Friday, May 14 will be a day to remember, but only as a reminder of the setbacks we’ve faced in the struggle to protect human rights for LGBTI people in El Salvador — people who who have been historically abused, invisibilized, mistreated, and discriminated against simply because we refuse to conform to society’s heteropatriarchal norms. It will be a day to remember that during the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s Committee on Women and Gender Equality, Nuevas Ideas representative Lorena Fuentes called for the dismissal of two proposals aimed at addressing issues of gender descrimination — the Transgender Identity Law and the Special Law for Equality and Non-Discrimination. [Editorial note: The committee rejected the initiatives, along with 30 other pending proposals, “after finding them obsolete and not in accordance with reality.”]
The reasons behind the decision to shelve the initiatives are simply absurd. The proposals are not partisan, nor are they obsolete; they are a response to the real and urgent needs of our communities and are the result of years of hard work on the part of trans organizations and our supporters, who together managed to bring these drafts before the Legislative Assembly. For example, we began working on the Transgender Identity Law (Ley de Identidad de Género para Personas Trans) in 2012, when trans and allied organizations came together to push for national legislation for the recognition of trans identity, forming the Permanent Roundtable on Gender Identity Legislation in El Salvador. That was the moment we began working on the construction of a proposal that would eventually bear fruit in 2017, when we came to consensus on a rough draft of the bill.
The proposed law would allow transgender and transexual individuals to change their personal identification documents to reflect their name, sex, and/or gender in accordance with their identities, thus gauranteeing their right to their own name as stipulated in Article 36, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution of the Republic, as well as ensuring the recognition of other rights that our communities have been historically denied.
Thanks to the conviction and advocacy work of these individuals and organizations, we managed to achieve a legislative initiative in 2018 with the help of FMLN representative Lorena Peña, creating a draft that could be presented before the Committee on Gender and Women for study and review. Since then, we have focused on developing campaigns to promote the initiative, and have sought meetings with representatives from various political parties. Although we were not met with much acceptance, in one form or another we at least had open communication and the ability to do advocacy.
This latest setback is by no means the first we have faced under the current administration. On June 3, 2019, circumstances changed for LGBTI communities in El Salvador. Two days after the current administration took power, they eliminated the agency tasked with ensuring sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination in government offices, cutting off communication channels between government ministries and LGBTI advocacy groups. The only connection we were able to maintain was with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MJSP). That they closed these doors to us was particularly disheartening since from June 2019 to present there have been 16 documented hate crimes against LGBTI people, and yet no public official or state institution has mentioned or taken a public position on these cases, much less condemned the wave of trans murders that swept the country that same year.
The second bill shelved by the Assembly this week was intended to help eradicate one of the most invisibilized social problems in El Salvador. The preliminary draft of the Special Law for Equality and Non-Discrimination (Ley Especial por la Igualdad y No Discriminación) was presented in February 2021 with the support of the Assembly’s Youth Parliamentary Group. This proposed law sought to promote equality and equity, eradicate prejudices and stigmas, as well as prevent, repair, sanction and eliminate all forms of discrimination in the country. It bears mentioning that although the proposal was developed by organizations belonging to the Salvadoran LGBTI Federation, it was not an exclusive creation of those communities, but included representatives from other vulnerable populations as well, and the process of developing the proposal involved consultations with various civil society organizations and their constituent communities.
This is precisely why the justifications for shelving the proposed bills seem so absurd to us. These initiatives were not created or spearheaded by partisan elites — they are the result of years of hard work on the part of civil society organizations that, in response to a lack of political will on the part of government actors, took it upon ourselves to develop proposals to ensure that our human rights were respected. I find it disrespectful that the Committee on Women and Gender Equality representatives did not even take the time to read the preliminary drafts that they then rejected as “obsolete” and irrelevant to the needs of the population.
This rollback has major implications for many vulnerable populations in El Salvador, and perhaps most of all, for the trans community. It is also important to remember that in rejecting these proposed reforms, the government is failing on its international commitments, such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ Advisory Opinion OC-24/17, which obliges states to guarantee the right to gender identity.
It seems to me that with these actions, the Salvadoran state is widening gaps of inequality and inequity in the country, and as the new government consolidates its authority, those of us who belong to disadvantaged populations will suffer more violence and more discrimination, and will be left without a state to protect us.
Organizations and activists committed to defending human rights in El Salvador will continue our work, since we are not guided by partisan or economic agendas. I would like to invite my feminist sisters and everyone else to stand up and speak out against these actions, and not to be deterred by fear.
*Translated by Max Granger