A Mexican person with graying hair works on the interior of a car. He can be seen from the waist up, wearing a blue Adidas shirt.
Marissa Revilla / Global Press Journal

Trans Citizens Fight for ‘the Right to Exist’ in Mexico

Without the option to change their ID documents to reflect their gender, trans residents in Chiapas and 12 other Mexican states are denied certain rights.

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This story was originally published by Global Press Journal.

When Santiago Santiago Rodríguez began his hormonal transition a year ago, he discovered that he wouldn’t be able to change his name and gender on his documents in his home state of Chiapas, which doesn’t have a law regulating the administrative process.

He decided to have his name changed in Mexico City, one of the country’s 19 states with a gender identity law, a type of legislation that guarantees a person’s right to modify their birth certificate through a simple administrative request. Fewer than half of the country’s 32 states have such laws.

Trans residents of states without this legislation have few options to update their ID documents. Traveling outside of their state, usually to Mexico City, is the least cumbersome; the other is obtaining a court order, which could take months and often requires proof of body modification or hormone therapy, which not all trans people choose to undergo.

“It was like four trips to Mexico City, each trip about 1,200 pesos [$60],” says Santiago Rodríguez, 50, an independent plumber, painter and upholstery cleaner. “With the travel expenses and the days I didn’t work, it all cost me around 10,000 pesos [$500].” Mexico City is around 900 kilometers (560 miles) from San Cristóbal de Las Casas. Santiago Rodríguez says he probably lost about a whole month of work.

Legislation guaranteeing civil rights to trans citizens in Mexico has advanced in the last few years, but not in all states. In Chiapas, the country’s poorest, trans rights are rarely deemed a priority.

“I couldn’t open a bank account; I couldn’t have a driver’s license.”

The irony of being undocumented in his own country wasn’t lost on Santiago Rodríguez, who lived in the United States without papers for one year in the early 2000s. “I couldn’t open a bank account, I couldn’t have a driver’s license or do many other things,” he says. “It’s like you live there, but not in the same circumstances as other people.”

Maricarmen de la Encarnación Pereyra Vázquez, a transgender lawyer who works in the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and assists LGBT migrants, says being undocumented isn’t exclusive to those crossing an international border. “I have friends who haven’t updated their voter ID cards because when they first went, they had to remove their makeup and tie up their hair,” she says. In Mexico, the voter card is the most common form of identification; without one, a person has trouble accessing a multitude of public and private services.

Karen Orduña, a 48-year-old resident of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas, says she’d been through it all before she had her identity updated: From traffic stops to reporting to the police or at the bank, every time someone couldn’t recognize her in her photo ID, a simple task became an insurmountable problem. “I didn’t have access to a mammogram until I corrected my documents,” she says. “It’s a constant struggle just for the right to exist and to live, both in a legal sense and when faced with anti-rights groups.”

Efforts to push a bill forward have stalled amid conservative pushback. In 2020, legislators from the conservative Partido Encuentro Social presented a bill that would require secondary schools to seek permission from parents before teaching sex education. This type of legislation, sometimes referred to by its advocates as a “parental PIN” law, has gained momentum in Spain and Latin America in recent years.

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In March this year, the Chiapas State Congress held an open session dedicated to women’s rights, where any woman or girl above 10 years of age could participate. The session faced backlash from conservative groups for admitting trans, lesbian and feminist women, which they claimed didn’t represent the state’s women.

Meanwhile, a gender identity bill introduced in 2019 in the state Congress has been “frozen” since then. And while same-sex marriage became legal in the state in 2016 following a Supreme Court ruling, the civil code hasn’t yet been modified. Likewise, Chiapas’ penal code doesn’t include aggravations of homicides and assaults motivated by homophobia — only 12 state codes in Mexico do so.

“It’s a constant struggle just for the right to exist and to live, both in a legal sense and when faced with anti-rights groups.”

In September 2021, in response to complaints made by four trans individuals who were denied a name change on their birth certificates via the Registro Civil, the government office that maintains records of births, deaths and marriages, the National Human Rights Commission submitted several recommendations to the state of Chiapas. These included a three-month deadline for the state government to institute a mechanism that would guarantee the right to gender identity. But no measures have been taken. The commission didn’t reply to requests for comment.

María Mandiola Totoricaguena, Chiapas’ minister of gender equality, says the ministry is working on a decree that would order the Registro Civil to modify birth certificates as long as the legislature doesn’t approve a gender identity law. Mandiola Totoricaguena adds that a few years ago, the ministry met with Chiapas legislators, who she says were “not very familiar with the subject.”

The Partido Encuentro Social didn’t respond to a request for comment. State deputy Leticia Albores, from the Partido Acción Nacional, another conservative party, said through the group’s press office that they will only speak to the media when the gender identity law enters the state’s congressional agenda.

Activists are working toward that day. Being able to use an official, gender-affirming ID would be the first step in opening “a world of rights,” lawyer Pereyra Vázquez says. “Not being recognized by the state is about more than just a simple name change,” she adds. “It’s not recognizing who we are, it’s not recognizing our citizenship. It’s about the recognition of the right to be who we want to be.”

TRANSLATION NOTE

Sarah DeVries, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.

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