‘If I don’t have sex I’ll die of hunger’: Covid-19 crisis for Rio’s trans sex workers



Brazil is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for transgender people. For trans sex workers, the pandemic has intensified the risk

“You can see what it’s like: empty streets, shops closed, the fallen economy ” says Elba Tavares, 44, from Paraíba state in north-east Brazil. “I am no longer in that rush of prostitution but yes, I sell my body.” But, she says: “There are very few customers.”

Fear and prejudice in Brazil drive many trans people into the sex trade but life on the street for a trans sex worker is never easy.

“Only the strong survive, and I’m not one of the strongest. I’m one of the weakest,” she says, “and weaker for being poor and for being trans. Even if I was trans and had something, the same discrimination would be there.”

Brazil has strong trans movements and civil society organisations but it is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for transgender people, according to Trangender Europe. The murder rate for trans people is the highest in the world.

Elba is coping with the added challenge of Covid-19 as best she can. “How am I surviving? Well you can see. I get a little from the government but it’s not much. Sometimes I can stop by the house of some friends,” she says. “This is a half-developed country. What is most developed here is crime and corruption, that’s well-developed … And when the government is not worth anything, nothing else is.”

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