Race and Equality celebrates the appointment of Trans people to public office in Colombia and condemns acts of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation

On December 26, 2019, the mayor-elect of Manizales, a city in the Colombian department of Caldas, announced that the well-known trans activist Matilda Gonzalez would lead the city’s Office of Women’s and Gender Affairs. Gonzalez holds a law degree from the University of the Andes and a Master of Laws in international law from American University. She has worked for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)’s Rapporteurship on the Rights of LGBTI People, the LGBTI rights organization Colombia Diversa and the Office of Childhood and Adolescence in the Colombian Family Welfare Institute.  In addition, she has consulted for the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) and for the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (INCLO).

In another groundbreaking appointment, the mayor-elect of Bogotá recently named Deysi Johana Olarte Navarro as the city’s Deputy Director of LGBTI Affairs. As a political scientist at the National University of Colombia, Deisy studied gender-based violence, national and international policies on transgender issues. She is also recognized for her extensive career as a grassroots activist, working with trans people in Kennedy, Ciudad Bolívar and Santa Fe, which are all among Bogotá’s most marginalized areas.

In Colombia, transgender people not only suffer daily acts of direct violence and discrimination but also face prejudices that limit their access to work, education, and health. In turn, they suffer criminalization, segregation, marginalization, and poverty. The appointments of these trans women represent breakthroughs for equity, diversity, and inclusion. As directors of important public bodies, Ms. Gonzalez and Ms. Olarte will have the power to formulate and implement public policies that seek to guarantee the rights of women and LGBTI people. Race and Equality celebrates and encourages the appointment of people with diverse gender identities to executive positions. Such appointments are an opportunity to transform society’s image of what is possible, put the human right to political participation into practice, and advance the rights of the entire LGBTI population in Colombia.

However, there is still much to do. Conservative groups in Manizales responded to Ms. Gonzalez appointment with a campaign that filed more than 2,500 petitions to the Mayor’s Office asking for her dismissal.[1] The groups claim that Matilda is not suitable for the role because she was not ‘born biologically as a woman,’ a discriminatory argument ignoring the reality that there are many different possibilities for gender identity. Women’s life experiences, including their experiences of gender, are all different, making it impossible to judge their gender based only on the sex assigned to them at birth. Several bodies, including the Colombian Constitutional Court,[2] have recognized that a person’s internal and individual experience of gender differs from biological sex and that an environment which prevents someone from expressing their gender identity violates their dignity and their right to freedom of expression.

Race and Equality rejects any form of discrimination that seeks to limit the rights of transgender people and urges national, regional, and local leaders to appoint people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities to public office, especially to the offices responsible for promoting and guaranteeing the rights of the LGBTI population.


[1] Conservative groups request the resignation of the Women’s Secretary of Manizales: https://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/otras-ciudades/grupos-conservadores-piden-renuncia-de-matilda-gonzalez-en-manizales-452142

[2] See Colombian Constitutional Court decisions T-143 (2018), T-804 (2014), T-363 (2016), T-476 (2014) and T-562 (2013), among others.

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