Argentina Adopts Landmark Legislation in Recognition of Gender Identity

It’s the ‘Talk of the Town’ from South Africa to Argentina, from the Philippines to the U.S.A.
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Human rights advocates worldwide are celebrating the passage of the most progressive gender identity law in history in Argentina on May 9, 2012. The law gives self-identified transgender people access to critical services without the need for medical intervention and provides for specific human rights protections. Argentina’s Senate passed the law on May 9th with 55 votes in favor, one abstention and no votes against. Activists from around the world are talking about the passage of the legislation.  We’ve seen reactions  Argentinean activists directly involved with the work to activists in South Africa who are celebrating this new law. The following are a few we would like to share with you:

Jessica Stern, Acting Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) enthusiastically hailed the legislation:

“Argentina has set a new benchmark for protecting and recognizing the human rights of transgender individuals.  We owe this triumph to the efforts of courageous transgénero and travesti Argentineans and activists along with coalitions of allies. This work -- carried out over many years, with sustained strength, careful strategy and diverse unity -- is what has made this legislation a reality.  We congratulate all of our Argentinean colleagues.”

“All too often, transgender people are subject to violent hate crimes and denied education, housing, healthcare and employment,” Stern continued. “Governments around the world should follow Argentina’s lead and implement progressive legislation to protect the rights of trans people everywhere.”

Transgender Activists from Argentina Celebrate the New Law

Mauro Cabral GATE (Global Action for Trans* Equality) in Argentina

“This legal change in Argentina is also a message going beyond borders. It is a message for countries in the region to advance their commitments on gender identity and human rights issues. A message for all those countries that even today consecrate human rights violations such as forced sterilization in their gender identity laws. This law sends a clear message against transphobic violence, and affirms the full status as humans of trans* people and their right to all rights. It is a message stating that the Yogyakarta Principles are enforceable and that in access to transitional health, trans* identities and experiences can be depathologized. It is a message for all trans* activists everywhere: change is possible. GATE congratulates Argentinean activists for this groundbreaking achievement, and celebrate this historical opportunity for all.”

Lohana Berkins, of Cooperativa Nadia Echazú, and a member of El Frente Nacional por la Ley de Identidad de Género (National Front for the Gender Identity Law) is widely recognized as instrumental in moving this legislation forward. In a recent article, titled Las travestis siempre estuvimos aquí (We transvestites have always been here), Lohana shares her excitement about this groundbreaking legislation.

“Es inmensa la satisfacción que me produce saber que miles de niñxs travestis van a poder plantear su identidad sin ser violentadxs.” (It is immensely satisfying to me to think about the thousands of young transvestites that will be able to define their identity without suffering from [institutional] violence)

“En realidad, la beneficiaria de esta ley es la sociedad entera, que va a poder mirar con orgullo este avance de los derechos humanos”. (In fact, the beneficiary of this law is society as a whole, which will be able to look proudly at this advance in human rights).

Activists from Argentina, the United States and South Africa  

Alejandro Nasif Salum, of Federación Argentina LGBT (FALGBT)

“This law is the result of tireless work of activists and civil society organizations. The Federación Argentina LGBT (Argentina LGBT Federation) is deeply proud to be part of a network of 60 organizations from around the country made up of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We believe that it was this diversity, in every sense, that was one of the keys to success that has permitted us to do this complex and diverse work and arrive to a law today that we are so proud of and provides an unimaginable leap in the quality of life for trans people.” More from Alejandro is available on our blog in English and Español

Andrés Duque, Colombian-American LGBT activist, and award-winning blogger at Blabbeando

“It's striking that some of the same organizations and advocates that pushed for the Argentinean marriage equality law of 2010 were also behind the gender identity law.  Their strategy was similar: Go to the courts and demand justice, travel around the country and educate the Argentinean community on the discrimination faced by LGBT individuals and lobby the government for full equality. And, most importantly of all, never forgetting the T in LGBT. It's an amazing achievement that should inspire us all.”

“Lohana Berkins is one of the earliest visible leaders of the trans/travesti movement in Argentina and had been working with legislators to introduce a gender identity law as far back as the 1990's.    …she is incredibly important in getting the law passed.”

“One of the key factors for passage of the law with such a huge margin is due, I believe, to the participation of trans man Alejandro Iglesias in the country's version of the "Big Brother" reality show.  He became a national sensation and, against the odds, probably the most popular person in the show - and humanized transgender individuals for millions of persons in Argentina.”

Dana Beyer, M.D., Trans Activist and Executive Director, Gender Rights Maryland

"With isolationism and parochialism traditional American pastimes, it's easy to be blind to historic changes in human rights happening globally. Argentina just became the first country to completely depathologize trans sexualism and allow social and medical/surgical transition, with free access to quality health care, and without documentation or court order. It is a recognition of innate human variation, and the ability of human beings to know themselves sufficiently to live free and pursue happiness. It is the new standard for global human rights."

