Tolerant Uruguay a place for some trans citizens to 'glow'
Montevideo (AFP) –
On a recent Sunday in the Salaverry household in Montevideo, various members of Uruguayan transgender teenager Sebastian's family gathered for a traditional "asado," or barbecue.
The family sat around the large kitchen table, looking at photos of a young Sebastian and his older brother Ignacio.
Sebastian, who at 18 sports the shadow of a beard, holds up one photo of himself as a baby in a white dress, and laughs loudly at something his girlfriend says.
"Emotionally, he is happy, he is glowing," his mother Carla Mijares, 43, told AFP. "I see him glowing, happy, and I share in his happiness."
Salaverry just celebrated his one-year "T-anniversary" -- the day he started taking testosterone hormones to medically transition to his true gender as a man, though he had already been known as Sebastian for two years.
"The thing is that I had been asking myself different things about what it's like to be a transgender person ever since I was a kid," he said.
"In fact, when I was 11, 12, I looked for people on the internet who were going through the same thing, because I felt weird. All around me, or in Uruguay, you didn't see many trans people."
There is no current data on how many people identify as transgender in the tiny South American country, let alone how many of them are minors, said Rodrigo Falcon, founder and director of Trans Boys Uruguay.
The organization is the first association of its kind geared to helping trans children and young adults navigate the world.
- No discrimination -
But a government census conducted in 2016 put the number of adult transgender people at 933, or just 0.02 percent of the population.
"We currently work with about 70 minors in our association, those under 18 years old," Falcon said.
"There aren't that many groups that work with children, but we were the first here, and in all of Uruguay."
Sebastian and his parents worked with Trans Boys Uruguay when he began the process of legally transitioning.
A two-year-old law, one of the most progressive when it comes to trans rights issues in Latin America, allows those 18 and under to petition to change their gender with a parent's or guardian's support.
If they lack that support, they can still petition a court directly, which will then decide whether to approve or deny the legal name and gender change.
However, despite the relative tolerance in Uruguay, trans people in Latin America have an expected lifespan of just 35 to 41 years, according to Latin American trans activists network REDLACTRANS.
Salaverry says he's "never suffered discrimination. Not in high school, at work, or anything, even in my family.
"But I have known cases that are a little more complicated, mostly because of the issue of family and age, people from different times."
- 'Limited possibilities' -
The United Nations has praised Uruguay for placing itself "at the forefront" in Latin America and the Caribbean on the issue of full inclusion of transgender people.
But "transgender people face exclusion from an early stage in their lives, as many of them leave their homes before they are officially adults and often lose the support of their families, which limits the possibilities of continuing their formal education," read the Social Inclusion in Uruguay report published by the World Bank.
"In addition, they are less likely to own their own homes (16 percent compared to 59 percent of the general population) and 45 percent live in precarious housing (compared to 15 percent of other Uruguayans).
"In terms of education, about 25 percent have completed only the primary stage and only three percent have completed high school."
In Salaverry's case, his friends and family have been his biggest supporters.
"It was only last year that I managed to come out as a trans person, telling my mother, who was the one who realized that something was happening to me," he said.
"And to my friends it was also easy, I went to tell them to address me using other pronouns, to call me Sebastian, and luckily I didn't have any problems."
© 2021 AFP