RÍO DE JANEIRO (AP) – In a patio located a few blocks from Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, a dozen people settle on broken sofas under a banner with the caption: « Cure your prejudice. » They watch an impromptu stage featuring a woman in a tight, short dress singing a song about the visibility of transgender people.

A Saturday night like any other at the time of the coronavirus at Casa Nem, an illegally occupied building.

The six-story building houses about 50 members of the LGBTQ community who are sheltering from the pandemic behind closed doors. They receive food donations and are prohibited from leaving unless faced with a medical emergency or under exceptional circumstances. Voluntary isolation is one of the few ways this traditionally marginalized group has found to reduce the risks of COVID-19, while the others remain vulnerable on the streets.

« Building on the experience we had during the AIDS epidemic, when we were accused of being a vector of the virus and left to our own devices, we are now protecting the community, » said Indianara Siqueira, a 49-year-old transgender sex worker. and activist who runs Casa Nem.

In 2016, his organization occupied the building with small bedrooms, shared bathrooms, and a huge common kitchen. Residents found it dirty and abandoned, including a room with some artwork, bronze busts, and stuffed animals. Casa Nem became a refuge for members of the LGBTQ community who had been victims of violence, who were rejected by their families or who simply had no place to live.

New residents during the pandemic must remain isolated on one of the floors of the building for 15 days until they are symptom-free, before fully joining the community.

While some found refuge in Casa Nem, others like transgender prostitute Alice Larubia, 25, are trapped on the streets, fighting to earn enough to survive in a collapsed economy. With a generally quick smile, Larubia turns serious when talking about her future after the pandemic. He wants to get off the streets and would like to work on an aesthetic.

Data from the Transgender and Transsexual Association of Brazil shows that around 90% of its representatives work in the sex industry due to discrimination and lack of opportunities.

After more than a month of quarantine at home and receiving financial help from her family, Larubia returned to work in Niteroi, a city on the other side of the bay.

« It was more the need and I had to go back to the street, » he said while waiting for clients.

He carries disinfectant in his bag and uses a mask on public transport, but he can’t do it while he works. She makes about $ 15 a night, less than half of what she was making before the outbreak.

« I’m scared, » she acknowledged. « I know I am at risk. »