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Colombia’s ‘Madonna’ helps LGBTQ people fleeing Venezuela | Colombia News

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Maicao, Colombia – Gusts of hot desert wind drift through the broken window, shattered by a stone, in the house that Madonna Badillo shares with seven Venezuelan sex workers.

Badillo fixed the window many times before but eventually gave up. Harassers have repeatedly hurled rocks at the home as an act of aggression against her and the transgendered people taking refuge here.

Since 2017, an estimated one million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia, leaving behind a crippling economic meltdown, political persecution and extreme medicine and food shortages.

But for the most vulnerable groups, such as the LGBTQ population, there are few allies in Colombia.

For that reason, Badillo, a 49-year-old trans woman, has opened the doors of her humble home near Colombia’s border with Venezuela.

Her service started two years ago, just as migration from Venezuela started to swell, when she noticed two young trans women, named Champagne and Nicole, marooned in the dusty streets of Maicao.

“No one wanted to rent them a room because there is a lot of discrimination towards our population,” says Badillo at her home. “They were so skinny. Because of the situation [in Venezuela], they go hungry.”

The two-bedroom home has only basic furnishing, a few electric fans, and a muddy backyard reeking of sewage. In the living room stands a life-size figurine of Jesus.

“My house isn’t a palace, but they are able to live freely and I don’t charge them for rent or anything, so they help out buying food and things,” she says.





‘Madonna’ Badillo adopted her moniker from the famous US pop star [Steven Grattan/Al Jazeera] 

“Because of what’s happening in Venezuela, and as our neighbour country and members of the LGBT community, I find myself wanting to help them and give them refuge.”

Born to a Venezuelan Wayuu mother and a Colombian Guna father, Badillo says her cross-border indigenous heritage motivates her to continue helping.

A difficult place to be trans

Badillo’s home bears the signs of her own struggle throughout the years. The broken window, a scar of repeated attacks, is only one.

“‘F***ots, get out of here’ – they shout things like that,” she says.

In a stack of newspaper clippings sit several hundred photos and articles of the American pop star Madonna Ciccone, whose moniker Badillo adopted three decades ago when she began her transition to a woman.

Badillo once had a vast collection of Madonna photos, LPs and cassettes, but they were destroyed when torrential rains flooded her home and ravaged Maicao around 30 years ago.

“She has been my alter ego since I was very young, during the 80s. I identify with her. She’s a chameleon,” Badillo says.

“When I present myself to people, I believe they are thinking: ‘Who’s that girl?” she says with a laugh, alluding to her favourite Madonna song.





A woman puts on her makeup in Madonna Badillo’s home [Steven Grattan/Al Jazeera] 

For Badillo, growing up in Maicao came with a lot of obstacles as an “extremely prejudice and machista place”.

Badillo says she was the first openly trans woman in Maicao, and during the 1980s, she endured discrimination, harassment and violence at the hands of intolerant townspeople.

“There are a lot of people from the LGBT population crossing over who don’t feel secure and they confide in me,” she says. “I tell them to take care of themselves here because there’s a lot of homophobia.”

Wilson Castaneda, director of Caribe Afirmativo, a leading Colombian LGBT rights group working in the Caribbean region, says that despite the challenges Badillo faced, she “created her trans identity with dignity and made a place for herself”. 

“It was difficult and she faced a lot of insult and negativity, but she persisted; because she didn’t want to leave her hometown,” Castaneda says. 

Colombia Diversa, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group, says attacks against LGBTQ people, especially trans women, are reaching worrying levels.

The most recent statistics, from the end of 2017, show that over 109 members of the LGBT population in Colombia were murdered that year. Of that total, trans women accounted for 36.

‘She died’ 

Some of those Badillo takes in are living with HIV/AIDS and facing death because of the lack of antiretroviral medication in Venezuela. The migrants, like hundreds of thousands of the Venezuelans who have fled, often arrive in Colombia with little money and possessions.

Isabella Ferrer is a 19-year-old trans sex worker and beautician who fled the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo. She says she knew many people who were unable to get access to antiretroviral medication.

“She was like this,” Ferrer recalls, holding up her finger to describe how skinny her Venezuelan sex worker colleague had become.

“She died. It was impossible to get the medicine. She was about the same age as Madonna [Badillo],” she explains.

Ferrer, who learned of Badillo from a news segment on television, has lived here for two months. “I saw Madonna on TV. She was being interviewed, so it was a complete coincidence,” Ferrer says.

“After that, I spotted her outside. I saw her during the day walking down a street and I asked her, ‘Are you the Madonna that was on TV?'”

Since then Badillo has shared her home with her – one of roughly 25 Badillo estimates have come and gone over the past two years.

“She’s fabulous. I love her personality. Although, if you get on the wrong side of her, she’ll tell it how it is. She doesn’t mince her words,” Ferrer says while straightening her blonde wig before a night of work.

‘Humanitarian crisis’ 

Badillo herself, who has never been a sex worker but a stylist and beauty product saleswoman, was diagnosed with HIV more than 25 years ago and blames her own promiscuity as a young woman. She has also been battling cancer since two years ago and now lives with a colostomy bag.

“I faced lots of discrimination because there’s a lot of stigma around the illness, even nowadays there are people who don’t understand,” she explains

“I’ve had clients who’ve left me because they think that when I pluck their eyebrows they’re going to catch it, or even just by touching them.”

Although hard data on the issue is scarce, Caribe Afirmativo says many Venezuelan migrants living with the disease have gone without medication and cross over to Colombia. They arrive in areas with poor HIV care, even for Colombians. People have to wait a long time to get assessments for medicine and it often leads to AIDS.

“Last year, in Barranquilla, eight gay Venezuelan men died of AIDS while waiting to be assessed to get their medicine,” Castaneda says.

