Trans-Persons’ Right to Identity

144th Session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Commissioners: José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez, Tracy Robinson, Rosa Marie Belle Antoine, Dinah Shelton, Rodrigo Escobar Gil and Rosa Maria Ortiz
Petitioners
: Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Personas Trans (the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Trans People, Redlactrans)
Specific Petitioners:
Andrés Rivera, Organization of Transsexuals for the Dignity of Diversity; Johanna Esmeralda Ramirez, Queens of the Night; Claudia Spellman, Pink Color Association; Marcela Romero, Regional Coordinator for Redlactrans.
Respondent
: N/A
Topic
: Thematic hearing focusing on trans-persons’ right to identity

“Identity plays an important role in the life of a person,” stated petitioner Andres Rivera of the Organization of Transsexuals for the Dignity of Diversity. “We are characterized, discredited, and not recognized in our identity as transgender and this translates into a mirage of existence; we become invisible.” On Friday, March 23, 2011, four representatives of Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Personas Trans (Redlactrans) participated in a thematic hearing before six Commissioners of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, Commission) in Washington, D.C.

Redlactrans is a network of Latin American and Caribbean organizations advocating for the rights of the transgender community in Latin America. The Redlactrans petitioners, representing organizations from Honduras, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, discussed the situation of trans persons in their regions, and requested the Commission’s assistance in creating laws protecting the rights of trans and intersex people in the Americas.

One of the key points made in the hearing was that trans persons have been routinely stigmatized, beaten, murdered, and discriminated against because of their sexual identities and their expression of those identities. Petitioner Johanna Esmeralda Ramirez from Honduras noted that in addition to facing stigmatization and discrimination, trans persons cannot access the judicial system and seek legal remedies when their human rights are violated. In light of this, the petitioners asked the Commissioners to request that Member States delineate the laws impeding trans persons from taking full advantage of their rights as human beings. The petitioners urged the Commission to demand that Member States pay particular attention to the everyday vulnerabilities facing trans persons and to enact laws protecting trans persons from this vulnerability.

The petitioners also alleged that the right of transsexual persons to work has been consistently violated by their exclusion, due to their sexual and gender identities, from most employment opportunities. The petitioners argued that the government has afforded trans persons no other viable alternatives other than working in the sex industry. The petitioners urged the Commissioners to help repeal laws and protocols requiring that trans persons undergo medical and physical examinations indicating that they are free from mental and sexual diseases. The petitioners argued that being forced to undergo these exams violates their rights to human dignity and personal integrity.

Commissioner Robinson acknowledged that identity is a basic element of personhood and human dignity, and is therefore essential to the rights of trans people. She asked the petitioners what type of laws should be implemented and who should determine the development and implementation process. The petitioners responded that the government and legislators must include trans people in the development of laws protecting their rights. They noted that although certain laws have been interpreted as protecting trans persons, the protections have thus far been insufficient.

Commissioner Shelton noted that in most instances, the issue of identity emerges very early in a persons’ life, and inquired as to the appropriate age for a person to make a decision about his or her sexual identity. The petitioners responded that trans persons do not choose an identity in an instant; rather, trans persons are born with a sexual identity that continues to grow and evolve over time.  The petitioners noted that although minors are unable to take certain actions, such as surgery, related to their sexual identities due to their age of minority, legislators still need to consider these issues when developing legislation affecting trans minors. The petitioners suggested the need for inclusive laws and policies that will help these children adjust to their identities.

Commissioner Henríquez closed by acknowledging the seriousness of the issue before the Commission, and emphasized the need for laws addressing gender identity in the hemisphere. He posed several questions requiring further investigation such as whether gender identity laws already exist in some Member States and the legal effect of these laws. He noted that the Commission would maintain open communication and that there would be further review of the issues facing trans persons in the region as soon as the petitioners are able to answer the remaining questions.

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