“We open pathways”

Miluska Luzquiños

The fight for the rights of trans people in Peru


By Sara Baptista


Because of who Miluska Luzquiños is, fighting is an intrinsic part of her life. As a trans woman, she faces a daily battle just to be allowed to exist in a conservative and patriarchal country like Peru. To merely survive, however, is not enough, and she turned this experience into an ongoing struggle, working with other trans women and opening pathways to a future of possibility and hope.

At the age of 40, Miluska is the national coordinator of Red LacTrans (Red Latinoameicana y del Caribe de Personas Trans, the Latin-American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, in a free translation) in Peru and the founder of Casa Trans Zuleymi, which shelters trans women who are immigrants, victims of violence, or that have no place to live. Miluska says that this work makes her happy and explains: “The defense of human rights allows me to get to know more companions, to go out into the world, to talk, to build.”11. Daniel Contreras, “Miluska Luzquiños: ‘En la Casa Trans Zuleymi no hay ninguna abeja reina, todas somos obreras’”. Somos Periodismo, February 6, 2019, accessed December 31, 2022,

Miluska is a person that thinks about the collective before the individual aspect. She modestly shares the merits of her work and tells Sur that it was her companions that led her to where she currently stands. “I did not do a single thing, they are the ones who always moved me forward and I am very grateful for them”. As an attorney and an activist, she sees herself as the result of many trans women who she has met along the way: “Miluska is the result of the exclusion of trans women in the human rights advocacy system”. She is also a person who answers to challenges as someone who is used to dealing with them in her daily life, in a quick and efficient manner.

Being a pioneer was not part of her plan, and the choice of transforming her private struggles into activism was not obvious – in fact, this happened almost by chance. Miluska had never considered activism as a professional path. When she was finishing law school, she thought of working at a court of justice or a notary office. One day, she was invited to a meeting of an LGBTQIA+ group that worked with issues pertaining to HIV/Aids, and she then realized that the reduced participation of trans people led to lack of awareness of their true needs. She then became engaged in what she believed to be an isolated issue, but was surprised with funds and the mission to implement a countrywide project. This was how the Northern Peru Trans Women’s Platform was created, currently known as the Feminist Transorganization, which is where she still works at.

In 2016, upon discovering that there was a large number of immigrant trans women in Lima without support, she once again acted in an innovative way to solve the issue. Miluska created Casa Trans Zuleymi with the purpose of sheltering these people. In the space – which she refers to as “a place of hope” and now has four establishments throughout the country –, trans people who are immigrants, victims of violence or that have no place to live receive food, health instructions and legal aid, or just find a place where they can stay at ease. “We must demand our rights with full bellies!”, the activist states.

Her work defending trans people’s human rights was already renowned, having received a Franco-German Prize for Human Rights in 2019; however, in 2020, with the arrival of the pandemic, it once again took courage and agility to assemble a plan and work in order to meet the most urgent needs of the people she worked with. Through Red LacTrans, she managed to raise funds and bring food to trans women throughout the country. During this time, the workload was intense, and Miluska ended up contracting the coronavirus and falling ill before taking the vaccine. In addition to her direct actions, Miluska and her network produced a report and published a few articles about the specific situation of trans people in the context of the pandemic.22. See, for instance: Miluska Luzquiños Tafur, “#BONOTRANS: ¿Cuándo fueron las cosas fáciles para las trans?”. Ella - Encuentro Latinoamericano de Feminismos, April 29, 2020, accessed December 31, 2022,ándo-fueron-las-cosas-fáciles-para-las-trans-498fdc7e67a; “Memoria de Gestión: Trans Organización feminista por los derechos de las personas trans. 2018-2021” (internal document shared by the organization).

One of the hardships faced by the Network was the fact that, due to the social isolation caused by the pandemic, many trans women lost their regular access to drugs for the treatment of HIV, which affected their immunity and led to a high tally of deaths by Covid-19. When the vaccination effort began, trans people also had problems accessing the vaccine because they lacked an identification document.


Another aspect mentioned by the activist is the transition into the virtual world. She admits to having neglected this means of communication before it became the only one that could be used, which became yet another obstacle. When digital communication still lacked in terms of structure, many people, particularly those in the jungle regions of the north of the country, became all but isolated, with more difficulties in accessing information and resources. “Covid left us the learning of working on a community basis and in an articulated manner”, she reports.

