Press Release

On International Transgender Day of Remembrance, the IACHR Urges States to Protect Trans Persons’ Full Access to their Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights

November 20, 2017

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Washington, D.C.—On this International Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls to mind the grave situation of violence and discrimination to which trans persons are subjected. The IACHR urges the States of the region to take all necessary measures to end the violence and social exclusion against trans persons and to fully protect their access to economic, social, and cultural rights.

The IACHR reiterates its concern regarding the high levels of violence against trans persons and regarding information it has received on the low life expectancy for this population in the region. According to data provided by civil society organizations, most trans women who are killed are under the age of 35. In terms of the situation of trans men—a group that is largely invisible—the IACHR has received information about the violence they suffer in different spheres, primarily in the family environment and in the health and education sectors.

In its report Violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons in the Americas, the IACHR said that “pervasive violence, prejudice and discrimination in society at large and within the family hinder trans [persons’] possibilities to access education, health care services, shelter, and the formal labor market.” The violence, discrimination, and stigma suffered by trans persons places them in a cycle of exclusion that tends to culminate in poverty, based on the lack of access to basic services, educational and work opportunities, and social benefits. This cycle of exclusion generally begins at a very early age, due to the rejection and violence suffered by trans and gender-diverse children and adolescents in their homes, communities, and schools. This situation tends to keep this group from having access to and completing the various levels of education, which has a negative impact on their quality of life.

The Commission observes that exclusion and poverty often push trans persons into the informal economy and, especially in the case of trans women, into sex work. According to information received by the IACHR, approximately 90 percent of trans women in Latin America and the Caribbean engage in sex work as a means of survival, which makes them more vulnerable to violence and criminalization. The information received further indicates that trans women who are involved in sex work usually work and even live on the streets, where they face permanent harassment and persecution and the constant threat of being arrested. The IACHR observes that because of their overall exclusion from family, work, and society, trans persons have serious problems obtaining access to housing.

The IACHR Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights (ESCER), Soledad García Muñoz, stated: “Rights recognition policies that are advancing in the region—regarding, for example, laws on non-discrimination, gender identity, civil unions, or marriage equality—should also mean advances in access to the rights to education, health, and work, among other rights, both for LGBTI persons and their family members, without discrimination. From the standpoint of indivisibility of rights, progress on civil rights should manifest itself in progress on economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights.” The Special Rapporteur added: “It is urgent to advance in the recognition of LGBTI rights in the countries of the Americas, in line with the recent Inter-American Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance. It is also urgent to close the gap between that recognition of rights and the effective access to them in the countries that have already passed laws along these lines.”

On another issue, the Commission points to the difficulties that trans persons have in obtaining access to the health system and to body transformations that are of high quality and under medical supervision, a problem that can lead to health complications and even death. The IACHR has also taken note of the lack of training of health personnel to provide care to trans persons. Stigma, discrimination, abuse, and violence discourage trans persons from seeking health-care services.

In this regard, the IACHR calls to mind, as it has stated in its Preliminary Report on Poverty, Extreme Poverty, and Human Rights in the Americas, that “the situation affecting some trans persons, relegating them to cycles of poverty, exclusion and criminalization, is exacerbated by the absence of regulations that would allow for recognition of their gender identity in a simple, rapid and non-pathologizing way, and also by the failure to mainstream a gender identity approach into the public policies of the countries of the region, and the failure to tailor those policies to meet the needs of trans individuals.” The Commission reiterates that States have the obligation to adopt regulations that allow for recognition of self-perceived gender identity without forcing people to undergo abusive tests or pathologizing diagnoses.

IACHR Commissioner and President Francisco Eguiguren Praeli, Rapporteur on the Rights of LGBTI Persons, said that “to attain the full inclusion of trans persons in different spheres and reduce the rates of poverty that affect them, States must redouble their efforts to design and implement public policies that complement the recognition of gender identity.” He added that “implementing specific public policies to ensure that trans persons have access, with no discrimination whatsoever and in safe conditions, to employment and social security, housing, education, and health is an urgent requirement to close the inequality gaps that affect them and to combat the violence they face.”

Finally, the IACHR calls to mind that States have a duty to diligently investigate killings and other acts of violence committed against trans persons. This includes opening lines of investigation that consider whether a victim was killed because of his or her gender identity, punishing those who end up being responsible, and providing reparation to the victims.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote the respect for and defense of human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 185/17