Sunday, December 30, 2012

Argentina: New ID's for 1,720 transgender individuals since 2012 law; 5,839 same-sex marriages since 2010 law

In 2010 Argentina became the first Latin American nation to adopt a nation-wide marriage equality law.

This summer, Argentina continued its bid to become the most LGBT-friendly country in the world when it also passed what some call the most progressive gender identity law in the world.

The law requires the public health system to provide adequate health services for transgender individuals and grants them the right to change their name and gender designation on government ID's without having to show proof of gender reassignment surgery or a psychological diagnosis.

[In July I wrote about an extraordinary ceremony in which President Critsina Fernandez de Kirchner publicly and personally handed out the first new ID's processed under the law to a number of transgender leaders].

On Thursday the daily newspaper La Nación took a look at both laws and their impact since their passage and spoke to LGBT-rights advocates about what's next for the movement after these amazing victories.

Marriage equality: According to La Nación the latest government records indicate that 5,839 couples have gotten married in Argentina since the marriage equality law went into effect in July of 2010 with the bulk of them taking place in Buenos Aires and surrounding communities. When ranked per capita, other regions also stand out including Mendoza with 389 weddings (at 22.37 per 100,000 inhabitants), Santa Fé with 664 (20.79/100K) and Córdoba with 632 (19.10/100K).

The national number also includes five foreign couples who traveled to Argentina to get married after a March 2012 ruling by a Santa Fé court allowing foreign nationals to get married under Argentine law. The Argentine LGBT Federation says that they are aware of another 50 foreign couples who have registered to get married in 2013 and say that there is a waiting list for other tourists wishing to do the same.

In an article published earlier this month by UPI they put the numbers of same-sex couples married in Buenos Aires at 1,030 - which is lower than La Nacion's numbers by almost 400 couples - but that might just indicate that they were looking at earlier official estimates. Interestingly they note that of those 1,030 marriages only 191 took place in the first half of 2012 indicating a steep decrease in recent same-sex marriages in the nation's capital.

Gender identity law: As reflected by the graphic above 1,720 Argentine individuals have processed changes to their official identification records to reflect their current name and gender representation (there is an interactive version of the graphic on La Nación's webpage which also includes a separate graphic for same-sex marriages).

Those blue dots represent the per capita ranking of each region and what particularly striking is that there have been transgender individuals who have sought official recognition of their identity even in the most conservative areas of the nation.

La Nación also notes that there are only two hospitals in the entire nation accredited to perform gender reassignment surgeries which has resulted in months-long waiting lines for individuals who want to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Indeed, one of the pending challenges LGBT-rights advocates express in the piece is to expand the number of medical centers and staff accredited to provide health care to transgender individuals.

UPDATE: On December 14, 2012, Argentina's Ministry of Interior and Transportation said that all transgender permanent resident immigrants and refugees would also be covered by the gender identity law.  Additional information on the immigrant-friendly aspect of the policy can be found here.

Pending challenges: Combating bullying in schools & lifting a blood donation ban on gay and bisexual men: As LGBT-rights advocates turn their sights on 2013, they tell La Nación that there are two short-term goals.

First, they would like to work with legislators to develop and present an anti-bullying law that would penalize persecution and harassment of students based on their sexual identity and, second, they would like to put an end to discriminatory policies that bar gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

Second, in November of this year the the lower chamber of congress voted to lift a ban on blood donations by gay and bisexual men by an overwhelming vote of 158 in favor, 2 against and 4 abstentions.  A priority for LGBT-rights advocates will be to secure enough votes for a Senate vote expected to take place in March or April of 2013.

If passed and signed into law, Argentina would follow Mexico as the second country in the American continent to lift blood donor restrictions on gay and bisexual men.  The Mexican restrictions were lifted just last week.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Mexico lifts gay and bisexual blood donor ban

A little noticed Mexican health norm first approved in August and then published in the country's regulatory Official Federation Diary on October 26th has gone into effect today essentially doing away with a two-decade ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, reports Animal Político.

The old norm (NOM 003-SSA2) explicitly banned gay and bisexual men from donating blood based on their "practices" and their "increased probability of acquiring HIV or hepatitis infection".

