Saturday, April 30, 2011

Argentina: A new government ID for Alejandro Iglesias as he becomes the poster boy for transgender rights

The end of "Gran Hermano 2011": This weekend brings the season finale of "Gran Hermano 2011" - the Argentinean version of the international "Big Brother" reality show franchise.  As you know, if you have been following this blog, the show started with a bang when it was revealed to viewers that one of the contestants - Aejandro Iglesias - was a transgender man.

Surprisingly viewers quickly warmed up to Alejandro and some media observers named him an early favorite to become the winner. That didn't happen: He was voted out in March after having spent three months as a contestant (pretty respectable, considering he outlasted two of the guys in this weekend's final only to see producers bring them back into the house).

Interviewed after leaving the house, Alejandro said he had no regrets about participating in the reality show and revealing his identity in such a public way.  His hope, he said, was that his visibility might have helped others going through the same struggles he experienced earlier in his life as he realized his true identity and that his participation in the show might have led to a national dialogue on transgender rights.

"What I'd like?," Alejandro said to an interviewer, "To have the law passed so it won't be as tough to get to where I am... because people like me might be fighting the same battles and when they realize there is so much they have to do, they become depressed, they shut down."

The law Alejandro mentions in the interview is a gender identity bill expected to be introduced for debate in the Argentinean legislature later this year. If approved, the law would make it easier and faster for transgender individuals to request a new government-issued national ID, or DNI, which better-reflects their current gender.

With Alejandro becoming a pop-culture phenomenon, the Argentinean LGBT Federation (FALGBT) and the Travesti, Transexual and Transgender Association of Argentina (ATTTA) realized Alejandro had also created a tremendous opportunity to educate the public on the bill and, after reaching the producers, they were given a chance to address "Big Brother" viewers back in March. Here is the 14-minute clip of their appearance on the show, which I've translated (turn annotations on).

It's quite an amazing clip, considering it was shown on mainstream Argentinean television as part of one of the top rated shows in the country.

The gender identity bill: In the clip, FALGBT President Esteban Paulón explains that the gender identity bill is now the top priority for the organization that led the successful push for marriage equality in the country (in 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American country to pass a law granting marriage rights to same-sex couples).  He explains that the bill would allow transgender individuals to request a change of name and gender on their government-issued ID without having to be diagnosed as suffering "gender dysphoria" and without being required to show proof of having undergone gender-reassignment surgery.

Paulón also says that there are similarities between the successful campaign the Federation mounted for marriage equality and the current campaign for the gender identity bill.

He says that the Federation worked with a number of same-sex couples who went to the courts to demand the right to marry on the basis of discrimination and that nine of those couples were granted the right to marry months before marriage equality became the law of the land.

Similarly, he says that the Federation is working with several transgender individuals who have gone to court to argue the current regulations for changing their ID's are discriminatory and places an unfair burden on them and the courts have ruled in favor of three transgender individuals since December (Paulón says that there are another 30 cases pending in the courts of Buenos Aires and 100 cases total pending in Argentinean courts).

Photo: "Gran Hermano 2011" contestants Luz Rios and Alejandro Iglesias (wearing red-ribbon sashes) meet gay Argentinean hubbies Alex Freyre and José Maria Di Bello, the first gay couple to marry in all of Latin America (photo courtesy of Alex).

"Gender Dysphoria": You might never have heard of the term "gender dysphoria" but, thanks to Alejandro, most people in Argentina probably have heard of it by now.  On his casting tape, he used the term "disforia de género" as an issue he wanted to highlight as a contestant in the show and, as he "came out" as a transgender man inside the house, he also explained to them that he had "gender dysphoria" (Search for "disforia de género" on Google News and you'll get hundreds of news articles that have followed Alejandro's lead and used the term when talking about him).

In my original blog post about Alejandro I alluded to the discontent that exists out there about the term "gender dysphoria" in certain segments of the transgender community.  I did this by linking up to a blog post by Alexandra Billings in which she reacted to the casting tape clip of Alejandro I posted on my blog ("Big Latin Brother", January 6, 2011).

Basically, the argument is that "gender dysphoria" is a medical term long used to designate being transgender as a pathology or illness.  The insidiousness of the term is that it is also a diagnosis that transgender individuals must seek if they want to have access to gender-reassignment surgery or a change in their government ID in many parts of the world, including most of the United States.

What's interesting about this clip is that Marcela Romero, Director of ATTTA, takes the term - as well as Alejandro's embrace of "gender dysphoria" - head on.

"Throughout the world the transgender community is fighting to remove 'gender dysphoria', it doesn't exist" Romero says at the 8:00 minute mark, "France already removed it from its health manuals, 'gender dysphoria' doesn't exist. What exists is the guideline for a court judge to say that you have 'gender dysphoria' in order to grant you a document and delay it for four years, ten years in my case".

She also speaks directly to Alejandro, who is in the audience, at the 13:50 minute mark and says "I wanted to tell you, Ale, that 'gender dysphoria' no longer exists, let's stop 'gender dysphoria', let's stop it" to which Alejandro meekly responds "Yes, of course" and defends himself by saying "It was the only concept I had."

Paulón also puts Alejandro on the spot by asking him to commit to working with the Federation and tells him that the Federation is committed to work with him not only to make sure Alejandro gets a new ID but also in assessing whether he wants to go to the courts and demand that the state respond to the need of transgender people who want to undergo gender-reassignment surgery as a health issue.  Paulón says that this is part of a second transgender rights bill that the Federation is working on which would require the government to respond to the integral health of all Argentineans, including transgender folk.

Alejandro, who is sitting next to Luz Rios - a lesbian contestant who was his closest ally during the current season of "Gran Hermano" - commits himself to working with the Federation and ATTTA just as Luz is seen to become overwhelmed with emotion and starts to cry.

It's really an amazing clip. Perhaps I'll get to translate it down the line.

Alejandro gets his new ID: Last week, Paulón came through on one of his two promises to Alejandro. Working with Maria Rachid, Vice President of the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI), Alejandro received his new government ID on Thursday morning.  He is now officially registered as "Alejandro Iván Iglesias" and as a male for all intents and purposes.  Here is a (translated) clip of the ceremony in which he was handed the new documents...

Imagine the marriage equality movement in the United States working as closely with transgender rights activists in this way?

Of course, the battle for the right of transgender folk to change the name and gender on their ID's is not unique to Argentina.

In the United States there are varying policies on changing one's ID documents, most requiring a transgender person to show they've had a psychiatric evaluation and show proof of having undergone gender-reassignment surgery.  Last month, three transgender individuals sued New York City arguing that the city's requirement for proof of surgery and a psychiatric evaluation made it extremely difficult for most transgender New Yorkers to get their ID's changed.

Pakistan was in the news earlier this week after their Supreme Court granted transgender individuals to register for a "third gender" category on their government ID's.

But I am am so glad I picked up Alejandro's story early on when he was introduced as part of the "Gran Hermano" contestants back in December. It's really been an incredibly moving story.


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