MEXICO CITY — The head of the Mexico City Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination on Monday said poverty “drives” discrimination in the Mexican capital.
“It is not the same to be a gay person with means than it is to be a gay person without means,” Jacqueline L’Hoist Tapia told the Washington Blade during an interview in her office in Mexico City’s Popotla neighborhood. “It is not the same being an indigenous gay person than not being an indigenous gay person. So this puts you in a vulnerable situation.”
A survey of 5,200 people the council — known by its Spanish acronym COPRED — conducted in June 2013 found indigenous people, gay men and people of color are the groups who are “most obviously discriminated against in Mexico City.” Lesbians and those with HIV/AIDS are also considered more likely to face discrimination.
Nearly a fifth of respondents said poverty is the most common cause of discrimination. Seventeen percent noted race, while 15 percent said a person’s sexual orientation prompts discrimination.
More than 80 percent of respondents acknowledged discrimination “exists” among cross-dressers. Nearly three quarters of those who took part in the survey acknowledged trans people face discrimination.
“What we found in the data is very interesting,” L’Hoist told the Blade. “On the one hand the citizenry is misinformed. It does not know what a gay person is. It does not know what a trans person is and ignorance and the lack of information above all else drives discrimination.”
The council is a semi-independent entity created within Mexico City’s Ministry of Social Development in 2011.
The council has two primary tasks: To assist victims of discrimination who file complaints and seek damages and to review public and legislative policy in the Federal District in which Mexico City is located. This mandate is outlined in the capital’s anti-discrimination law.
“It is a precise mandate the city government has given to us,” L’Hoist told the Blade. “We serve this mandate.”
The council has also undertaken a number of campaigns in support of Mexico City’s LGBT residents.
Posters noting October as the “Month of Equal Treatment” in the Mexican capital are currently located in subway stations and along many of the city’s main thoroughfares. Another campaign the council has launched seeks to make trans people more visible against the backdrop of Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera’s proposal that would allow them to legally change their name without a court order.
“Transsexual and trans people as you know very well is an invisible group,” L’Hoist told the Blade. “The idea behind the campaign is to recognize the trans population in Mexico City.”
The council also operates a clinic in Mexico City’s Condesa neighborhood for trans people and those living with HIV/AIDS.
Discrimination is a ‘crime’
Same-sex couples in Mexico City have been able to legally marry and adopt children since 2010.
Mexico City’s comprehensive anti-discrimination law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and lesbophobia are also considered forms of discrimination under the statute.
Those convicted under the anti-discrimination law face up to three years in prison, although a judge has the discretion to sentence him or her to community service.
“To discriminate is a crime,” said L’Hoist.
L’Hoist said the city’s left-leaning government is “very open” to extending rights to its LGBT citizens, compared to the country’s federal officials.
“We have not had any obstacle,” she told the Blade. “We have a lot of support…Mexico City is a city that has been recognized as very friendly towards diversity and in particular with the LGBT population.”
Anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain serious concerns among local advocates in spite of these legal protections and political support.
A report from Letra S and other local advocacy groups based on local media reports found that 143 LGBT people were murdered in Mexico City between 1995-2008. Activists have also complained that police routinely subject LGBT people to abuse while in custody.
L’Hoist told the Blade that discrimination in the workplace and trans people having difficulty voting because the gender marker on their identification does not match their appearance remain issues. She added combating homophobia and anti-LGBT bullying in high schools is among the biggest challenges facing local LGBT advocates.
“We have advanced a lot as a government with the city’s public policy, but is a totally different thing as a society,” she said.
L’Hoist nevertheless remains optimistic.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents to the council’s survey said discrimination is bad. They also said they would consider changing their behavior.
“We found as a society that yes it certainly discriminates, but it is also a society that knows it discriminates,” said L’Hoist. “It is not silly. Society knows that it discriminates and we have clarity as to why it discriminates. You have to know this in order to prevent this discrimination.”