By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – On Tuesday, Michelle Suarez became the first transgender senator ever to be seated in Uruguay. She vows to use her position to expand and protect the rights of transgender people throughout South America.
The 34-year-old lawyer and activist assumed her seat in the upper chambers of Congress to represent the Communist Party. Her goal is to push a law that would let transgender people change their legal identities without needing the approval of a judge. The law would also mandate that the government set aside one percent of jobs for transgender people. Finally, a pension would be established to compensate transgender people who were persecuted during Uruguay’s decade under military dictatorship.
“Uruguay has evolved, but it’s still a discriminatory country,” Suarez told the Associated Press. With her position, she seeks to increase debate and action for LGBT rights within the Senate. Her top priority is drafting the Comprehensive Trans Act, which she co-authored, and will guarantee rights to people of all sexual orientation and socio-economic status.
Suarez revealed that she was fifteen when she acknowledged that she was a woman living in a male body. She attributes much of her success to her parents for accepting her. While growing up, she always had the support of her family but was discriminated against by classmates and teachers. “It was a tough time,” Suarez said. “People who knew me began to harass me.”
Regardless, she graduated high school with top grades and became the first transgender person to earn a law degree in the country of 33 million people. She began working as an activist for gender rights in 2009 as a way to cope with the loss of her mother.
Prior to gaining her seat, Suarez helped draft a bill that legalized gay marriage in 2013. She also worked as an activist and legal adviser for an LGBT rights organization, Ovejas Negras (Black Sheep).
The underlying attitude in Uruguay is still macho and fosters fierce resistance to LGBTQ issues. Suarez points out the prominent discrimination faced by Uruguay’s trans community of about 900 individuals. Because of it, gaining stable employment is difficult and many are pushed into sex work. Meanwhile, neighboring countries such as Argentina and Chile have started to make movements toward gender diversity.
“For the same facts, sayings, ways of feeling and thinking that at some point in my life I was harassed, persecuted and sanctioned, today I am applauded by many.” Suarez adds, “there has been positive change.”
For more information, please see: