A new report indicates transgender women in Central America remain particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence.The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, which is known by the Spanish acronym REDLACTRANS, and its affiliate organizations in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama began collecting data last March. The groups received funding from the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights.
The report indicates the life expectancy of trans women in El Salvador is less than 35 years because of rampant violence.
REDLACTRANS’ report also notes that police in Panama and other Central American countries routinely target trans women for abuse and other mistreatment. Many trans women also engage in sex work or so-called “survival sex” because of a lack of employment opportunities.
The report also notes trans women in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama frequently lack formal education and access to health care because of their gender identity.
“[The report’s] primary objective is to generate documented evidence about the violence suffered by our trans counterparts in the region,” reads the report.
REDLACTRANS Regional Coordinator Marcela Romero and advocates from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama on Wednesday formally released the report at the Organization of American States in D.C.
“We want to live in our countries with a real democracy,” said Romero, who is from Argentina. “We are part of the democracy in our countries.”
Representatives of the Honduran and Paraguayan governments were on hand for the report’s formal release. Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, who is originally from El Salvador, was also in attendance.Several of the advocates who spoke to representatives of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlighted media reports of anti-trans violence in their respective countries.
“The life expectancy of trans people is very short,” said Johana Esmeralda Ramírez of Guatemala.
Ambar Alvarado Alfaro of El Salvador noted that her homeland is among the world’s most violent countries.
She said that rates of violence among trans Salvadorans are three times higher than those found among the general population. Alvarado also told representatives of the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that seven trans women have been killed in El Salvador so far this year.
“We are made invisible,” she said. “We do not have access to different fundamental rights as citizens.”
‘Everyone has equal rights’
The report contains a series of recommendations that includes the passage of laws that “recognize and guarantee the right of trans people to freely exercise their gender identity.”
Then-Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2012 signed a law that allows trans people in the South American country to legally change their gender without undergoing sex-reassignment surgery. Diana Sacayán, a trans rights advocate who was killed last October inside her Buenos Aires apartment, personally received an identity card from Fernández that recognized her as a woman after the statute took effect.
“I have known democracy for three years,” said Romero, referring to the Argentina law.
The report recommends that lawmakers pass anti-discrimination measures that include gender identity and expression. It also urges countries to “seriously investigate and eventually punish” officials who commit violence and other human rights abuses against trans people.
The report also urges countries that are members of the Organization of American States, which created the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to sign the Inter-American Convention against Discrimination and Intolerance that includes gender identity.
“Everyone must be respected because everyone has equal rights,” said Organization of American States Secretary for Access to Rights and Equality Ideli Salvatti.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Unit of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons formed in 2011. The Organization of American States two years later adopted a “historic” anti-discrimination resolution that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
An Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report notes that anti-LGBT violence claimed the lives of at least 594 people in the Western Hemisphere between Jan. 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014.
The report notes trans women and gay men were among the most likely to lose their lives to anti-LGBT violence. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also concluded the average life expectancy of trans people in the Western Hemisphere is between 30-35 years.
“The report highlighted to us the most serious manifestations of violence against trans people,” said Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Commissioner James Cavallaro on Wednesday. “It urges the Organization of American States’ member states to adopt all the necessary measures to prevent, investigate and punish as well as reduce murders and other acts of violence against trans people in the Americas.”