Lissa Fuentes: "Now I have the great opportunity to help trans refugees"

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  • The ACATHI Association offers all kinds of support for LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees.
    The ACATHI Association offers all kinds of support for LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees. . Source: Lissa Fuentes.

The activities technician at the ACATHI Association explains how the organization has helped her in every way: from the time she arrived in Barcelona until now, when he helps other trans refugees.

For twenty-one years, the ACATHI Association has been working to provide support and well-being to LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees. One of its purposes is to guarantee access to training and essential services such as medical care, legal support and psychosocial assistance, among others.

In 2020, Lissa received all kinds of support from the organization. Currently, five years later, she is working as an activities technician for the association and helps people who, like her, have had to migrate from their native country because of their sexual condition.

At what point did you have to leave your country?

In 2017 I left Cuba , my native country, and went to Moscow with the aim of being able to reach Spain one day. There I was settled for two years, as I failed several times in achieving my purpose. Finally, on December 13, 2019, I successfully entered Spain after traveling through more than fifteen countries.

Russia is a country that does not respect LGBTIQ+ rights either. Why did you decide to land in Moscow?

This was the only way out of Cuba. I had to arrive in a European Union country to apply for asylum and I had no choice but to go to Moscow as a tourist. It is true that Russia does not accept the LGBTIQ+ community but I was already used to living this way. Although I knew that my stay in Moscow would be temporary, there my life took a 360º turn.

You were only twenty-one years old when you left Cuba. Did you have to learn the hard way?

Totally. I was very young but leaving my country was the only possible option. In Cuba, I graduated in Teaching although I never had the opportunity to work as a teacher. There, my sexual condition was a problem especially in an area of ​​poverty and total dictatorship. They wouldn't let me be who I really was and I suffered the consequences.

Deep down, I knew that Spain would give me the opportunity to be myself, to study, rebuild my life and be able to fulfill all my dreams. And so it has been. It is true that I left completely alone, but along the way I have met many Cubans who have made me feel at home.

What did you do when you arrived in Spain?

I landed in Catalonia and the first thing I did was start the asylum application process in Girona. One of the headquarters of the Cepaim Foundation , located in Olot , helped me a lot. In fact, they themselves referred me to the ACATHI Association in Barcelona, ​​which mainly supports LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees.

The pandemic, however, slowed down my trip to Barcelona and I had to spend a large part of 2020 in Girona. Then, when everything was back to normal, I was able to log in as an ACATHI user.

How did the ACATHI Association help you?

First of all, it helped me a lot to integrate. I was able to meet people who lived the same situation as me and it was a wonderful experience . In fact, I have never lost the link with the entity.

As soon as I entered, I already had access to Catalan courses, I received support and accompaniment in all the procedures to apply for asylum and I was part of different leisure groups and activities. In addition, I was one of the pioneers of the 'Pont Trans a la Feina' program started in 2021. Through the association, I obtained a job placement contract with Training and Work and while I was being trained, I also worked.

And are you still in touch with ACATHI?

Now I work for the ACATHI Association! And it is that after two years being part of the 'Pont Trans a la Feina' program, I had the great opportunity to access a vacant position as a technician for the organization's activities. I started in 2022 and I am very happy with my job. I have had beautiful experiences and learned a lot. I am very grateful to them for trusting me.

Now is your chance to help LGBTIQ+ migrants and refugees. How do you feel?

I love this job because I also needed the organization's help at all times. Now, with all my experience, I guide trans people who come from other countries. I help them to process a health card, to access Spanish and Catalan courses, to apply for asylum and to enter the workforce, among others. I am very satisfied to be able to offer this information to people who, like me at the time, are going through a complicated process in a vulnerable situation.


How many people have passed through the association over the course of these two decades?

This year the organization has celebrated twenty-one years of existence and during all this time, we have been able to help people from forty-two nationalities . A very large number.

In fact, I am in charge of organizing internal and external activities and, in addition, I attend to twenty people daily by phone and in person. Our work is constant and our doors are always open to all LGBTIQ+ people who need us.

Do you think that Catalonia is a territory that offers facilities to trans refugees?

Barcelona offers good conditions regarding employment and LGBTIQ+ rights. However, in recent years the city has seen a lot of violence towards the trans community . Every month, three or four trans girls inform us that they have been assaulted in metros, parks and city streets. In this sense, violence has increased more in Barcelona than in other Spanish cities. And this is a situation that makes us all very sad and creates insecurity .


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