G20, Gender Identity, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, LGBTQ

ARGENTINA: Things Slowly Getting Better for Transgender People

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 20 2011 (IPS) - Transvestites and transsexuals in Argentina, who were among the most marginalised minority populations, have seen respect for their rights grow in recent years, especially since same-sex marriage became legal in this country a year and a half ago.

“Equal marriage has done a lot to make us more visible, and doors have started to open,” transvestite Valeria Ramírez, the head of the transgender section in the Buenos Aires AIDS Foundation (FBAS), told IPS.

A book published in 2005, “La gesta del nombre propio” (which roughly translates as “the epic struggle for a name of one’s own”), described the intolerance, humiliation, marginalisation and even attacks suffered by transvestites in this South American country. It also reported that the leading cause of death among this population group is AIDS, and the second cause of death is murder.

The law on same-sex marriage was passed by Congress and went into effect in July 2010, after an intense campaign for equal rights by the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans persons.

The law was the first of its kind in Latin America. Since then, some 2,700 same-sex couples have married, gaining the same rights and obligations as heterosexual couples.

But transvestites and transsexuals are also fighting for a gender identity law that would allow their identity card to match their appearance and carry the name they go by, rather than the one they were given at birth.

The discrepancy between gender presentation and documentation is an enormous hurdle to access by transgender people to formal education, employment, housing or healthcare, unless they hide their transgender identity.

Although around 50 transsexuals in Argentina who have had sex reassignment surgery over the last few decades have obtained documents reflecting their new identities after lengthy legal battles, no law has yet been passed to guarantee that right without the requirement of extensive medical and psychological testing.

This month, the lower house of Congress passed a bill on gender identity, which now goes to the Senate. “For us, having our name on our documents will be a major stride, because otherwise we suffer humiliating experiences,” Ramírez said.

As an example, the activist recalled an embarrassing incident at the dentist’s office. In the waiting room, when she responded after she was called by the name on her identity card, the dentist said he had called Oscar Ramírez, not her.

“When we have to travel, we look like criminals. They look at our identity document or passport, and make us wait. Finally they let us on, but everyone looks at us as if we were terrorists,” she said.

Nevertheless, while they wait for the gender identity bill to be passed, transgender persons are already enjoying a climate of greater acceptance and less marginalisation in Argentina, fomented by the state, and seen in different spheres.

In show business, the country’s most famous transvestite, popular actress and TV personality Florencia de la V, married her long-time partner. And she and her husband hired a surrogate mother in the United States, who gave birth to their twins.

Furthermore, in a historic legal ruling handed down in 2010, she obtained her new identity card, in which she is identified as Florencia Trinidad, rather than her birth name, Roberto Carlos Trinidad.

This month a group of artists held the third edition of the Encuentro de Arte Trans – Festival DesTravArte – a transgender film, theatre, dance, poetry and literature festival.

The aim of this edition was to support the gender identity bill. The organisers pointed out that although sexual minorities have enjoyed greater acceptance since same-sex marriage became legal, many transvestites in the country are still marginalised by society.

And in the programme “Salida de Emergencia”, broadcast by the education ministry’s TV station Encuentro, representatives of sexual minorities from around the country talk about their often traumatic experiences of social integration or rejection.

The University of Buenos Aires, meanwhile, passed a statute this month requiring the university identity documents of transgender students, professors and other staff to reflect the gender and name they use.

The same measure had already been adopted by the National University of Córdoba.

And the cooperatives movement backed by the ministry of social development supported a group of transgender persons who organised and received training and jobs in the textile, food and design industries.

The security ministry, headed by Nilda Garré, issued a resolution this month allowing transgender people working in the federal police to dress in accordance with their gender identity.

The resolution was the end result of a battle waged by a transvestite, Angie Beatriz Álvarez, a federal police officer who fought for over a decade for the right to wear a woman’s uniform.

And under the ministry’s decision, prisoners can now be held in cells in accordance with their gender identity.

Also this month, the Sexual Diversity Memory Archive was unveiled, containing the accounts of some three dozen victims of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship who were brutalised simply because they were lesbians, gays or transgender.

The Archive is in the former Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) – one of the dictatorship’s biggest detention and torture centres, which has now been converted into a “space for memory and the promotion and defence of human rights”.

Ramírez is one of the people whose cases form part of the Archive. She said that in 1976 and 1977, she was picked up on the streets while working as a prostitute dressed in drag, and was taken to Pozo de Banfield, another detention centre, where she was raped and tortured.

“I gave my testimony to the secretariat of human rights, and next year I will be a plaintiff in a lawsuit. I relived everything, and every time I’m in the dark, I see those faces and I can’t forget,” she told IPS.

Ramírez said the state will pay her reparations, as it has done with other victims of the dictatorship and the families of victims. But she said that when she receives the compensation, she wants to do so using her new document, showing the woman’s identity she lives with.

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