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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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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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