Denise Chambers, a Black transgender woman who lives in Bellerose, Queens, said she left her home country of Trinidad in 2004 after facing a brutal transphobic attack.
Chambers was heading home from a party in February of that year when a transphobic mob assaulted her in the street and threatened to burn down her apartment if she reported the incident to the police. Shortly after, Chambers contacted a friend in the US, who advised her to flee the island. The following month she arrived in the US and originally planned for a temporary stay to obtain employment.
“I did not want that threat to become a reality,” Chambers said in an interview with Gay City News. “It was for more of an economic reason so that I could save money, return to Trinidad, and move out from where I was living because it was not a safe environment.”
Chambers’ journey to the United States was not easy, however. With backing from the LGBTQ immigrant advocacy group Immigration Equality, she petitioned for asylum throughout a five-year stretch during which she faced adversity as an undocumented immigrant. Finally, in October of 2014, a judge granted her asylum and she received her green card to work and live permanently in the US.
“The years that I spent here as an undocumented immigrant — it was years of psychological [and] emotional torture for me,” Chambers said. “Being an undocumented immigrant and being trans, you live on the fringes of society.”
Fast forward more than a decade and Chambers is a medical assistant and gained American citizenship earlier this year. While her family targeted her with transphobic abuse, the US has become a refuge from these challenges.
“I was always treated with disdain,” Chambers said, referring to her relatives. “I had no reason to return to Trinidad even if I want to, and so I decided to stay. It was a big decision. It is one which I don’t regret today.”
The coronavirus pandemic also threw her for a loop when it hit the city last March. She was eventually diagnosed with it despite being cautious.
“I wasn’t feeling well, but I thought it was just a simple cold,” she recalled.
Despite the many challenges of the pandemic, Chambers’ newfound American citizenship is a major bright spot — and one that will have a lasting impact.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Chamber said. “I have a renewed sense of confidence. I am very optimistic. I look at myself, and I tell myself, ‘you belong.’ I know that I will enjoy the rights and privileges of all citizens.”
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