Feature story

Brandy Rodriguez leaves legacy of courageous advocacy and community support

29 October 2021

The Trinidad and Tobago transgender activist and community leader Brandy Rodriguez has died.

Ms Rodriguez was a stalwart of national and regional efforts to advance the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. She was the President of the Trinidad and Tobago Transgender Coalition (TTTC). Through her collaboration with the United Caribbean Trans Network (UCTRANS) and the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender People, she contributed to the movement for increased visibility, advocacy and community organization around gender identity issues. She also contributed to policymaking and workplace engagement efforts, including as a member of the Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS.

But her impact went even deeper. As a peer navigator for many years at the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), Ms Rodriguez provided direct support to members of the transgender community, including street-based sex workers.

She also supported transgender people living with HIV to access testing, treatment and care services. Among Caribbean countries that have reported on HIV prevalence for transgender people, the median HIV prevalence is more than 27%, far higher than that among any other key population group. Ms Rodriguez worked to ensure that members of this community not only started treatment but stayed the course.

From the base of the TTTC in Tunapuna, Trinidad and Tobago, Ms Rodriguez worked to ensure that the most marginalized people in her community had access to food, health care and mental health support. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her organization coordinated relief for transgender people who had lost their means of generating income.

This May she was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II for her advocacy and service when she received the 180th Commonwealth Point of Light award.

“Brandy fought fearlessly against discrimination. And in this fight, she didn’t just ask for recognition or plead for equal access to quality health care, but she made the point that it was a right that must come without conditions. She was determined to settle for nothing less,” a release from FPATT said.

In 2018, she addressed journalists at a regional media sensitization hosted by the UNAIDS Caribbean Sub-Regional Office and the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition. For most of the reporters it was their first time speaking to a transgender person and hearing how stereotypes and prejudice in their reporting were harmful to the community.

“For 22 years it has been an uphill battle, especially in the Caribbean. My conviction to not be silenced and to help vulnerable people keeps me committed to my goal of a better, more inclusive future for all,” Ms Rodriguez said.

The Director of the UNAIDS Caribbean Sub-Regional Office, James Guwani, recognized Ms Rodriguez for her work as a voice for the voiceless.

“She shows why it is imperative that we support community organizations with the ability to connect to those who are hardest to reach. At a time that the global HIV response is focusing on ending inequalities and supporting community-led interventions, we draw inspiration from Ms Rodriguez’s life and work,” he noted.

“The mother of the LGBTI community of Trinidad and Tobago has gained her wings,” said Alexus D’Marco, UCTRANS’ Executive Director. “The work of Brandy Rodriguez will not be forgotten and we must ensure that it continues.”