Homosexuality was legalized in Panama relatively recently, when the 1949 law prohibiting same-sex relationships was repealed in July 2008. Although there is a growing LGBT community in Panama, gay couples have no official rights and same-sex relationships, marriages or unions are not recognized. Transphobia is also rampant in Panama, as it is throughout the region, a region where 80% of transgender women are murdered at age 35 or younger.
In response to this reality, La Asociación Panameña Para El Planeamiento De La Familia (APLAFA) developed a strategy to incorporate well-known activists from the existing movement for LGBT rights into its HIV/AIDS prevention and educational efforts. Arming them with training, information, condoms and rapid HIV tests, APLAFA hired community health promoters like Candy Pamela and Luis García Ivana to reach those most in need within the LGBT community.
Candy is a small, 24-year-old woman with an expansive smile. For Candy, growing up as a transgender woman was difficult, but as a well-known social media celebrity in Panama, Candy said she had the "option to be just a regular woman" rather than a powerful local activist.
"But with all the frustrations I went through, and with the support I had from other organizations, from getting to know activists and feeling empowered about sexuality, knowing that I had the opportunity to help others made me feel good," said Candy. "So, in a way, when I felt depressed, I would go out and hand out condoms, and speak with other colleagues. It made me happy."