efe-epaChristian A. Sanchez Quito

Transgender individuals and biological men in the sex workers' industry have joined with female prostitutes in Ecuador's capital to form a union that is a pioneer in the South American region.

The "Union of Sex Workers of Quito" brings together biological women and men and nearly 50 transgender persons who ply their trade at streets and parks in Ecuador's capital, with a primary goal of ending the invisibilization that the latter two groups are subjected to by society.

According to the union, that lack of visibility makes them more vulnerable to violence.

The union's coordinator, David Gonzalez, says other actors whose existence largely has been ignored by a "hypocritical" society need to be included under the umbrella of sex work.

People twist reality and that can lead to the criminalization of sexual work or its elimination by decree under the precept that all work of this type is tantamount to people trafficking.

The society also has a welfare-oriented conception of sex work marked by a belief in the supposed need to rescue "the poor female sex worker who has nothing to eat and therefore dedicates herself to this," he told EFE.

In the case of transgender people, Article 11 of Ecuador's Constitution protects them from discrimination on the basis of their gender identity, while the practice of sex work in the country is not illegal.

Nevertheless, women, men and transgender individuals in the sex trade not only are united by the work they do - often a result of a lack of other opportunities - but also by the segregation and marginalization they suffer in their daily lives.

"Fabian," a pseudonym used to protect his identity, and Monica Reyes (a trans woman) are two sex workers and members of the union who said that economic necessity led them to work in that business.

Reyes, who has worked in the sex trade for half of her life, told EFE that she became a prostitute at age 22 because "this society isn't open yet" and a place in the work world is closed to her due to male chauvinism.

She said her family is aware of the work she does every night in a district of northern Quito and has accepted her as she is, even though they would prefer she find work in her chosen course of study: cosmetics.

Fabian, however, said he left his family behind in crisis-racked Venezuela three years ago and that they do not know how he earns a living while abroad

"My family doesn't know because in Venezuela I had a different lifestyle. I was a professional there (a materials engineer). I had my own life and a daughter who is about to turn 10," he told EFE at Quito's Parque El Ejido, where he typically works.

Both acknowledged they are afraid to go out of the street every day, saying they are victims of aggression not only from ordinary people but also the security forces.

They also lamented that a massive influx of Colombian and Venezuelan immigrants in Ecuador has driven down prices in the sex trade, with rates for a so-called "quickie" having fallen from $20 to $10 and the cost of a "full service" job having dropped from $30 to $20.

The union's ultimate goal is to change the mentality of a society they say is male chauvinist and homophobic.

"This is a feminist struggle in which we're seeking equality. It's about teaching people that women, men and people across the gender spectrum exist in society, and access to one's rights (should not depend) on one's (sexual) orientation, identity, occupation or health status," Ana Almeida, of the Association of Female Trans Sex Workers of Quito, said.