Claudia Cabrera-Lara: From Client to Director of Sí a la Vida

Little did Claudia Cabrera know when she participated in Miss & Mr. Safe Latino in 2002 that one day she would lead the program that created this event. Yet, all at IFR agree that selecting Claudia Cabrera as Si a la Vida’s next Program Director was a no-brainer. She knows this complex and evolving program inside and out. Claudia has seen Si a la Vida come together to provide HIV prevention, education and support services, to working with others to provide testing and PrEP navigation, to working to identify and support broader Latinx LGBTQ health and wellness services.

Initially coming to IFR as a client from Guatemala in 2001, Claudia attended IFR’s workshops, learned about HIV prevention, and got involved in the community. Despite her shy demeanor, Claudia was very vocal about bringing the transgender community into the conversation. “For many years, I lived as the person I was supposed to be instead of the person I am and hated myself. That’s not a life,” Claudia reflects. So when an outreach worker position opened up at IFR in September 2002, Claudia was hired.

As a transgender woman, Claudia faced intense struggles here and in Guatemala. As she began her transition in 1995, she experienced rejection, was fired from her job of 13 years, and suffered abuse, and violence. Arriving in this country on a tourist visa, Claudia came to live temporarily with relatives and friends, but was kicked out because she was transgender. After a year of moving from one city to the next, she finally came to San Francisco homeless and alone.

Claudia realized she’d found a home in San Francisco upon finding Tom Waddell’s transgender clinic. “My transition as a woman was a big personal accomplishment. It took a long time to have the courage transition. I started later in life, and even though I knew who I was, my own learned prejudices made it hard for me to accept myself. My transition has been a long and continuous journey of many years.”

Claudia’s gentle and respectful demeanor seems to win over everyone she meets. She has the deep respect and love of her team at Si a la Vida and by many in the community who know her. She is also recognized as being a skilled manager and leader. “We speak a lot about mind, body and spirit at IFR, and Claudia brings all of these to her work,” confirms IFR Executive Director Gloria Romero.

These are values Claudia has come to live by. “I have been blessed with a handful of people who I’ve been able to learn from. I have learned to live by example, to get my hands dirty if it’s needed to make things work. Harmony is necessary so each team member can feel they are an important piece of the program, and their contributions are valuable. The integration and spirit of teamwork is important to me.”

In fact, Claudia embodies the values and principles of all that makes IFR unique. “Being hired for this position is a tangible expression of our pilar “si se puede.” I never thought this was possible. It is a huge honor and milestone in my life. I wanted to find a place where I had the freedom to be myself. I want to represent my community with dignity, especially the underrepresented Latinx transgender and immigrant transgender communities. This new role gives me a bigger landscape to address what’s going on in the community. I am blessed to have this unique advantage.”

IFR is blessed to have you, Claudia! Congratulations to you!

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