June 8, 2015 at 12:08 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Colombia to allow gender change without surgery

Colombia, Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

The Colombian government has issued a decree that would allow transgender people in the South American country to legally change their name and gender on ID cards without surgery. It remains unclear how officials and lawmakers will implement the policy. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Colombian government has moved to allow transgender people in the South American country to legally change their name and gender on identification cards and other government documents without surgery.

Justice Minister Yesid Reyes told El Espectador, a Colombian newspaper, that he issued the decree to notaries and registrars on June 5.

Reyes told the newspaper that judges have ordered “body exams to determine if people have physically changed their sex or demanded a psychiatric opinion in order to know whether the person (who is seeking to legally change their name or gender) suffered from gender dysphoria.”

“Both practices were profoundly invasive of the right to privacy and based upon an impermissible bias,” said Reyes during the interview with El Espectador that it posted onto its website on Saturday. “The construction of sexual identity and gender is a matter that does not depend on biology.”

Reyes told El Espectador the decree would allow trans Colombians to publicly record their new gender through what he described as a “simple (bureaucratic) transaction” with a notary. They would receive documents with their new gender once they contact a registrar.

“It is important to make one clarification: The decree applies not only to those who have changed their sex through surgery, but also to those who desire to modify the gender listed in their documents,” said Reyes.

Reyes and Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo on Tuesday were among those who attended a ceremony during which 10 trans people received new IDs without having to prove they underwent sex reassignment surgery.

Mauricio Albarracín Caballero, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, and lesbian Colombian Congresswoman Angélica Lozano were among those who attended the event.

“For the first time in the history (of Colombia), the national government has taken on a matter of public policy that allows for trans people to have their gender identity recognized,” said Albarracín in a statement after Reyes announced the decree. “Trans people have lived in a permanent situation of injustice because they are not the gender that corresponds to their identity on their documents. This has caused them obstacles in terms of studying, working, moving around, receiving health care and, in general, in all aspects of their daily lives.”

Reyes on Tuesday said he will order notaries and registrars to follow the decree.

Trans people can legally change their name and gender on official government documents without surgery in Argentina, Uruguay and a handful of other countries.

A Maryland law that allows trans people to change their name and gender on their birth certificates without having undergone sex reassignment surgery took effect earlier this month without Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature.

New York City lawmakers approved an identical bill last December. A Mexico City statute that allows trans people to legally change their gender without a court order came into force earlier this year.

Trans Colombians have become more visible in recent years, but violence and discrimination based on gender identity remain pervasive in the South American country.

A report from the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender Women notes 61 trans Colombian women were reported killed between 2005-2011. Federico Ruíz Mora of the Santamaría Fundación, an advocacy group in the Colombian city of Cali, told the Washington Blade during a 2013 interview that he feels authorities often exacerbate the problem.

“Colombia is the same as many Latin American countries and others around the world; the trans community is that which is the most affected,” said Ruíz. “This has to do with historic discrimination and exclusion accompanied by systematic acts of violence. This violence has to do with transphobic acts because of their gender identity.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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