Harper Jean Tobin, Esq., Policy Counsel, National Center for Transgender Equality

“Although we have made big strides for trans equality, Argentina’s historic legislation is a reminder that we in the U.S. have much to learn from other nations. Argentina’s law reflects the basic principle that individuals should control their own bodies and should neither have unwanted medical procedures imposed on them nor have them denied when they are medically needed.”

Transitioning  Africa  

“Transitioning Africa joins Argentina in celebrating the passage of the most progressive gender identity law in history…  We congratulate the Argentinean trans* activists, their allies and the parliament for working on, tirelessly lobbying for, and eventually seeing the law passed in their country.

Here in Africa, trans* and intersex people undergo a plethora of human rights violations ranging from lack of proper gender affirming procedures and medical care, high levels of stigma and discrimination from the society and from the lesbian, gay and bisexuals community, being ostracised by their families, friends, churches for being different, [and] being killed by their parents due to archaic inhumane cultural beliefs …the governments [often] treat many trans* and intersex persons as criminals. Many African police forces continue to make the lives of trans* and intersex Africans difficult by harassing them on the streets, arresting them and charging them with charges such as ‘impersonation’, by raping them in a bid to ‘make them straight’, and by charging them under sodomy laws which do not apply to trans* and intersex persons…Transitioning Africa envisions a strong and robust trans* and intersex movement in Africa, based on human rights principles.”  Transitioning Africa is a partnership between Gender DynamiX, Transgender and Intersex Africa, & the Support Initiative for People with atypical Sexual Development (Read the Transitioning Africa’s press release.)

 Regional Program Coordinators, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Hossein Alizadeh, Program Coordinator for Middle East and North Africa

“This law comes at a time when trans people in Turkey are constantly the subject of societal violence and police brutality. In Iran, sex reassignment surgeries are permissible under the law, however the government does not acknowledge the right for an individual to self-identify their gender identity. The decision of the Argentinean lawmakers to allow individuals—regardless of their biological gender and/or their decision to undergo a sex reassignment surgery—to determine their own gender identity is truly commendable.”

He continued, saying, “I hope this landmark decision in Argentina will encourage other governments to allow each and every individual to freely determine their gender identity, free from social taboos, religious dogmas and legal pressures.”

Damian Ugwu, Program Coordinator for Africa 

“African activists will be encouraged by this development knowing that this latest bill in Argentina is a result of years of hard work by Argentine LGBTI activists. African trans individuals   often struggle simply to have access to basic health care services. While this development in Argentina is unlikely to have a direct effect on the struggle of African trans individuals to be treated with dignity, for African LGBTI activists, it provides a much needed reference point for ongoing advocacy work….A few years back when Argentina legalized same sex marriage it was hardly mentioned in the African mainstream media. The same thing will likely happen in this case. However, that will not stop us from using Argentina as a reference point in  continuing efforts to advance the rights of transgender people.”

Grace Poore, Program Coordinator for Asia and Pacific Islands

“In so many countries legal recognition for transgender people is contingent on having sex reassignment surgery or sterilization and a psychiatric evaluation, which forces people to be viewed and treated as somehow broken needing to be fixed when there's no medical reason for such invasive, even punitive eligibility requirements. Argentina has broken through this practice and brought respect and dignity into the legalization process. What a remarkable breakthrough!”

Trans Activists from Malaysia and Guatemala, speak out about Transphobia

Johana Esmeralda Ramirez, spokesperson for Trans Organization Reinas de la Noche (OTRANS) in Guatemala, in comments about a shadow report she presented to the UN Human Rights Committee in March 2012:  “During 2011, we organized trans women have suffered a series of attacks against us, culminating in a climax of murder.” She continued, “The recent cases and those suffered over the past decade are accompanied by a string of discrimination (in public spaces such as health centers, schools, prisons, etc.), persecution, and extortion perpetrated mainly by security forces.”

The shadow report, produced jointly by IGLHRC, OTRANS and others, documents a string of murders and systematic discrimination to which transgender people in Guatemala are subjected.

Nisha Ayub, Transgender Program Manager, PT Foundation in Malaysia, spoke to an audience of 3,000 activists at Creating Change: The National Conference for LGBT Equality in January. Ayub told her personal story about her experiences with discrimination: “I was arrested by religious officers when I was 21 years old, in my going of changing towards a trans woman. I was put in a male lockup. I was treated badly. Tortured. Discriminated against. And of course, I was sexually abused in the jail. There was no one to help me. I couldn’t say anything because in Malaysia, if you are a transgender person, you have no rights. You are stripped naked. When I say stripped naked, I mean it. Ok. I was forced to walk naked in front of all the officers, just for them to make fun of me.”