Transgender rights in Argentina puts us to shame

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Photo credit: Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press
By Mina Itabashi
During this last semester, I was studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina - which meant that I got to live through some amazing historic moments in transgender rights.

In Argentina, political activism and campaigning by groups such as La Federación Argentina LGBT led to a huge legislative victory that set a new standard for transgender rights. They first proposed this legislation, Ley de Identidad de Género (Gender Identity Law), in 2007. Five years later, on May 9th, 2012, it was passed in the Senate by a vote of 55-0. One senator abstained, and more than a dozen declared themselves absent... but at least they didn't vote against it. CBS quoted Senator Osvaldo López of Tierra del Fuego, the only openly gay national lawmaker in Argentina, "This law is going to enable many of us to have light, to come out of the darkness, to appear."

This law allows adults to change their legal name or gender without having to receive approval from a judge or doctor, and without having to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. Furthermore, sex-change surgery and hormone therapy will be covered by both public and private health care plans. Transgender youth under 18 have the same rights, except that they will be required permission from their legal guardians. Last week, on July 2nd, Argentina began issuing its first identification cards under the new law.

La Federación Argentina LGBT is a federation of 24 organizations across Argentina working towards access to all human and civil rights for the LGBT community. During the campaign leading up to the passing of the legislation, the vice president of the federation, Marcela Romero stated, "For us, to not have a DNI (National Identification Document) means the denial of the basic right to identity. In addition to the moral damage that this causes, it often prevents us from accessing the healthcare system, excludes us from the educational system, and impedes us from finding jobs, being able to sign contracts, or receiving retirement support and medical insurance... Even to vote we have to use the line for men. In many provinces, the police stop us, incarcerate us, and kill us. For transgender people, the democracy has not yet arrived."

The federation has also published a guide (in spanish) to inform the media about the new law and how to talk about it. For example, it makes clear that although the law states that surgeries and hormone therapy can be covered by public or private health care plans, these medical procedures do not imply that this is a diagnosis for any form of illness. The guide declares that instead, these procedures are considered as professional support to fully guarantee the health of transgender citizens. Health, within the framework of this project, is considered as the complete physical, mental and social well-being in accordance with the identity and gender expression chosen independently and according to each individual's own lifestyle.

California (and the whole US in general), is waaay behind in comparison. Last year, in October 2011, California's Vital Statistics Modernization Act stated that proof of surgery is no longer required in order to the gender designation on birth certificates. BUT a note from a doctor declaring that “clinically appropriate treatment” has been undergone is still required, and has to be brought to court. (For more info about the requirements in CA, see here).

It'll be exciting to see this law actually be put into practice in Argentina - because its success can be used to support transgender rights movements here in California, and all over the world.

Mina is a summer intern at Forward Together, a Japanese American raised all over east and southeast Asia. She embraces her identity as a womyn of color and doesn't believe in borders.