She is now facing another challenge: the political turmoil in Peru. Since early December 2022, the country has plunged into a massive crisis. Former president Pedro Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress and was removed from office. New general elections were scheduled for July 2023 and protest overcame the streets of major cities.

In a Peru undergoing complete instability, minority rights were threatened and the perspective of progress became even more distant. Nowadays, in Peru, the life expectancy of a trans person is of mere 35 years33. “Situación de las personas trans en Perú”, Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Personas Trans, 2021, accessed December 31, 2022, Furthermore, according to the Reniec (Registro Nacional de Identificación y Estado Civil, the Peruvian National Registry of Identification and Civil Status), 1% of the population of Peru is undocumented, and this percentage is higher among the trans population.44. According to the National Plan Perú Libre de Indocumentación 2017 - 2021, There are no official statistics that show the current situation of undocumented people faced by the trans population; the few statistics available are usually connected to health issues, specifically HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A study by Universidad Cayetano Heredia 76 (2012:24) indicated that the percentage of undocumented individuals within this population exceeds 13%. Although these data are referential, they show that this group has a much higher percentage of undocumented people than the national average". “Perú Libre de Indocumentación Plan Nacional 2017 – 2021”, Registro Nacional de Identificación y Estado Civil, March 29, 2021, accessed December 31, 2022,, p. 87. The lack of documents leads to a difficulty in accessing rights, as in the case of the vaccine. Without vaccines, in addition to being more exposed to the virus, trans women were also prevented from accessing multiple places, since they lacked a vaccination passport.

The current situation is concerning for Miluska, who explains that economic, political, and social issues affect women more, particularly trans women. “We are highly concerned that the congress elected by our people continues to be filled with conservative, anti-gender representatives who oppose all progress in terms of rights”, she states. An example of what is at stake right now for trans people in Peru is the gender identity draft bill, which Miluska helped formulate and has been under discussion in the Peruvian congress since 2016. The proposal provides for a judicial and non-pathologic process for transsexuality and proposes that the rectification of names in official documents should be made free of charge. Although there was some progress in 2021, when the draft bill passed the Women and Family Commission in Congress,55. “La Ley de Identidad de Género de Perú avanza en Congreso tras 4 años parada”, SWI, March 29, 2021, accessed December 31, 2022, there is no expected schedule for the topic to be discussed again.

Human rights organizations in the country are also facing challenges of their own. With the economic instability, these entities are at risk of losing funds to carry out their actions, which are more needed now than ever. On the other hand, the concession of protection measures for defenders and other activists is also hindered. “Our companions who go to demonstrations, our companions who go to Casa Trans, our companions who are sitting down in the office, they are the direct surroundings of human rights defenders, so we are concerned with the lack of interest on the part of the State, the inaction by the State in taking measures for protection”, Miluska explains about the people she considers to be at risk of suffering with the violence inherent to the country’s political moment.

Given the absence of the State, it is crucial to become organized in collectives and, moreover, in networks. It was the combination of the strength of activists and organizations that allowed trans people to access food during the most dire moments of the Covid-19 pandemic. Networks such as Rede LacTrans, present in 23 countries, also allowed for the production and disclosure of reports such as “No Muero, Me Matan!”, which blew the whistle on the exclusion of trans women in Latin America and the Caribbean and informed the world of the country’s situation.

From her childhood in Lambayeque to international recognition, Miluska has seen countless situations of loss and setbacks, whether personally or in the collective realm. Discrimination in college, where she was the first trans student, financial hardships, the challenges of life as a sex worker, arguments within the family, threats and attacks as a human rights defender. None of that took away her will to build a better future for herself and her companions. With the love of her grandmother and partnerships with multiple activists that cross her path, Miluska carries on. In her own words: “This is Miluska’s starting point. I have suffered with violence, attempted theft, and we have had sensitive documents stolen too. But I am very happy, because I met wonderful people who give their lives to promote human rights”.

If, on the one hand, Miluska entered human rights activism almost by chance, on the other, the choice to remain is a conscious one and restated each day: More than awards or national/international recognition, her greatest source of motivation are the people who join her path. “There are things that pay off without the need to involve money”, she summarizes. Just the other day, she was approached by a young woman who said that her work is inspiring and asked to take a picture with her. Miluska, saying she felt like a TikTok user, concluded: we open pathways.

Miluska Luzquiños