One Step Forward, One Step Back: The Fight for Transgender Rights in Latin America
Recently, the highest court in Italy allowed a couple to remain legally married after one had sex reassignment surgery. In a surreal twist, the Catholic Church recognizes the couple as still married also, because it does not recognize gender reassignment. While it is hard to call this confluence the best of all possible worlds, it might be for now. The rights and freedoms of transgendered persons in other parts of the world, such as Latin America, are decidedly less clear.
Some countries, like Cuba, Brazil, and Uruguay, lead the way and allow people to legally change their gender in official documents after varying conditions are met. Places like Brazil and Chile are even ready to foot the bill for sex reassignment surgery. One of the most progressive laws in all of Latin America, however, is that of Argentina, which allows people to change their gender by filing some paperwork without surgery or a diagnosis.
The law was used immediately, even by children as young as six, such as in the case of Luana. Lulu, as she likes to be called, was originally named Manuel and was born with the body of a baby boy. Her mother noticed something was different about Luana when she started identifying herself as a girl the moment she started talking. When the law took effect, Luana's mother stood by her daughter while she requested that the government officially change her gender to female. Luana is now the youngest Argentinian to take advantage of the law, and she will be followed by many more.
These progressive laws offer hope for the future, but they belie a harsher reality that many transgendered people face. Latin America accounts for nearly 80 percent of reported murders of transgendered individuals. While legal progress has been made, homophobic and transphobic violence continues in the region, with people regularly being attacked or murdered for their gender identity. In Colombia alone, there were 60 reported murders of transgendered individuals between 2005 and 2012 and no convictions. It is not unheard of for police to deliberately ignore violence, or even to refuse to help a transsexual in the middle of an attack.