RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — For 15 years, Rochelly Rangel, now 34, struggled to find a formal job in Brazil. As a transgender woman, she faced repeated rejection, insults, and once overheard a prospective boss saying: "We cannot hire a transvestite."
She ended up working as a prostitute for six years despite having a high school technical qualification in administrative management, and also dabbled in hairdressing.
Then last year, thanks to one of a growing number of training programs aimed specifically at transgender people in famously macho and homophobic Brazil, she finally found formal employment at a bar in Rio de Janeiro.
"It was hard to get here," she told AFP.
In 2020, 175 trans people were murdered in Brazil — one every two days. Brazil has had the world's highest number of transgender killings since 2008.
About 90% of trans people in Brazil end up working as prostitutes, according to the Antra queer rights association.
The life expectancy of transgender people in Brazil is about 35 years, less than half the national average.
Identifying as transgender since her teens, Rangel said that during her long and fruitless search for work, she was taking female hormones and dressing as a woman. But she was unable to legally change her male, birth name.
"I did more than 200 job interviews, but when they (looked at) my ID and resume and saw my name, they looked at me sideways or said that the vacancy was already filled."
In 2004, fresh from school, she applied for an administration post at a multinational company in Sao Paolo, where she lived at the time, and made it to the shortlist.
Her only rival, a young man, got the job.
"I overheard a manager tell an HR employee: 'We cannot hire a transvestite'," Rangel recalled.
Moving to Rio after several disappointments, she found the program Transgarconne run by the Federal University to help place transgender people in jobs at bars and restaurants.
For Rangel, her chance came at the Boleia Bar, where she now works with other women.
The Transgarconne platform, started in 2019, also provides training and advice for bosses on dealing with LGBTQ+ issues.
Brazil's biggest job platform for transgender people was born in Sao Paulo: TransEmpregos found posts for 707 people last year, according to creator Marcia Rocha, a lawyer and transvestite.
"We have more than 24,000 CVs and a thousand associated companies," she told AFP.
"There has been an exponential increase in companies that hire trans people; there are more than a hundred multinationals with available posts," said Rocha.
This is a useful resource in a country of 212 million — 14 million of whom are unemployed — and a service sector hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Advances for Rangel and others like her has been slow.
"It used to be thought that transsexuals could only work as prostitutes. The biggest challenge was to break this prejudice in the business environment," explained Rocha.
TransEmpregos belongs to the LGBTQ+ Business and Rights forum of Brazil, a grouping of more than 100 companies that have signed a commitment to diversity.
Unlike countries such as Argentina, where there is a legal quota for transgender people in the public sector, Brazil has no protections.
Transgender people have been able to choose their name on their ID documents without a court permission, a letter from a psychologist, or proof that they are undergoing hormone treatment only for the past three years.
"We are one percent of the Brazilian population... But we exist, even though they want us to be invisible," said Andrea Brazil, a stylist and creator of Capacitrans, another trans job agency.