Latin America: Trans people suffer under lockdowns

Police check documents as the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, in Panama City, March 31, 2020 – Image: REUTERS/Erick Marciscano

Coronavirus lockdowns in Latin America, that divide men and women in public, put transgender people in legal limbo, human rights groups said on Thursday, citing the case of a trans woman in Panama fined for going outside on a day reserved for women.

Panama and Peru enacted rules this week, ordering that men and women can only leave their homes on separate days.

Panama had more than 1,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of Thursday, while Peru had more than 2,000 cases, according to a Reuters tally.

Panama announced the gender-based lockdown starting on Wednesday, and Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra announced similar restrictions on Thursday, amid increasingly strict quarantine measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Vizcarra said the decree would make it easier for security forces to monitor people’s movements and enforce the quarantine.

The measures “raise red flags … for transgender people who are viewed by society as not falling necessarily in the traditional categories of men and women,” said Cristian Gonzalez Cabrera, an LGBT+ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), a global non-profit.

“Just saying that men are allowed out on this day and women are allowed out on this day is simply not enough to mollify their fears of harassment and discrimination,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Peruvian decree banned “any type of discrimination” in enforcing the rule, but trans people face prejudice and legal hurdles in both countries.

In Panama, trans people can only legally change their gender identity by undergoing surgery.

“I’m worried about the level of abuse and vulnerability that trans men and women are going through right now,” said Venus Tejada, a trans woman and rights activist in Panama.

“We’ve gone back to the time of Adam and Eve where there was only man and woman and there was absolutely nothing else.”

Tejada said at least four trans people had been harassed and questioned by the public or police in Panama.

Among them was Barbara Delgado, a trans woman, who said she was detained for three hours by police, and fined $50 for being outside on Wednesday, a day designated for women.

“I felt awful,” Delgado told the Foundation. “I felt totally broken emotionally, psychologically.”

Now, she said, she fears going outside.

She was also on the street outside of the time slot allocated by her identification card number, but she said she had a permit letter from a medical centre where she volunteers.

A spokesman for Panama’s health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

-Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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