Uruguay’s new law protecting its transgender population is a result of decades of political protest.
While the Trump administration is working to legally and medically deny the existence of transgender individuals, Uruguay stands out as beacon of progressive laws for the protection of LGBTQ communities.
On Oct. 19, the Uruguayan Congress approved a law that guarantees one percent of government jobs over the next 15 years are reserved for transgender people. In addition to this provision of jobs and representation within the government, the Uruguayan state will now provide trans people sexual reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments for free. The law also creates a pension that aims to compensate transgender individuals who “were persecuted during Uruguay’s 1973–1985 military dictatorship,” according to the Associated Press.
Uruguay follows the trend of Latin American countries leading the globe in progressive policies protecting transgender populations. In 2012, the Argentinian Congress ruled that transgender people can change their gender on government documents without having had prior sexual reassignment surgery. Argentina, alongside Uruguay, requires both private and public medical practices to provide free hormone treatments and transition surgeries. Similar laws have been in place in Malta since 2015 and in Mexico City since 2014.
The Uruguayan bill says, “This law seeks to ensure the rights of trans people of all ages, of all sexual orientations, socio-economic conditions, territorial affiliation, national origin, beliefs, cultural and ethnic-racial origin or disability to live a life that is free of discrimination and stigmatization.”
It’s hard to read this fantastic extension of human liberty and dignity in Uruguay and other Latin American countries and not wish for the same sort of empathetic rhetoric to find root in the United States. This is especially true this month, following the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ proposed plans to backpedal on the already-too-small amount of progress made for trans rights over the last decade.
However, we can’t fully acknowledge and appreciate the progression of transgender rights in Latin America without understanding the necessity of protest. These laws were not born solely out of a congressional desire to elevate the status of a vulnerable minority group. The Uruguayan bill exists because transgender activists raised their voices, and other Uruguayans responded to them.
If we feel that the United States federal government is leaving transgender people in a dangerous position (which it is), our best course of action is to elevate their voices and work toward protective political action. It’s simpler said than done, but a certain amount of respect held for other people’s humanity demands political action.
We, as residents of the United States, should congratulate the transgender people of Uruguay for having won their rights, but we must continue to work internally to protect the rights and identities of our transgender loved ones and neighbors. One of the easiest ways to help the millions of trans people living in the United States this election season is to go out and vote this Tuesday, Nov. 6, for politicians who prioritize minority rights.