By Danielle Duran Baron, Senior Communications Specialist
PHOTO: Shantal was the first transgender sex educator at Kukulcán
Kukulcán is the supreme God who was responsible for teaching the Mayans about agriculture, medicine and, more importantly, how to run a civilization. So it was no coincidence that a group of 17 volunteers in the Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community chose this name for the new organization they started from scratch, in 2001. “We wanted something that truly represented us. Kukulcán, the Mayan deity, is something very much ours,” says Danny Montesinos, Kukulcán Technical Coordinator and one of the original founders of the Tegucigalpa-based organization.
CHF is the principal recipient of the Global Fund for Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Honduras and Asociación Kukulcán is one of its local partners in the fight against HIV/Aids. The work done by Kukulcán is mostly focused on men who have sex with men (MSM) and on a younger demographic. “Our work has a strong educational and creative component to engage the younger population, usually not very interested in the issue,” Danny explains, adding that recent activities have included a fashion design competition, a dance contest and even a Miss Honduras Gay pageant. He says that at first, these activities have very little to do with HIV/AIDS education, but once they reach the target population, it is easier to educate them. “Things are changing very quickly. Before, sex trade would involve people in their mid-twenties or thirties, now we are seeing 16-year-old kids who think prostitution is an easy way to make money,” he adds.
His effort seems to be paying off. According to two studies commissioned by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of HIV infection in this group has fallen considerably in five years. “In Honduras, in the gay community, we had a 13% incidence in 2001 and this percentage dropped to 8% in 2006,” says Danny, who is quick to add that the studies are not comparative, considering different samples of people were interviewed. Most, however, would agree that there has been a strong change in behavior among the GBLT community, especially when it comes to using condoms. If a few years ago, many people did not know what to do with a condom, now there is a strong demand.
Because of its strong focus on younger people, most Kukulcán’s leaders and educators are in their twenties so that they can blend in with their target audience. They also mirror the sexual diversity seen on the streets, which makes it possible for different groups to identify with different educators. Shantel, 21, is the first transgender educator to work for Kukulcán. She started the transgender group in December 2009; now it has about 30 members. She says that prejudice forces many transgenders or “trans girls”, as she refers to herself and her friends, to work in the streets. Some cannot get a job because of their sexual orientation and appearance; others quit school because they feel discriminated. A lot of them end up prostituting themselves for lack of options, making them especially vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/Aids.
For Shantal, at first it was hard to break the news to her family but now has their support. She also believes that Kukulcán enabled her to be more self-assured “Before I did not see myself as a transgender, but since joining Kukulcán, I’ve participated in workshops about sexuality and started a process of acceptance; now I am in peace with my decision.” Working for Kukulcán and educating other trans girls, many young like herself, Shantel hopes that they understand that the organization takes them into account and can feel at home, as she does.
Agner Pastrana also felt home at Kukulcán as soon as he started attending some of the workshops provided by the organization, almost three years ago. He felt empowered by the information he received and started working with Kukulcán to educate others and leading activities in the organization’s headquarters, as well as in nightclubs and many other places where young people congregate. Agner explains that the fact that he is not obviously gay makes it easy for him to approach different groups of people. “There are some people that are not as tolerant, some older people, some parents can be less open minded so the fact that they don’t realize that I am gay right away allows them to actually listen to what I have to say,” the 21-year-old explains.
Kukulcán has made him more tolerant too. He admits that before he started attending meetings at the association, he had a hard time accepting the transgender population. In the past, he would avoid being seen with people who were openly gay. “I have really gotten over these feelings. I am in peace with my own choices and accept other people’s choices as well. Our organization reaches out to many parts of the GBLT community so that we get to know and respect each other.”
At 24, Carlos is already a veteran. He joined the association when he was 18 when a former partner insisted he attend a workshop. He admits that when he first started attending the meetings he had very little information and led what can be perceived as an unsafe lifestyle. Now, aware of the risks, he says he reflects on his past actions and looks at things more carefully. Carlos enjoys his work at Kukulcán, particularly reaching out to teenagers, whose impulsive behavior can make them particularly vulnerable. He also plans to go to college and major in psychology and credits Kukulcán with widening his horizons and making it possible for him to accept himself and the choices he has made. “There is a lot of work to be done, especially with the younger generations, but we are definitely moving in the right direction,” he concludes.