The new norm (NOM 253) eliminates specific bans on gay and bisexual men and instead bans blood donations from people with HIV or hepatitis and their partners and people who engage in "risky sexual practices" regardless of their sexual identity.

In the new blood donor norms "risky sexual practices" are defined as those that may include "contact or exchange of blood, sexual secretions or other bodily secretions between someone who might have a transmittable disease and areas of another person's body through which an infectious agent might be able to penetrate."

The United States and a number of Latin American countries which include Argentina, Chile and Colombia have been mulling lifting similar longstanding bans that have been in effect since the HIV/AIDS crisis broke through decades ago.

If this report is correct, Mexico might be the first country in the American continent to lift such a ban.

UPDATE 1 (Dec. 26, 2012): The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (CONAPRED) has released a statement confirming these reports and saluting the new regulations as a step forward in eliminating discrimination.

In the statement, the governmental body applauds the move to base blood donor criteria on risk factors rather than on discriminatory perceptions about certain social groups. Here is a translated excerpt from the statement:
The previous NOM contained several explicitly discriminatory requirements that kept people from donating blood based on their sexual preference or orientation; instead, from now on, medical/scientific criteria will be used to identify pathogens in the blood and the focus will be turned to risky behaviors rather than social groups.
In making these discriminatory distinctions, the [previous] norm explicitly violated the prohibition against discrimination present in the Constitution and the Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination, as well as Article 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 26 of the International Civil and Political Rights Treaty, among other international instruments of law, which establish that every person is equal before the law regardless of any condition.
In closing, the agency vows to engage administrative and medical entities to make them aware of the new regulations and train them so that the new policy is promptly adopted in order to eradicate the stigma and discrimination contained in the previous norm.

UPDATE 2 (Dec. 28, 2012): GEN, an online site that focuses on genetic engineering and biotechnology, notes concerns raised by CONAPRED that a separate section of the new norm might still discriminate against a group of people. From GEN's article:
The previous NOM requirements explicitly excluded people who could donate blood based on sexual preferences or orientation or even social status, according to Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred), which also points out that despite this progress, there is still a degree of discrimination in the wording in the new NOM ruling. Specifically, subsection, Point J, excludes people on a temporary basis from donating blood "[who have] been hospitalized for more than 72 consecutive hours in penal or mental illness. The organization maintains that this subsection stigmatizes prison populations and people with mental disabilities.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Anatomy of a gay nativity scene "controversy"

Photo: A photograph of a nativity scene deemed controversial by some media outlets has actually been online since February 2012 without drawing much reaction in the ten months since it was originally posted by Kien y Ke.

In December of last year Andrés Vásquez and Félipe Cárdenas opened their home to a couple of reporters from the Colombian online magazine Kien y Ke interested in portraying the life of a gay couple in Bogota.  In a profile that could have easily fit within the Sunday Styles section of The New York Times the couple described the joy of celebrating their partnership through a civil union ceremony held last year in Cartagena, they made recommendations about their favorite restaurants in Bogota, they discussed their love for fashion and they confessed having named their pug Louis in honor the luxury brand Louis Vuitton.

That probably would have been as scandalous a revelation if it weren't for the reporters noticing a certain clay figurine missing from the couple's nativity scene as described in the opening paragraph: "The Baby Jesus in the nativity scene that belongs to the Vásquez-Cárdenas family has two fathers, two Saint Joseph figurines. There is no room for the Virgin Mary."

The article presented this as an amusing anecdote and included a photo of the nativity scene within the post. Until a couple of days ago there were only five responses to the article, including one negative response, with no reaction whatsoever to the nativity scene.  This despite the fact that the article and the photo were posted online more than ten months ago with the page's social network buttons only registering 11 re-tweets, 8 Google Plus mentions and 53 Facebook likes.

I had seen the article when it was originally published months ago so imagine my surprise when I saw Colombian news conglomerate Caracol run the same image two weeks ago under the headline "Controversy due to a nativity scene in Colombia". The article briefly rehashed some of the information and said that the nativity scene had caused controversy even though it didn't make clear who - if anyone - had taken offense.

