transvestite activist explained.

“And because people don’t see them, they don’t believe they are there, but at this moment there are between 500-600 transvestites (in the Central Valley) between the ages of 18-25, and every day that’s rising.”

The foundation would encourage these youth to stay in school and “help prepare them in life so they become useful for society and can incorporate into the national work force,” Mairena said, adding that the center would also be open to parents and their transgender children as a place to receive talks and counseling.

National Restoration legislator Guyón Massey told the daily Al Día this week that Mairena’s plan for prostitutes to raise money for his foundation is “like selling cocaine to help out young cocaine addicts.” However, he added he would like to work with the activist to find a better way to raise funds.

The foundation is named the Michael Vásquez Foundation after Mairena’s 13-year-old adopted son. His successful court battle for the right to adopt Michael thrust the family into the national spotlight a few years ago.

Mairena said Michael is one of two twins – a boy and girl – born to a friend and roommate who abandoned Michael at three months, taking his sister and disappearing.

Mairena raised him ever since – except a short period when the mother returned, but subsequently gave Michael back – and in 2003 the courts awarded him custody of the boy, sparking controversy over whether transvestites should raise children (TT, Sept. 26, 2003).

Mairena, who says he continues to work as a prostitute “for some friends,” was back in the spotlight in 2005 when he was arrested for allegedly robbing a U.S. tourist in downtown San José. Police said they found the tourist’s camera in Mairena’s purse; the transvestite claims he was framed by enemies who disagreed with the landmark court decision granting him child custody (TT, May 27, 2005).

Judicial Branch spokesman Federico Vanegas told The Tico Times this week that authorities have charged Mairena with theft and are in the process of setting a trial date.


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