Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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Fighting to be recognised: Gender identity in Latin America


Aids Alliance

Marcela Romero, Regional Coordinator of the Latin America and Caribbean Network of Transgender People (REDLACTRANS), fought for 10 years to be legally recognised as a woman in her country, Argentina.

“This law is a model for the world,” says Marcela. “You can now change your identity on your documents without being subjected to a medical, psychological examination. It is purely an administrative process. This is an important achievement for the transgender population, which we can share with other regions. However, it is just a first step in terms of breaking the barriers of discrimination. We have to work towards social inclusion in work, education, health and justice.”

In 2011, Marcela wrote a blog for the Alliance in which she argued that the international community has an important role to play in addressing the human rights violations transgender women face. Two years on and she is back, meeting decision makers in Brussels, Geneva, London and Washington DC armed with concrete evidence of the daily acts of violence and intimidation transgender women face in Latin America and an urgent call for governments to follow the example of Argentina and enact a gender identity law.

“A person without an identity does not exist. We do not exist,” says Marcela “It is like being undocumented in our own country. This means we have no rights, no benefits. We always say that the transgender population have been forgotten by democracy. Democracy in Latin America has a debt with us: the gender identity law. Not just in Latin America, but across the world transgender people are suffering social exclusion and discrimination.

“One of the struggles of our population is to emphasise to agencies and governments that we are not men who have sex with men, we have a feminine gender identity and we are the target of gender based violence,” Marcela adds.” This abuse starts verbally and develops into hate crimes fuelled by transphobia.

“In 2012, REDLACTRANS recorded 200 transgender women killed across Latin America [to get the actual number] we have to triple this figure at least – most transgender women are registered as men when they die. The life expectancy of transgender people in Latin America is between 30 and 35.

“We have to make advances in legal terms. We need training to challenge legal obstacles ourselves. Often transgender people are not regarded as able to fight their own battle because we lack education. With the help of partnerships, we can make these advances.”