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This Is The Deadliest Region In The World For Trans People

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Photographed by Lucia He.
Argentine trans activist Florencia Guimaraes Garcia lead a recent protest in Buenos Aires. Latin America is the region with the greatest number of murders of trans people.
On the evening of October 13, 2015, Diana Sacayán, a prominent Argentine transgender activist, was found dead in her bedroom with multiple stab wounds. Sacayán was heavily involved in the transgender rights movement in Argentina, having successfully pushed for a law establishing transgender employment quotas in the provincial government of Buenos Aires.

But while Sacayán’s case received extended media coverage and generated massive outrage among the Argentine LGBTQ community, advocates say justice has yet to be served. A trial date has not been set, although two suspects were arrested, according to the Argentine public prosecutor's office.

And Sacayán is far from alone. According to Transgender Europe's Trans Murder Monitoring Project, as of 2015, more than 1,700 transgender people have been murdered around the world since 2008 — the majority of them in Latin America.

We live in a very sexist and patriarchal society, so we live surrounded by violence.

Florencia Guimaraes Garcia, Argentine trans activist
Of the 1,700 trans people killed worldwide, the group found that 80% were murdered in Central and South America. Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, and Guatemala all ranked among the top 10 countries with the highest rates of trans murders. For its part, the U.S. ranked third: In 2015 alone, at least 21 transgender people were victims of fatal violence, more than any other year on record, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

Argentina, where Sacayán was killed, was ranked 11th. According to trans activists, one of the reasons for high homicide rates across Latin America lies in the machismo culture that is embedded in the region.

"The cases of transgender homicides in Latin America are extremely violent. We live in a very sexist and patriarchal society, so we live surrounded by violence," said Florencia Guimaraes Garcia, a transgender woman and president of Argentina’s Association for the Fight of Transvestite and Transsexual Identity, at a recent protest in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Transgender communities in Argentina face constant discrimination, institutional violence, and sexual harassment, according to Guimaraes Garcia, who worked as a sex worker for several years. She said that after finally being able to get off the streets, she is currently completing her university studies. These are challenges that are shared by other transgender women and men around the region.

A recent survey conducted by the Association of Transvestite Transsexual and Transgender Communities of Argentina showed that 95% of the transgender individuals surveyed had done sex work in the past. Of these, 70% were still involved in sex work at the time of the survey, with 74 of the women saying that they started this work after being kicked out of their homes and excluded by their families.

Daniela Mercado is a transgender activist who said she was able to leave sex work, complete a university degree, and find a job as a human resources assistant at an office. She attributes much of what she was able to accomplish to the Gender Identity Law passed by the government of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2012.
The law allows transgender citizens to change their gender on their birth certificates and national ID cards without any required psychological or physical diagnoses — the first of its kind in the world.

In addition, the law guarantees free access to gender-affirming procedures, such as hormonal treatments or surgeries, as part of public and private healthcare plans. In 2015, the World Health Organisation referred to Argentina’s Gender Identity Law as a key example of supportive legislation for transgender communities around the world.

Fundación Huésped, a nonprofit advocacy organization, estimates that in the two years after the Gender Identity Law was approved, physical abuse and sexual violence by the police to transgender communities decreased by 10%. In addition, while more than half of the transgender community in Argentina avoided going to health centers before the law was passed, this number decreased to only 5.3% by 2014, the foundation claims.

"Thanks to the Gender Identity Law, we are now able to report cases of violence against us, we are able to defend ourselves, even though others might find it hard to believe that those are rights of the transgender communities that they will now have to respect," Mercado told Refinery29.
Still, she acknowledges that the fight is far from over.

"In spite of the law, it’s still very hard for many transgender women to leave prostitution. They’ve grown up with so much violence that many of them find it hard to believe that there is a world for them beyond that," Mercado said.

But even with all of the challenges that transgender communities face in Latin America, Romina Pereyra, a lesbian activist who supports the transgender rights movement, believes that strength can arise from the fear that trans communities face daily.

"One of our leaders used to say that revolution arises from all the love that was denied to us, and all the love that surrounded us," Pereyra told Refinery29. "Many of us were denied love, were treated with hate, but that hate brought us together to support each other and build our community. That hate helped us find sisters and brothers facing the same struggles, and that’s the most extraordinary thing of being a gender activist."
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