The Situation for Trans People in Colombia

Contributed by: 

OutRight Action International recently conducted a research initiative to evaluate Colombia’s policies for trans people and finds that the reality for transgender people in Colombia is one of contradiction: Colombia has some of the world’s most progressive laws on anti-discrimination and gender identity recognition and at the same time has some of the world’s highest rates of murder and violence against the trans community and stigma against the community is high.

Legislative Protections

Colombia is among leaders in the Latin American region on legislation and policies protecting the rights of trans individuals. A robust human rights framework, progressive constitution, and positive jurisprudence from the Constitutional Court have all contributed to this progress. Specifically, the Constitutional Court protects the interests of trans people through the jurisprudential development of three rights: the right to equality; the right to health; and the right to the free development of personality to include the right to choose one’s own identity. Also, gender identity is a prohibited ground of discrimination

Colombia’s policy of the free development of personality is progressive in that it recognizes the capacity of all people to fulfill themselves individually and autonomously, without impositions of any kind and without unjustified controls or impediments imposed by the State. In 2015, Colombia’s Interior and Justice Ministries passed decree 1227 of 2015, which modified the law which regulates the civil registry in Colombia, allowing sex rectifications in government issued identification for people who are 18 years or older with a simple declaration of will.

Barriers to Accessing Rights and Services

However, as OutRight Action International’s briefing paper, ‘Mapping Trans Rights in Colombia’ shows, the reality for trans individuals is also one of hardship. Despite the fact that the Constitutional Court has developed jurisprudence to protect trans people from discrimination, legal and administrative authorities often put their prejudiced views before the application of the law or ignore the needs and rights of trans citizens. Furthermore, While Decree 1227 allows sex rectification in ID documents, the country’s health system does not as yet allow trans people access to body transformations and hormone treatments without first undergoing a process of pathologization.

Implications of Military Conscription

Trans individuals also face significant barriers to their civil rights linked to Colombia’s policies on mandatory conscription for males over the age of 18. All Colombian men are required to undergo military service, and once completed receive a military passbook. The passbook is a documentational requirement for all men who want to conclude contracts with any public entity, for entry into an administrative career, and to take office in public positions. This puts transwomen in a precarious situation as conscription is based on their assigned sex and not their gender identity. Those who are called in for military service are subsequently forced to undergo a medical exam in a room with other men, which can be humiliating, and can involuntarily reveal their trans identity. Many trans women may also be forced to pay a military exemption fee, for being classified as unfit to serve due to their gender identity; a sum which is often more than they can afford. Not having the military passbook in turn affects the ability of trans individuals to access employment and impacts their quality of life.

Employment Barriers

In addition to the military passbook, trans women have limited career choices due to negative stereotypes in place in Colombia, perpetuated by the media. According to the testimonial of a trans woman in OutRight’s briefing paper, sex work and hairdressing are the only options she has, given that she would face discrimination if she tried to work, for example, as a teacher. Studies highlighted in the briefing paper reveal that 79% of trans people have been discriminated against in their place of work; only 5.3% of them have signed a work contract; and 40% have been forced to dress and act differently in the workplace. Due to negative stereotypes of trans people in Colombia, many trans people find themselves in transexualized work functions, such as sex work or hairdressing, which are insecure, do not provide benefits, and prohibit mobility.

Recommendations

The Colombian government is continually working to address the concerns of trans citizens and have put in place programs to increase access to employment and health services for trans people. However much still needs to be done to ensure that human rights of trans individuals are fully respected in the country. OutRight Action International provides recommendations to the Colombian government as well as other entities on how national policies can better align with international human rights principle and so that the quality of life of trans citizens can improve. These recommendations include:

Key recommendations to the Colombian authorities include:

  • Develop and implement an integrated awareness-raising policy to raise public awareness of transgender identities, and transgender people’s problems and needs.
  • Borrowing from Principle 12 of the Yogyakarta Principles, take all necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to eliminate and prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity in public and private employment, including in relation to vocational training, recruitment, promotion, dismissal, conditions of employment and remuneration; and
  • Eliminate pathologization and psychiatrization, and forced sterilization, as requirements to access transition and gender affirming medical procedures.