“One thing that happens is that many Venezuelans who arrive can’t find formal employment and end up in sex work. Some of them use protection, some don’t, and this has caused a rise in the virus and a greater risk to Venezuelan people living in this situation,” he adds.

Another problem stems from the undocumented status of many Venezuelan migrants. Worried of possible deportation at health centres, many do not attend medical checks.

“We can say that the situation of Venezuelans living with HIV in Colombia is a humanitarian crisis and we need to see an immediate response by the government,” Castaneda says.

In recent years, Castaneda and many NGOs have invited Badillo to speak about HIV/AIDS prevention at schools in Maicao and elsewhere in Colombia.





Badillo says she has endured discrimination and violence over the years [Steven Grattan/Al Jazeera]

Badillo also takes her migrant guests to a local LGBTQ safe house, Caza de Paz, where they can obtain medical tests free of cost.

“Thank God, I have been able to live with this illness,” Badillo says. “I’ve been on national radio, TV and in newspapers and I go and speak at schools about HIV. I am also very involved with spreading this message within my own community.”

Although she recognises the hardships she’s endured, Badillo insists that trans women ought to be proud and determined in their quest for equity and equality.

“We may be ‘different’ to other people,” she concludes, “but we still have the same rights as anyone else.”

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25 Best Senators’ Memories From 25 Years at Canadian Tire Centre

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There is a special birthday in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata this weekend.

Canadian Tire Centre turns 25. Its doors first opened on Jan. 15, 1996, for a Bryan Adams concert. The Senators played their first game in their new arena on Jan. 17, 1996, when they lost to the visiting Montreal Canadiens.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life has at that arena. I don’t know how many Sens games I have been to there — I would ballpark it somewhere between 600 and 700. But I thought it would be fun to look back and share my 25 most memorable moments at the arena. I am not counting numerous concerts as great moments in the building — I often joke that the four best concerts I have ever seen there are Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks, Garth Brooks and Garth Brooks. I am not counting the 2009 World Juniors either. I am sticking entirely to the Sens.

25. Paul MacClone

Mike Watson was just sitting in his company seats, minding his own business, watching the Ottawa Senators take on the Florida Panthers on a January night during the 2012-13 season. The casual discussion among reporters after the game was how he broke Twitter.

Watson’s friends had told him that he looked like then-Senators’ head coach Paul MacLean. When he got face time on the new high-definition scoreboard, in the front row and directly behind the coach, the crowd buzzed and cheered.

Senators coach Paul MacLean had a doppelganger behind the bench.

The shot of Watson behind the bench spread quickly on social media. Surely, everyone thought, he must have been planted in that seat. He wasn’t. The last time he had sat in those seats, Cory Clouston was the coach, and no one noticed him.

As the season went on, the MacLean doppelganger became a local celebrity and was somewhat of a mascot during Ottawa’s playoff run.

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With spare parts and derring-do, Ottawa’s own Rocketman reinvents skating

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An Ottawa man is turning heads on frozen stretches of the Ottawa River with a homemade device he jokingly refers to as his “jetpack.”

In reality, Brydon Gibson’s gas-powered, propeller-driven invention is more Rona than NASA.

“I got my hands on some weed whacker motors and I figured strapping one on my back and making skating a little bit lazier would [be] a good idea,” said Gibson, 24.

He bolted a 38-centimetre propeller to a wooden frame, fashioned a throttle out of a brake handle and cable salvaged from a 10-speed bike, then added padded straps cut from a dollar store backpack. He laced up his skates, and suddenly Gibson was zipping along at speeds reaching 40 km/h. 

“I was actually getting a little scared at one point because I was going a little too fast,” the inventor admitted.

There are no brakes, but there is kill switch to cut the power “when something goes wrong,” said Gibson. “It’s actually a little finicky.”

This is not the first iteration of Gibson’s invention. As a teen, he built an electric propulsion device in his parents’ basement, though it never got to the testing phase.

“Ever since I was a kid … I’ve been taking apart things I found on the side of the road, making a mess of my parents basement, spreading electronics everywhere,” he said.

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‘It is frustrating’: U.S-educated nurse from Ottawa hits barriers to getting licensed in Ontario

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Before she accepted a swimming scholarship to attend Boston’s Northeastern University, Ottawa’s Rachael Geiger made sure it had the kind of nursing program she wanted. The school’s baccalaureate nursing program offered a fifth year of co-operative placement after four years of study — something Geiger thought would leave her well prepared for a career as a nurse when she returned home after university.

But it hasn’t worked out that way.

Two and a half years after graduating summa cum laude from Northeastern, the 25-year-old is unable to work as a registered nurse in Ontario.

Geiger said she was initially surprised, especially since she wrote the same licensing exam in Massachusetts as is written in Ontario, the NCLEX-RN exam. She is licensed to practise in Massachusetts and Illinois.

“I never thought it would be such a challenge.”

She and her family are frustrated at how difficult it has been for her to get registered to be able to practise in Ontario. That frustration is heightened by the fact that nurses have seldom been in such high demand in Canada and around the world as the COVID-19 pandemic strains health systems and shortages loom. Local hospitals are among those trying to recruit nurses. The Canadian Nurses Association has been warning that Canada will experience extreme shortages in coming years.

“It is frustrating to sit and see all the news about nursing shortages and not be able to help,” said Geiger.

Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, the professional association that represents registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in the province, said she was “more than surprised” to hear of the difficulty Geiger has had.

But Grinspun, who initially studied nursing in Israel and then the U.S. before becoming one of the country’s nursing leaders, said the system of allowing foreign trained nurses to work in Ontario is unnecessarily slow and complicated and leads many valuable nurses to simply give up or find another career. Grinspun herself challenged the system when she first came to work in Ontario.

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