Editors at the Colombian website Sentiido had a similar reaction to the article and dug a bit deeper. In a post titled "How to create a controversy" they actually argue that Caracol picked up the post almost word for word from from a piece that also ran earlier this month.  Terra also characterizes it as controversial but also fails to quote anyone who has actually taken offense.

Once Terra and Caracol jumped on the story there was no going back. A day after Caracol published their piece, the British tabloid Daily Mail picked up on the unsubstantiated information and  elevated the "controversy" to full blown "outrage" ("Outrage over gay couple's homosexual nativity scene with two Josephs and no Mary").

Andrés Vásquez and Felipe "Pipe" Cárdenas (courtesy of the couple)
On Friday it made its debut States-side with The Advocate picking up on the Daily Mail story ("Nativity scene with two Josephs enrages conservative Colombians") reaching the New York Daily News print edition yesterday ("Gay couple in Colombia under fire for male-only nativity scene posted on Facebook").

The Daily News story was quickly picked up by several popular gay news sites including Towleroad and Queerty. Univision News tweeted a link to the story this evening to its more than 64,000 followers. Fox News Latino has a post on it today.

Who knows! If I hadn't been aware of some of the background I might have based this post on the Daily News as well.

The point here is that if there has been any controversy related to the nativity scene it has been the result of media reporting it as such and not necessarily because there was any controversy to begin with. Most of these accounts also mention that the Catholic church in Cartagena is up in arms about the nativity scene but there are no on the record comments nor direct statements attributed to anyone.  What is true of, Caracol, the Daily Mail and the Daily News is that they never even bothered to contact Vásquez and Cárdenas to confirm the facts or get their side of the story.

It's actually not that hard to get a hold of Andrés Vásquez. If you Google his name plus "Colombia" his Twitter handle appears as the third link.  As a political analyst and entrepreneur he is actually well known in Colombia and never been shy about talking to press.  He used his media savvy to turn his civil union ceremony into a national news story back in October of 2011 (former Senator Piedad Córdoba, a key figure in the country's negotiations with left-wing guerrillas acted as the maid of honor).  It was the same contacts he used to land the Kien y Ke profile.

Yesterday I reached out to Mr. Vásquez for comment and he sent me the following message:
Regarding the recent so-called "controversy" I have made it clear to the general press that there is no nativity scene this year and that there is no such scandal. I have also told them that I have yet to see any of the social media outrage that has been claimed to exist. I haven't even been in the country for more than two months as I have been busy launching a social network I created on an international level.
When it comes to LGBT media such as OrgulloLGBT, The Advocate, Sentiido and others, I have made attempts to go further and explain how I see this as a strategic attempt by certain people in media to paint the community in a bad light.  As I said, we never built a nativity scene this year and, until the recent articles were published, there was no public awareness about it.  And yet even before people became aware of it, someone who wrote the initial piece had already tagged it as a scandal, a controversy and an act of disrespect.  They even claimed that the church had called it sacrilegious but how could that be possible if nobody was aware of it until they read the piece?
The only scandal here  is that someone took an article published a year ago, replaced the date of publication and sold it as something new in order to rile up public sentiment against the community and against a marriage equality bill making its way through the Colombian Congress.  From that point on, it was just a matter of time before international media agencies such as the AFP picked it up and from then on everyone else simply repeated the wrong information as fact.
To this day I have yet to receive an e-mail message, phone call, Facebook message of Twitter message from a single reporter trying to confirm the information or ask for additional details. And I know for a fact that many journalists back home know how to contact me as someone who is moderately well-known in Colombia.  The only ones who have reached out to me are people who work for LGBT media.
I am currently in Florida. I would have probably built a nativity scene this year as well if I had time on my hands but I have been incredibly busy. And if I had, I would probably done the same as years past because for Catholics the nativity scene is a representation of the family.  And just as some families are black and use figurines that represent them, there are also other type of families such as families with same-sex parents or single mother households or grandmothers who raise grandchildren on their own.
Mr. Vásquez is in the United States as part of the launch of He has not asked me to promote his business but considering all the press he has been receiving for other unrelated reasons I thought I would point out his other endeavors.

You can connect with as follows:
  • on the net here
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And here is a promo video:

Post last updated on Monday, December 18th, 2012.