Across Latin America and the Caribbean, the trend is an increasing acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people. Recent years have seen important strides toward attaining marriage equality, educational access and public visibility for LGBTI people throughout the region.
Despite these advances, a recent report by the Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe de Personas Trans (Network of Trans People of Latin America and the Caribbean—REDLACTRANS) highlights the challenges that remain for protecting the fundamental rights of trans people.
Undoubtedly, violence poses the gravest challenge to trans people in the region today. According to the 2011 Trans Murder Monitoring Project, 80 percent of trans murder victims worldwide between 2008 and 2011 were from Central or South America, amounting to a staggering total of 643 homicides. Police impunity and brutality further exacerbate violence against trans people by allowing frequent killings, arbitrary detentions, degrading treatment, and threats and extortion by public security officials. The absence of legal protections that explicitly prohibit violence and discrimination committed on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity limits access to justice and public protection.
Moreover, trans people face countless obstacles to attaining employment and basic public services, including health care and education. Berenice Bento, a prominent researcher on trans rights in Brazil, estimates that 90 percent of trans women in her country are functionally illiterate due to social exclusion in schools, a figure likely matched throughout the region.Similarly, the UNAIDS 2012 Global Report estimates that 44 percent of trans people worldwide are involved in sex work due to “inadequate access to information, services and economic opportunities.” Additionally, an Open Society Foundations report on international trans health issues finds that trans people are significantly more likely “to contract HIV, and to be at risk for mental health concerns such as depression and attempted suicide” due to discrimination and limited access to public services.
Despite these significant and diverse challenges, victories toward greater rights have been achieved.
Last year, activists successfully lobbied for passage of the world’s most comprehensive gender identity law in Argentina. The new law allows trans people to now legally change their gender identity without having to receive degrading psychological diagnoses or undergo gender reassignment surgeries.
Increasingly, they are joining to share their stories of survival and acceptance in productions such as “Respeito!,” by trans activists from Brazil, and “Crossing Over,” an upcoming film about undocumented trans migrants in the United States.
They are also demanding representation and entering public office, exemplified by the fearless campaign of Valentina Verbal, the first trans person to run for Congress in Chile. Above all, they are refusing to remain silent about incidents of violence and persecution. For example, a group of trans activists recently rallied to raise awareness on discrimination in Nicaragua.
Civil society, governments and international human rights institutions must commit to addressing comprehensively the rights and needs of trans people. Institutional change will be slow, but states must adopt immediate measures to ensure the safety and protection of trans people against rampant violence and discrimination. Moreover, regional leaders should join together to advance a hemispheric agenda to promote trans rights throughout the Americas.
 Trans is used as an umbrella term to describe all gender variant individuals, including those who identify as transvestite, transsexual and transgender.