ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — An Orange County transgender woman launched a new program with the help of an Apopka nonprofit to help immigrants in the LGBTQ+ community.

What You Need To Know

  • About 3% of the 21 million immigrants who come into the country are members of the LGBTQ+ community

  • About four in 10 undocumented immigrants are uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation

“We want to include also Central Florida to create the spaces, because the LGBT community is everywhere, but we don’t have nothing specific for the immigrant community,” Andrea Montanez, Hope Community Center’s LGBTQ immigration coordinator, said.

For almost a decade, Montanez has served and helped advance rights for LGBTQ+ members. One of those she helped was 27-year-old Razi, a native from Mexico and a DACA recipient. Montanez helped Razi change her passport and ID information to reflect the gender she identifies with.

“I kind of feel safe in a place where my ID and the picture that is there, and that name that is there, that represent myself,” Razi said.

U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are more than 21 million immigrants in the country, of which, about 3% are members of the LGBTQ+ community, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute

Montanez, who was born in Colombia and is now a U.S. citizen, said she understands a lot of the struggles the LGBTQ+ immigrant community faces. 

“The transgender immigrants, the undocumented, they’re in the worst place because their struggle is completely abandoned and again it’s like nobody cares about them even though they’re really beautiful people,” Montanez said.

Prior to her move to the U.S. 25 years ago as an asylum seeker, Montanez worked in Colombia’s secret police, which is the South American nation’s equivalent to the FBI. 

“I tried to show I’m a male, but I was never a man,” she said. 

Montanez worked undercover and lived her personal life basically the same way. It wasn’t until six years ago she was finally comfortable enough to start her transition while living in Central Florida.

Almost every other day, someone new comes to Montanez seeking advice and counseling. Perla, an undocumented transwoman, traveled all the way from Clearwater to receive her help. 

Montanez is helping Perla, 41, find a doctor who treats transwomen, especially those without health insurance so she can receive her hormone therapy.

About four in 10 undocumented immigrants are uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

When Montanez gave Perla a number to a doctor who could help her, she fought back tears.

“This is the moment I’ve dreamt about ever since I was a kid and I’m happy it’s finally coming to fruition,” Perla said.

Helping make that happen for Perla is what Montanez said she loves to do.

“We’re magic people but we have to help each other,” Montanez said. “We’re different, but it’s only because we’re magic, it’s just as simple as that.”

As of now, more than 30 people are registered for Montanez’s new program.

You can find more information about the program or join by going to the nonprofit’s website or calling 407-880-4673.