Trans Day of Remembrance: An urgent call to combat transphobia in Latin America

Washington D.C., November 20, 2021. As we commemorate another year of International Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) wishes to draw the attention of States and the international community to the chilling numbers of murders of transgender people in the Americas – a reality that unfortunately […]

Washington D.C., November 20, 2021. As we commemorate another year of International Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) wishes to draw the attention of States and the international community to the chilling numbers of murders of transgender people in the Americas – a reality that unfortunately places the region once more at the top of the list of most homicides worldwide. At the same time, Race and Equality wants to urge governments to prioritize issues of violence and discrimination against gender-diverse people and to adopt swift actions to combat transphobia.

On November 11, TGEU’s Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT) research project published its annual Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) report, released every year on the eve of November 20, International Transgender Day of Remembrance. According to the data, between October 1, 2020, and September 30, 2021 there were 375 murders of trans people worldwide, of which 311 occurred between Mexico, Central and South America. Globally, the total represents a 7% increase from the previous report (October 2019 – September 2020).

Transphobic tragedy

In Latin America, Brazil continues to be the country with the highest number of murders against transgender people, followed by Mexico (65), Honduras (53) and Colombia (25)*. Regarding global figures, the TMM report highlights that 96% of the murdered persons were transgender women or transgender feminine persons, and 58% were transgender sex workers. This is a pattern that has been corroborated in the region by reports published by LGBTI+ organizations.

“The data indicates a worrying trend regarding the intersections between misogyny, racism, xenophobia and hatred towards sex workers, with the majority of victims being black and colored transgender women, migrants and sex workers,” warns TMM, which also alerts that these numbers are only a small sample of the reality, since many murders remain unreported, or are misidentified.

Lives taken away

Brazil, which represents 41% of the global murders against transgender people, also commemorates on this day the National Day of Black Consciousness. Therefore, November 20 represents a date among human rights organizations in the country – especially those working in the defense of the trans population and the black population – to honor both populations and coincides in the intersection of their vulnerabilities in the midst of a transphobic and racist society.

Brazil began 2021 with the brutal murder of a transgender teenager. In the early morning of January 4, Keron Ravach was stabbed and beaten to death by a 17-year-old who was identified and arrested as the perpetrator of the hate crime. The young woman, who was going through a gender transition process, was defined by her friends as a shy person, but who at the same time dreamed of being a social media influencer. According to the TMM report, the average age of trans people murdered in the last year is 30 years old, with Keron being the youngest of all victims, at just 13 years old.

Indolence and Impunity

In most cases of murdered transgender persons there is a history of violence and threats, but these are often ignored by the authorities or are not dealt with in a timely manner. As such, when the murder occurs, there is insufficient information to identify the person or persons responsible. This issue has been expressed by organizations who promote and defend the rights of the LGBTI+ population and was manifested in the murder of Gina Rodríguez Sinuiri on September 21, in Callao, Peru.

Gina, 28, was stabbed several times in a hotel room in the city. Although immediately taken to a hospital, she was pronounced dead 18 hours later. The suspect is a man who regularly solicited the services of transgender sex workers and contacted them through his social networks using different names. According to her companions, it was not the first time the man contacted Gina. In addition, Agencia Presentes, which is in charge of making visible the situation of the LGBTI+ population in Latin America and the Caribbean-collected statements from Gina’s partners, in which they pointed out that on several occasions they have approached the Peruvian National Police to report acts of violence against them but are always ignored.

On top of the authorities’ lack of action there is the fact that Peru does not have a Gender Identity Law, which means that transgender people cannot carry out procedures with their social name, and this exposes them to discrimination and mockery in various sectors of society. “We denounce to the authorities and the police, but they do not pay attention to us, and that is what makes us frustrated and angry. We have families, we are human beings with feelings. Every time we file a complaint, when we turn around, they put it away. The worst thing is that they laugh and throw us out,” said a colleague of Gina on that occasion.

Dying in Invisibility

Although the murders of transgender people are generally silenced, when addressing this issue reference is usually made only to transgender women, because statistics show that they are the main victims, which is undoubtedly a reality. However, transgender men are also the focus of violence and discrimination due to transphobia and, as in the case of trans women, this can become deadly for them. One such example is the case of Samuel Edmund Damian Valentin, a young transgender man who was shot and killed on January 9 in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico.

Samuel Edmund was a student at Atlantic University College, in Guaynabo. On January 1 he had written on his Facebook page, “a new year to come, grateful for all the experiences that [taught me] how strong we really are, to life, to good and evil and for all the justice that is to come.”

“About transgender men and invisibilization in the public sphere, the truth is that it is the violence we suffer the most. Everyday life is designed for cis-gender men; we cannot be guaranteed public health issues in a dignified and efficient way for us. It is important that our identities are named, that trans men or transmasculine people get pregnant. What is not named does not exist. If we exist in the spaces, let us exist in the word”, says Danilo Donato, transmasculine activist and member of the GAAT Foundation in Colombia. According to the record of this organization on death of trans people, so far this year 2021 in the country 32 have been killed to date, while 8 have died from complications arising from surgeries and handmade interventions and barriers to access to rights.

Hate at its maximum expression

Kendra Contreras, known as “Lala”, was a 22-year-old transgender woman who lived in the town of Somotillo, in western Nicaragua. Those who knew Lala say that she was a young dreamer, hard-working, with a desire to better herself and who wanted her gender identity to be respected. Sadly, on March 3, 2021, two men ended her life in an atrocious way; they tied her to a horse and let it drag her twice for at least 400 meters and then stoned her. This is the ultimate expression of hatred towards women, bodies and diverse identities in a highly macho society, such as the Nicaraguan one.

Unfortunately, that was not the only time they killed Lala, as they do it every time they disrespect her gender identity and call her by her “first name” when they refer to her as “man” in news reports. Many media outlets fail to properly handle these cases by focusing on information and prejudices that generate morbidity and revictimize the victims of transphobia and gender violence.

Urgent appeal

Every year, Race and Equality takes advantage of this date to remind countries of their obligation to respect and guarantee the rights of all people without any kind of discrimination. Regarding the situation of violence and murders against trans people, we make the following recommendations:

  • Monitor and publicly sanction transphobic speeches that often slip into the media and incur in calls for discrimination and violence against the trans population.
  • Adopt the necessary laws and policies to guarantee the recognition, respect and inclusion of people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Establish special mechanisms to respond to acts of violence and murders against LGBI and trans persons, which lead to the clarification of the facts and the punishment of those responsible, as well as the establishment of guarantees of non-repetition.
  • Collect data on acts of violence and murders against trans persons, disaggregated by specific gender identity and ethnic-racial identity.
  • Promote through the institutions and official channels a campaign to educate and sensitize the population on sexual orientation and gender identity, with a view to generating a context of recognition and respect for the integrity and life of LGBI and trans persons.

*In the case of Colombia, the Foundation Grupo de Acción y Apoyo a Personas con Experiencia de Vida Trans (GAAT) recorded 32 murders of transgender people so far in 2021.

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