You are here

#HumansOfDukeSanford: Jessica Van Meir, PPS '17

October 14, 2016

This is the third #HumansofDukeSanford story of the semester. One story will be published weekly this fall.

Jessica portrait

I’m majoring in Public Policy and Gender Sexuality & Feminist Studies. My internship experience this summer actually didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to. I was supposed to be working for the U.S. Embassy in #Ecuador…but I didn’t get security clearance. They’ve been having issues getting stuff done on time. It’s a very bureaucratic process. So I ended up interning with an NGO in Ecuador called “Proyecto Transgénero,” which means “Project Transgender.” I was really lucky – I found them by chance. I’m writing my honors thesis about sex work in Latin America and I found them through the leader of one of the sex worker organizations that I was interviewing. They work on transgender rights in Ecuador, specifically with transgender sex workers. In Ecuador, there’s no law against being transgender, but it’s pretty stigmatized. I was helping to get the transgender sex workers organization legally registered as an NGO, doing meetings with government officials, lobbying for transgender rights, and working with a transgender men’s collective to get them started. 

I made friends with some of the guys in the transgender men’s group. Most of them said that ever since they were little, they felt like they were born into the wrong body. A lot of them ended up dropping out of school and not attending high school. They also have a really hard time getting jobs because even if they’ve transitioned completely and look totally masculine, their IDs still say female. So nobody wants to hire them. And with the economic situation in Ecuador right now, it’s been even harder. They’ve been going to job interviews and can’t find anything. So we’re working on setting up meetings with the Ministry of Labor to try to get them to adopt programs to do more for transgender rights inclusion. Jessica Van Meir, PPS ‘17

Photography/Interview: Katherine M. Zhou / Edited by Carol Jackson