The night is another country: Transgender people in Latin America

“Without an identity, we do not exist,” says Marcela Romero, Coordinator for REDLACTRANS, the Latin America and Caribbean transgender network. “This means we have no rights, no benefits. We always say that the transgender population has been forgotten by democracy, and that democracy in Latin America has a debt with us: the gender identity law.”

In 2013, the Alliance supported REDLACTRANS with their campaign to raise the visibility of transgender people in Latin America. In Latin America, the HIV epidemic is concentrated among certain populations, and the transgender population has the highest HIV rate of all. In Argentina nearly 35% of transgender people are living with HIV, and in Peru, nearly 27%. Yet transgender people are almost invisible in the data, as they are included in the category of men who have sex with men.

“One of the struggles of our population is to emphasise to UN 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.” says Marcela.

©Gideon Mendel for the Alliance

"We always say that the transgender population has been forgotten by democracy."

— Marcela Romero

Crimes and violence against transgender people

It is very difficult to reach transgender people with an effective HIV response, because they experience widespread discrimination, rejection, stigma and violence. Crimes against transgender people are perpetrated with impunity, and something needs to be done. Argentina is the only country in the region to have a gender identity law, allowing a person to reassign their name and gender on the basis of their expressed will (without having to seek approval from doctors or judges or undergo surgery first). But in other countries across the region, the lack of such legislation means that even when murdered, the death of transgender people remains invisible within official statistics.

“We are campaigning for similar laws to be passed across Latin America. Intense advocacy efforts are underway in Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador and Guatemala, where our national chapters are working on drafting gender identity laws and meeting with decision makers to push the agenda forward,” says Marcela.

Marcela Romero, Coordinator for REDLACTRANS

Campaigning hard

The campaign to increase the visibility of transgender people in Latin America has really taken off. In 2012, the Alliance and REDLACTRANS published the report, The Night is Another Country which provides extensive evidence of the devastating reality of the human rights violations facing transgender people. The report makes a number of recommendations to state authorities in Latin America, the international community and civil society. It is a crucial tool to support the on-going work of advocating for the rights of transgender people at the national, regional and international levels.

Then in 2013, we travelled to Brussels, Geneva, Washington and London with the author of the report, Monica Leonardo, to speak at events and bilateral meetings with decision-makers, donors and other important stakeholders. This accompanied the campaign, Just Like You, which urges governments to promote and approve a Gender Identity Law in their countries. It also encourages them to implement a national plan against discrimination and for the protection and promotion of the human rights of transgender people.

A long road ahead

There is still a long way to go. Stigma, discrimination, violence and human rights violations against transgender people continue and remain a barrier to effective HIV prevention and treatment. In Haiti, 100 lost their livelihoods in homophobic attacks. In various countries in Central America, assassinations and human rights violations of transgender and sex workers continue.

REDLACTRANS is fighting against this discrimination with support from the Alliance, but funding for civil society organisations beyond 2016 is unclear. The Latin American region depends heavily on the Global Fund for grants, however the Global Fund’s new funding model indicates that these allocations will be reduced. This has serious implications for the sustainability of the campaign to raise the visibility of transgender people, and ensure their rights.