National Trans Day of Visibility: key challenges and breakthroughs

The fight for the rights of the trans population is ongoing in light of attempted setbacks

Photo by Leonardo Munoz / AFP Photo by Leonardo Munoz / AFP

Exactly 20 years ago, on January 29, 2004, Brasília was the stage of a national event to launch the campaign “Transvestite and Respect” by the Ministry of Health. Since then, the date has marked the celebration of National Trans Day of Visibility, to remember the struggle and resistance of this population.

Over the course of these two decades, progress has been made in the rights of this population, such as permission to use an adopted name on documents and in public service exams, permission to change the gender on one’s birth certificate and other documents, and the right to transgender surgery in the public health system. Globally, in 2019, transsexuality ceased to be considered a mental disorder by the WHO (World Health Organization). In 2018, Erica Malunguinho was the country’s first trans person to be elected as a representative in the state legislature and, two years later, Erika Hilton was the woman most voted in Brazil for the position of city councilor.

Violence against trans people

Despite having secured these rights, there are still obstacles. One of the main challenges is combating violence. Brazil is still, for the 15th consecutive year, the country in the world that kills the most trans people, according to TGEU (Transgender Europe). Most of the victims killed in 2023 were transvestites and trans women, young people between 15 and 29 years old who live their identity in an open and public way, according to Antra (National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals), a political network of trans people.

Another challenge is combating the moral panic regarding the use of public bathrooms by trans people. The topic returned to the center of discussions during the 2022 election campaign, when the candidate for reelection, Jair Bolsonaro, stated that his opponent Lula would make unisex bathrooms, which was fake news.

Use of public bathrooms

Since 2015, a legal case on the subject has been pending in the Supreme Court. The case began when a trans woman was prevented from using the bathroom in a shopping mall in Florianópolis, in the state of Santa Catarina, and sued the establishment. She won in the trial court stage with compensation set at BRL 15,000. But the mall appealed and managed to reverse the decision. As a result, the case went to the Supreme Court for analysis.

The rapporteur of the case at the Supreme Court, Justice Luís Roberto Barroso, stated that dignity is a principle inherent to all people and considered that the discomfort that the presence of a trans woman could cause other women in the women’s bathroom is not equivalent to what trans people themselves could feel in the men’s bathroom. In 2023, the case was released for voting, but there is still no date for it to be included in the schedule.

Gender-neutral language and documents

There is also the struggle against transphobia that has been present in legislative bills such as those that seek to ban gender-neutral language (such as the use of the word “todes” and pronouns such as “elu/delu” in public schools and government spheres); to prevent trans children and adolescents from accessing medical procedures (such as puberty blockers); and to ban trans people from sports on the claim that biological sex is the only criterion for defining the gender of competitors.

Another obstacle is enforcing the rights that have already been secured. Antra recently sent an official letter to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office highlighting the negligence in government programs that do not guarantee the adequate use of trans people’s adopted names, such as the gov.br website, the Single Registry, the national public health (SUS) card and the website WebSUS. Adopted names are also not accepted on the public health sites Cadweb SUS and ConectSUS, which affects vaccination certificates. In other words, the right to an adopted name exists, but the platforms have not been updated to accept and identify the person’s identity.

Another obstacle is the new ID document. Previously, the adopted name was permitted on the front of the document. Now, it is included on the back. Furthermore, a “sex” field was also included on the front, which excludes people who do not identify with their biological sex. According to Antra, the document is transphobic. The change was made during the administration of the former president Jair Bolsonaro. In April 2023, the Ministry of Management and Innovation announced that it would remove the “sex” and “civil name” fields from the front of the ID, but this has yet to be done.

“Institutional transphobia impacts access to social benefits and all the rights that are linked to these platforms. This inadequacy raises legal barriers and violates fundamental rights,” said the association.

Transphobia is a crime

In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that homophobic and transphobic conduct falls within the classification of the Racism Law until the National Congress approves a specific law on the matter. In 2023, the court equated offenses committed against LGBTQIAPN+ people with the crime of racism. Report any acts of transphobia to the Human Rights Hotline – Disque 100 (Dial 100).

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