Posted by Ben Clapham, May 27, 2014
Last week, I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with my colleagues Elias and Nairobi from GMT Initiative grantee partner Comunidad de Trans y Travestis Trabajadoras Sexuales Dominicana (COTRAVETD) in the Dominican Republic for an advocacy exchange visit with the Federacion Argentina de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y Trans (FALGBT). Our advocacy exchanges are designed to allow newer GMT organizations to learn skills and strategies from organizations that have successfully advocated for greater health and human rights for LGBT.
(From left to right) Nairobi Castillo, director of COTRAVETD; Marcela Romero, president of REDLACTRANS; and Esteban Paulin, president of FALGBT meet during the advocacy exchange.
FALGBT is a consortium of more than 60 LGBT organizations from across Argentina, and it was the catalyst for the passage of the bill that legalized same-sex marriages in Argentina in 2010, as well as for the groundbreaking 2012 Gender Identity Law that made it the first country in the world to allow people to change their name and sex on official documents without getting approval from a judge or doctor. “The Marriage Equality Bill had to be passed first, because Argentines can understand same-sex marriage. A law that promotes gender identity is very abstract and hard for people to grasp,” said Esteban Paulin, president of FALBGT, while discussing the coalition’s strategy.
In the Dominican Republic, on the other hand, trans individuals have very few health or human rights and little access to HIV care and other health services. “In my country, there are strong religious beliefs, and we are still a very macho society,” said Nairobi, the director of COTRAVETD, which is a trans-focused organization. “The road will be long to passing a law that will allow the sex on my passport to match the gender that I live, but I know together we will make it happen.”
What was most striking during our visit was the relative cohesion in Argentina between trans-focused groups and groups that primarily focus on gay or lesbian issues. In many countries, these organizations pursue their own separate advocacy agendas and do not have a coordinated response. “The important thing was unity. The trans community didn’t see or feel the necessity for marriage equality. We wanted and needed a law that recognized our gender identity,” said Marcela Romero, director of Asociación de Travestis, Transexuales, Transgéneros Argentinas (ATTTA), a GMT Initiative grantee partner that is part of FALGBT. “However, we understood that due to popular opinion, the marriage bill would need to come first, so we decided to support the gay and lesbian groups, knowing that after the marriage bill, they would support us for the gender identity bill.”
Two UNAIDS employees discuss the UN strategies that facilitated the passage of Argentina’s Marriage Equality and Gender Identity Bills with members of COTRAVETD and FALGBT.
The week spent in Buenos Aires equipped COTRAVETD with a foundation of ideas and advocacy and coalition-building strategies that can be adapted to the Dominican context. “The LGBT coalition in the Dominican Republic needs to become better organized and to have the same goal agreed upon by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and the trans community before we can launch an appeal for legal change,” said Elias, the technical advisor for COTRAVETD. It was also an inspiring visit, and during our final night together, over a delicious steak, Nairobi told Elias and me, “I, Nairobi, will not stop until we have the same protections for LGBT people in the Dominican Republic that they have here in Argentina!”