Last Tuesday, I was thrilled, along with colleagues from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to meet and discuss LGBT activism with a group of incredible LGBT activists from Ecuador. The U.S. State Department regularly facilitates visits by distinguished community leaders and human rights activists from around the world to meet and exchange knowledge with their counterparts and other experts in the US. In recent years, the State Department’s exchange programs have increasingly connected international LGBT activists with U.S.-based activists, and the results have been enriching for all involved. As part of this all-LGBT, all-Ecuadorian visit, our guests were meeting with leaders and activists here in the nation’s capitol and elsewhere.
While we Americans can often be very, very US-centric in our focus, we have a lot to learn from our counterparts around the world. This was first driven home for me years ago when I wrote a scholarly article on gender identity recognition around the world, and discovered that some nations such as the United Kingdom and Spain were, at least by some measures, well ahead of the United States when it comes to the rights of transgender people. In recent years there has been a tremendous amount of LGBT and specifically transgender activism throughout much of Latin America, including major developments in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina to name a few.
Watch: Proyecto Transgenero’s video educating Ecuadorians about trans people and the identification challenges trans people face.
In talking with our Ecuadorian guests, I also learned just how much is going on around LGBT issues in that country. Our guests were diverse group of activists including Fredy Alfaro Reyes, who directs El Lugar Sin Limites LGBT Film Festival which takes place in several cities across the country and is in its 10th year; Ana Almeida Vélez, who directs Proyecto Transgénero, which is doing ground-breaking policy, community organizing and service work with and for trans people in Quito and beyond; Ricardo Herrera Molina, of Fundación YUNTA, based in Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil; and psychologist Maria Jose Jimenez Acosta of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, who works with LGBT refugees at the Ecuador-Columbia border; as well as a representative of Ecuador’s Ministry of Justice and Human Rights.
While all of these folks are doing tremendous work, I was particularly excited to hear about the work of Proyecto Transgénero, which includes strategic litigation, a legal patrol to defend the rights of trans sex workers and other trans people on the streets, art and performance projects from photography to video to tango, building solidarity with pro-choice and migrant movements, and its flagship Casa Trans, a “transfeminist political residence” that is a center of community organizing. Proyecto Transgenero’s slogan is “Cuerpos Distintos, Derechos Iguales” (Different Bodies, Equal Rights). They are one of many organizations that have worked to introduce legislation to amend the Ecuadorian civil registry law to enable all people to have their ID match their gender identity. Together they have launched a remarkable public education campaign, “Mi Género en mi cédula: A una letra de ejercer ciudadanía” (My gender on my ID: One letter away from exercising citizenship) to pass the bill. The bill is expected to be taken up by the Parliament in early 2013.
The fight for trans and LGBT equality and justice is not just a U.S. effort – it is a global one. We have a lot to learn from one another.