What we can all learn from Indigenous trans Peruvian congressional candidate Gahela Cari

On a Friday morning in February, Gahela Cari, only the second out transgender woman to run for Congress in Peru, joined us for a conversation on her historic candidacy, her experience throughout the campaign, and creating a global intersectional movement for liberation. Gahela is a co-founder of the political party she’s running under, Nuevo Peru, and is a former trainee of the Victory Institute’s Empodera program in Peru dedicated to building LGBTQ political power through political engagement in collaboration with our regional partner PROMSEX. Gahela ran a campaign in 2020 securing 24,562 votes, and this upcoming election takes place in April 2021.  

Visit Gahela’s campaign website, and follow her on twitter and instagram.

Gahela Cari’s presence is imposing in the way that she insistently fills up the room with the communities and lived experiences she embodies. Without faltering through any introduction, she proudly claims her identities and upbringing as if reclaiming the space and power historically denied to them. This day, on what might have been a fourth or fifth interview for Gahela, we experienced that tenacity for ourselves. 

I asked about this, to which she said: 

 It is extremely necessary to understand where I come from, and that I did not learn about discrimination or violence or the consequences of corruption through a book or a website. I’ve experienced the consequences of a capitalist extractive and patriarchal system firsthand–I have felt it on my skin.

I was raised in a society that forced me to repress my ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and imposed a mandate of masculinity on me. In this context in which I’ve been forced to repress my indigenous identity, my transness, my fight for the emancipation of our bodies and lands, I have done the exact opposite to share with other trans people a vision of what is possible. 

With our candidacy, we are proposing to change everything, we propose a real transformation, and for that, it is extremely necessary for me to say my identities over and over again: 

my name is Gahela, I’m a young trans Afro-Andean 29 years old migrant, daughter of farmers, intersectional feminist, Pachamamista, believer in intersectionality and love as a mechanism of transformation. It is critical to claim my identities with pride and to demonstrate that a multitude of identities co-exist within each body proving that our struggle is not only along gender lines, but it is inherently interlinked with class as well. 

For trans people in most countries around the world, it is both dangerous and otherwise extremely challenging to run and win an electoral campaign when the intersectional nature of our experiences present innumerable barriers. So much, in fact, that many in the LGBTQ community are disengaged in the political process. Gahela has been politically active throughout her life since growing up in communities devastated by corruption and poverty exposed her to various forms of resistance efforts. She never saw herself running for office, in fact, she was actively discouraged from engaging in politics through political parties. For her, the need to participate in electoral politics as a candidate herself came from seeing leaders like Veronica Mendoza, Nuevo Peru’s founder and candidate for president, renounce from her previous political party to stand against the criminalization of farmers and human rights demonstrators. To Gahela, Veronica Mendoza’s and Nuevo Peru’s platform represent hope for real systemic and institutional change.

What is at stake right now in Perú with my candidacy and that of Veronica Mendoza’s is the fate of gender policies for the next 5 years. I’d like to see a corrupt politician come to me and tell me that we don’t need a gender identity law, let’s see a coup-minded party tell me that we don’t need a second agrarian reform.

Our campaigns are not financed by a mine or a bank, we are running on pure love, mobilizing and organizing with people committed to equality. That is what we are doing, we are pushing a change in common senses, and we are doing so from an intersectional approach.

As steadfast and determined as she stands, Gahela’s political activism has been marked by discrimination and gender-based violent threats from within and outside political institutions. During her candidacy in 2020, she presented a request to the National Elections Jury to both 1) run under the name Gahela instead of the legal name she was given, and 2) called for the implementation of non-discrimination voting protocols for transgender people. Over a year later now, Gahela is still forced to run under her legal name, and was forced to flee her home due to credible threats to her and her families’ safety.

Why is it always us — the trans people, LGBTI people, and women who suffer violence — the ones that have to flee to save our lives? Why? 

It’s unconscionable that the very people who are proposing a platform of equality are the one’s targeted by transphobia and violence. It’s unconscionable that I had to leave my home to save my life and be able to continue with this campaign. 

With every act of discrimination and transphobia they are proving why it is precisely necessary to push for policies, laws, and norms that guarantee certain fundamental human rights. It is our duty to respond to hate with proposals, with joy, with love. 

For many years we have been told that we can’t, that it is not possible, but I believe that we are demonstrating with concrete actions that it is, that building a different world is possible.

Running her campaign during COVID19, Gahela’s motivations are clear — her vision of liberation extends beyond the borders of her country. She described this public health crisis as both an avoidable tragedy and a key moment to push the processes of real transformation. 

History has shown us that what we are fighting for will not simply fall from the sky, equality is not going to be handed to us by politicians who have ignored us all our lives. Equality will be won with every beat of our chests, with our hearts, and with our movement.

If we want a proposal like the one we put forth to become a reality, we have to assume our responsibility to each other politically. If we want someone like me to be in the next congress we have to take on the task, campaign, and contribute to this process. 

We have seen in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, and all parts of the world that trans rights are only won through dedicated effort, coordination and with a lot of love. 

I invite you to participate in this fight of love for equality. Because what happens here in Peru is not so far from what trans people live in the United States or around the world which stands to reason that if attacks from the anti-rights groups and conservatives are worldwide, then our resistance must also be. In that sense, we cannot see our struggles as unconnected, we cannot face this capitalist, extractivist, patriarchal system separately, it is time to attack transphobia and all kinds of discrimination and violence. It is time to change everything in a way that is articulated and unites our struggles. This is where our collective proposal was born, that is what’s at stake–everything.

Read about Gahela’s platform: Family Farms, Safe Abortion Access, Comprehensive Sex Ed, Transgender Rights, Police Reform, Fiscal Reform, Comprehensive Benefits System