Uruguay has occasionally appeared in the news in the past years for progress in social inclusivity, including acknowledgement and treatment of transgender citizens. Today it surfaces again as the government seeks out a bill for reparations to transgender people, hoping to atone for the economic hardship that old laws and social tradition caused trans people by offering them a pension.
Uruguay passed Marriage Equality in 2013, and was the region’s first to allow transgender people to identity correctly on official documents. It was also the first to legalize adoption for gay parents, in 2009.
But historically, transgender folks were persecuted by the state and by traditional machismo in the culture. Being gay has been legal in Uruguay since 1934, a staggeringly progressive stance in the region, and the whole world. But reconciling what’s “on the books” to actual reality is a balancing act. Most transgender women in the nation have faced systemic discrimination and many have never had official employment.
Trans women faced isolation and poverty, and were forced to turn to sex work if they hoped for a paycheck at all.
Violence against transgender and other LGBT people in Latin America, including Uruguay has been extreme—the worst of all the continents, according to many studies. In March, CNN reported on this conundrum: “Latin America offers a contradictory narrative: the region has the highest rates of violence against the LGBT community, according to research done by Transgender Europe, a non-governmental organization, but it also has some of the most progressive laws for LGBT equality and protection.”
The reasons for this are as complicated and contradictory as the facts. Some blame the Catholic church and historical Christianity invading Latin America, but many transgender women have had no refuge outside of their faith. Some have sought salvation in the egalitarian policies of leftism, only to find that socialist governments like Venezuela and Cuba are culpable for outright torture en masse of gay and transgender people. Some suggest that transgender people become a scapegoat when poverty and disease engulf a community; others blame deeply embedded cultural mores that predate Spanish colonialism, but there are countless cultures and they are incredibly diverse historically.
The answer probably lies in a combination of all of these, but what’s most important is a solution.
Some Uruguayan activists and government officials believe that a pension for trans people born before 1975 can help alleviate the poverty that has been forced on them, effectively encouraging integration into the society.
A recent census shows there are over 800 transgender people in Uruguay, and three quarters of them never finished high school. A quarter of them have been completely cut off from their families.
“Trans people don’t reach old age,” Tania Ramirez, of the Ministry of Social Development in Uruguay, told Marketplace. She says transgender people were detained and tortured by the state during the dictatorships of the 1970s and ’80s, and that these heinous practices continued into the democratic years.
The pension will help transgender people who have been deprived of family and social net safety and jobs. Other suggestions in the series of bills being presented are scholarship creations and affirmative action.
Better late than never to be sure.