Effort to roll back transgender rights fails in Uruguay

by Oscar Lopez | @oscarlopezgib | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 5 August 2019 22:40 GMT

General view of the harbour in Montevideo, Uruguay April 23, 2019. Picture taken April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Stapff

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Fewer than 10% of eligible voters supported the effort to strike down a 2018 law that made it easier for trans people to change their gender identity

By Oscar Lopez

MEXICO CITY, Aug 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A ballot-box effort to roll back transgender rights in Uruguay failed to draw enough voters to the polls to trigger a national referendum, prompting LGBT+ rights supporters to declare victory on Monday over the conservative-backed initiative.

Fewer than 10% of eligible voters came out on Sunday in support of the effort, which sought to strike down a 2018 law that made it easier for trans people to change their gender identity and guaranteed their right to health care.

A turnout of at least 25% was required to put the question to a nationwide vote.

Among the most progressive countries in Latin America, Uruguay often has been at the vanguard of LGBT+ rights in the region.

Gay sex has been legal in Uruguay since 1933, and LGBT discrimination was outlawed in 2003. It approved gay adoption in 2009 and same-sex marriage in 2013.

The recent campaign to repeal the transgender law was led by Carlos Iafigliola, an opposition congressman with the conservative Partido Nacional.

"There are many people who fully support the law," said Federico Graña, a former LGBT+ activist and national director of socio-cultural promotion for the Uruguayan Ministry of Social Development.

"Others ... did not want to express support for a referendum that would take rights away," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "I think it sends a message of great respect."

On Twitter, Constanza Moreira, a senator with the ruling Frente Amplio coalition, said: "Without a doubt, those of us who are in favor of broadening people's rights are the immense majority.

"That speaks well of Uruguay."

On local radio ahead of the vote, Iafigliola said he was concerned that the law held the possibility for minors to undergo hormone treatment without their parents' consent.

That claim was criticized by the Uruguayan Medical Union (SMU), which said it supported the law and its importance for transgender health care.

"In no case have these interventions been practiced in children," the SMU said in a recent statement. "The arguments that are being used to promote the repeal of this law are false, generating misinformation and confusion."

The 2018 law allows transgender adolescents, particularly those who have left home, to undergo limited hormonal treatment without parental consent but only if a state-appointed guardian initiates legal proceedings on the child's behalf, according to Graña.

The law also requires that 1% of staff at most government agencies be held by trans people and mandates a 1% quota for trans people in programs at the National Institute of Employment and Vocational Training.

The repeal effort was criticized also by the United Nations, which expressed concern ahead of Sunday's voting.

Despite the advances, trans people in Uruguay, a nation of just 3.5 million people, face violence and discrimination, with a life expectancy of just 35 years, according to the SMU. (Reporting by Oscar Lopez, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst

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