BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Activists say Argentina now leads the world in transgender rightsafter it granted people the right to change their legal andphysical gender identity simply because they want to, withouthaving to undergo judicial, psychiatric and medical proceduresbeforehand. The gender identity law that won congressional approval with a 55-0Senate vote Wednesday night is the latest in a growing list of boldmoves on social issues by the Argentine government, which alsolegalized gay marriage two years ago. These changes primarilyaffect minority groups, but they are fundamental, PresidentCristina Fernandez has said, for a democratic society still shakingoff the human rights violations of the 1976-1983 dictatorship andthe paternalism of the Roman Catholic Church. Activists and academics who have tracked gender identity laws andcustoms worldwide said Thursday that no other country has gone sofar to embrace gender self-determination. |
In the United States andEurope, transgender people must submit to physical and mentalhealth exams and get past a series of other hurdles before gettingsex-change treatments. Argentina's law also is the first to give citizens the right tochange their legal gender without first changing their bodies, saidJustus Eisfeld, co-director of Global Action for Trans Equality inNew York. "The fact that there are no medical requirements at all — nosurgery, no hormone treatment and no diagnosis — is a realgame changer and completely unique in the world. It is light yearsahead of the vast majority of countries, including the US, andsignificantly ahead of even the most advanced countries," saidEisfeld, who researched the laws of the 47 countries for theCouncil of Europe's human rights commission. Marcela Romero, who was born a man but got a sex-change operation25 years ago, had to spend 10 years making his case in Argentina'scourts before a judge ordered the civil registry to give her a newidentity card listing her gender as female.
"It's somethinghumiliating ... many of us have had to endure psychiatric andphysical tests," she told The Associated Press on Thursday. "Withthis law we'll no longer have to go through this." Romero, 48, said she personally knows 40 people who had to getjudicial approval for sex-change operations, and are still onwaiting lists. The law should help them get the treatment theyneed, she said. Romero leads the Argentine Transvestite, Transsexual andTransgender Association, whose legal team helped draft the law withhelp from an international coalition of activist groups pushing forgovernments to drop barriers to people determining their own genderidentity.
None of those groups have managed to find politicianswilling to go as far as Argentina's, however. This law is saying that we're not going to require you to live as aman or a woman, or to change your anatomy in some way. They'resaying that what you say you are is what you are. And that'sextraordinary," said Katrina Karkazis, a Stanford Universitybioethicist who wrote "Fixing Sex," a study of the legal andmedical boundaries around gender identity issues in the UnitedStates.
"Rather than our more sedimented ideas about what it is to be maleor female, this sort of throws all of that up in the air in areally exciting way," she said. Next up for Argentina's government is an overhaul of the country'scivil and penal codes, an often-contradictory conglomeration oflaws dating back nearly two centuries that cover all aspects ofsociety. Encouraged by the president, congressional commissionsrepresenting all leading parties and the Supreme Court are draftingdraft wide-ranging legislation to modernize how the country dealswith abortion, adoption, artificial insemination, divorce and manyother difficult issues. The Roman Catholic Church, which had an outsized role in formingthese codes over the country's 200-year history, has opposed manysocial reforms, and not just those affecting gay, lesbian andtransgender people.
"The Argentine lawmakers are introducing profound changes insociety that don't respond to any social demand and without takinginto account the real consequences," Nicolas Lafferriere, whodirects the church-sponsored Center for Bioethics, Personhood andFamily, complained Thursday in "Religious Values," an onlinepublication sponsored by the archbishop of Buenos Aires. "We have found ourselves faced with the most permissive law in theworld in this area. Now, to change all the civil registries youdon't need any more justification than a personal desire, based onsomeone's self-perception. It won't be easy to predict theconsequences." Lafferriere warned.
Most Argentines still identify themselves as Catholic, andCatholicism remains the nation's official religion. But fewer and fewer Argentines regularly attend Mass, and localpriests and bishops don't have the same power of the pulpitanymore. The church but has become so weakened politically that thegovernment has treated it more like a useful enemy than a forcecapable of influencing vast numbers of voters. The Catholic hierarchy also has been inexorably linked with themilitary junta that killed as many as 30,000 people during thedictatorship. Both enforced conservative social values at the time.
Karla Oser, 38, underwent hormone therapy before surgeonstransformed her male organ into a vagina in 2006, becoming one ofonly 40 people to have sex-reassignment surgery at a publichospital in the provincial capital of La Plata over the years. Butfirst, she said, she had to present a judge with testimony from twopsychologists, a psychiatrist, an ear-nose-and-throat specialist, agynecologist and a urologist. Even after her sex-reassignment surgery, she has failed to getjudicial permission to update her national identity card to reflecther new gender, according to a public health ministry announcement.But the law gives her hope, she said: "The operation changed mylife and today I'm celebrating that everyone who faces a situationsimilar to mine can get their surgery without having to make itthrough the judicial labyrinth I went through." The ministry quoted Oser as part of an announcement sayinggovernment surgeons are now open for business, ready to providesimilar treatment for anyone who decides they want it — nomore questions asked. ___ Anita Snow in Mexico City and Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Airescontributed to this report.
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