How Venezuela’s First Transgender Lawmaker Plans to Tackle LGBT Rights

Tamara Adrian was elected to the country’s National Assembly this week.
Tamara Adrian celebrates after hearing the results of the legislative election at Democratic Unity Movement (MUD) party headquarters in Caracas on the morning of Dec. 7. (Photo: Juan Barreto/Getty Images)
Dec 10, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

When Venezuela’s opposition party took control of Congress this week, some saw the landslide win as a sign of significant change in a country that has been plagued by corruption and soaring rates of crime and poverty. Aside from the rare shift in power, the election also marked another historic victory: the appointment of Tamara Adrian, the first transgender lawmaker in the nation and possibly in all of South America.

Adrian, a 61-year-old lawyer and activist, intends to use her political platform to overhaul the country’s “macho” culture, boost gender equality, and fight for the rights of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population. “In Venezuela we don’t have any rights,” Adrian told Reuters this week. “There are some precarious and isolated rules on the issue of nondiscrimination and in the labor sector, but nothing more,” she said, adding that one of her first priorities is to legalize same-sex marriage.

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In recent years, a number of predominantly Catholic Latin American countries have passed such legislation. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, and Brazil and Uruguay followed suit in 2013. As of this year, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing gay and lesbian couples to seek court injunctions in states where same-sex marriage is illegal.

Marriage equality is not the only issue facing Venezuela’s LGBT community. Transgender men and women are barred from seeking legal name or gender changes. Because of these legal barriers, Adrian was forced to campaign under the name listed on her birth certificate rather than the one she’s been using for years, Reuters reported.

Local LGBT organizations say a 2009 law that allows people to alter their birth certificate in cases where their name doesn’t match their gender identity has gone largely ignored in Venezuela. Instead, individual cases are sent to court, and a majority are rejected by judges, according to a report compiled by advocates and sent to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in May.

The report alleges that Venezuela has not made significant progress in recognizing and advancing the civil and political rights of LGBT people, who lack protection in the absence of laws guaranteeing equality, making them vulnerable to discrimination and harassment. Of the 237 LGBT people surveyed by the local NGO Diverlex in 2012, 92 percent said they’d suffered discrimination and violence because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and nearly three-quarters of respondents said they’d considered leaving the country because of it.

Adrian's win comes during the same year as American politicans in D.C. have taken measures to combat transgender discrimination, harassment, and violence. The White House hired its first openly transgender staffer in August, just four months after the first gender-neutral bathroom was created in the Eisenhower Executive Office. And in November, Congress launched its first-ever Transgender Task Force to tackle what it called “an epidemic of violence against the transgender community.”

Advocacy organizations including the Human Rights Campaign and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, for which Adrian serves as the alternate co-secretary general, applauded her victory. Around the world, transgender people are vastly underrepresented in electoral politics. A report released this year by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that across 30 countries, just 126 transgender people campaigned for office across nearly four decades, and 48 of the candidates were elected.

Helen Kennedy and Ruth Baldacchino, co-secretaries general at the ILGA, said they hoped Adrian’s election would inspire transgender people around the world to get involved with local politics. “LGBTIQ people are still excluded and discriminated at many levels, and political representation provides a space for more visibility,” they said in a statement. “Elected politicians like Tamara serve as role models to many beyond their national contexts, and such news will hopefully motivate more LGBTIQ people to run for office in other countries.”