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