Latin America’s trans politicians are gaining ground in a dangerous region

Erika Hilton gives an interview in Sao Paulo
Erika Hilton, who became the first transgender councilwoman elected by the city of Sao Paulo, speaks after an interview with an assistant at her office in Sao Paulo, Brazil February 25, 2022. Picture taken February 25, 2022. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

March 9, 2022

By Carolina Pulice

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – When Erika Hilton decided to run for political office in South America’s largest city in 2020, she had no idea that she would receive more votes than any other candidate that year to win a seat on the city council in South America to win Brazil.

Since then, the excitement surrounding the 29-year-old transgender has only grown. Hilton has received lavish support from artists and left-wing politicians, who have appeared on the covers of magazines in Brazil. In October, she was recognized as one of the Most Influential People of African Descent, a United Nations-sponsored award recognizing achievements by Africans and their diaspora.

Hilton told Reuters that she now intends to run for federal office in Brazil’s October elections for the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party. If elected, she would be the first transgender member of Congress in Brazil, according to Transgender Europe (TGEU) the deadliest country for trans people in the world. ?submap=tmm_2021, a network of non-profit organizations working for transgender rights around the world.

Murders and suicides among trans Brazilians have risen in recent years, while far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has attacked what he calls “gender ideology” among those pushing for more protections for trans people.

“Brasilia needs to be roused with a human rights, LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) agenda for these bodies and these voices,” Hilton said in an interview.

From her city council seat, Hilton has proposed tax breaks for companies that hire more trans people. She has also urged expanding the outreach of the city’s Trans Citizenship Program, which aims to help vulnerable trans people.

Though Hilton is a pioneer in Brazil, she is not alone in Latin America, where a new generation of trans politicians are working to end violence and prejudice against trans people.

In Chile, transgender MP Emilia Schneider, 25, won a seat in the federal legislature in November after years of activism.

Schneider said the left-wing wave that put Chile’s socialist president-elect Gabriel Boric in office also inspired the draft of a new constitution with a stronger focus on human rights and defending the trans population.

“I am very hopeful and confident that this government and the new constitution will mean a new horizon of rights and recognition for the people of Chile and for sexual diversity,” she said in an interview.

“We have conquered institutional spaces, in Congress, in the (elected) cabinet, and this is a profound transformation, it will change the culture of society,” said Schneider. She noted that Boric’s appointed cabinet includes openly gay Education Minister Mario Antonio Avila and lesbian Sports Minister Alexandra Benado.

Across Latin America, political advances to strengthen trans rights have been mixed.

At least 189 transgender people were killed in the region last year, more than any other, according to the TGEU, which warned the real number could be higher due to underreporting.

In Mexico, the second deadliest country in the world for transgender people, Maria Clemente Garcia Moreno, a 36-year-old federal lawmaker for the ruling Morena party, said she struggles to explain the challenges trans people face in Mexico’s Congress, even to those who understand and respect their own trans identity.

“This responsibility to translate the needs of the trans population to embed them in the political framework to protect our rights — it’s complex,” she said.

In Venezuela, the fight for trans rights often takes a back seat to broader political, social and economic issues, said Tamara Adrian, a transgender advocate, researcher and federal lawmaker elected in 2015.

Students, for example, are often forced to hide their altered identities, she said.

Otherwise, “they have to drop out of school or not appear or show themselves as trans in places like universities,” she said.

For Hilton, who also heads the committee investigating trans crimes in Sao Paulo, physical violence is just the tip of the iceberg and adding trans rights must be part of social policy.

“What is being stolen from us is the very right to be recognized as human beings. And if we are recognized, we must all have human rights,” she said.

(Reporting by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Lisa Shumaker) Latin America’s trans politicians are gaining ground in a dangerous region

Bobby Allyn

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