Friday, March 28, 2014

Transgender Voters in El Salvador: rights and reality

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LGBT activists display their inked fingers after voting in the second round of the Salvadoran presidential elections, on March 9, 2014. in order to prove that a citizen has voted, fingers are dipped in semi-permanent ink after turning in the ballot. Third from left is Pati Hernandez, executive director of ASPIDH Arco Iris, and second from right is Karla Avelar, executive director of COMCAVIS trans. (Gloria Marisela Moran /GlobalPost)

Until this year, transgender individuals had been barred from voting in presidential elections in El Salvador because their physical appearance did not match their masculine names. Danielle Marie Mackey and Gloria Marisela Moran's blog in the Global Post  explores how on  "Feb. 1, three days before the first round of the 2014 Salvadoran presidential elections, the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal proclaimed that all people must be allowed to vote, without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity." They quote Sandra Rivera, the adjunct Ombudswoman for Civil Rights in the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office as saying:

“History tells us that when people possess rights, we don't let them be taken from us easily. Even if the new government doesn't maintain Funes's initiatives, the sensitivity to LGBT rights that now exists in many public entities is irreversible,” she said. “Now, some people understand that being gay isn't a disease, it's not satanic, it doesn't mean you'll get AIDS by shaking a gay person's hand. Discrimination still exists—I’m not saying today that the battle has been won—but the seed has been planted and that is important.”

As I read this, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came to mind. No citizen of any nation should be denied a voice in their government's actions. However, our own history from the 1960s shows how people's attitudes often lag behind changes in law. In El Salvador, it is the actions of the criminal justice system, not just the general public, that continue to threaten the human rights and the safety of the LGBTI community despite this new legislation. Bloggers Mackey and Moran report:

Karla Avelar, executive director COMCAVIS Trans, a transgender organization. “There’s still a lot of fear; we have no guarantees of our safety.” In addition to death threats, LGBTI people in El Salvador face discrimination in the workplace, at school, and in the public health system, according to a 2012 report by the human rights legal clinic at the University of California-Berkeley.

Sandra Rivera, the adjunct Ombudswoman for Civil Rights in the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, said perpetrators of violent attacks on the LGBTI population are increasingly police officers and soldiers. These cases are not as frequently investigated as they should be, she added. The Ombudsman and I are truly very worried,” Rivera said. “Many cases haven’t been processed as they should, including some where the Attorney General needs to present evidence against the police and the army.

“Lately, there have been multiple allegations of human rights violations against LGBTI people by soldiers.”

Click here for the full article, Transgender People Voted for the First Time in El Salvador's History.

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