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Opinion and Analysis: Gender and Sexuality

Achievements of a Black, Working Class Transgender Woman

Does a Black, transgender woman from a barrio (working class neighborhood) with limited economic opportunities have the same possibilities as someone who comes from an affluent family, and specifically for accessing health and education?

In 2016, "success stories" of trans women were published, most of whom were part of the latter group. From the first group in Venezuela is Rummie Quintero, a dance teacher and activist. Thanks to Rummie, as well as other comrades, the right to have an identity document with all the visible elements of one’s identified gender can be put into practice, under the statute of article 21 of the Constitution which protects the right to develop one's personality in freedom. This is the first step toward achieving full identity changes for trans people.

For Rummie, regardless of social class, trans women have fought against prejudice and machismo, and the achievements of one trans person is a triumph for the entire population. Nonetheless, she reflects on the responses that those who have greater opportunities and affluence should guarantee for the struggle. 

"Some trans people, to be able to secure some stability and to become professionals first lived under their privileges of socially being men. Very few of us have managed to be who we are by assuming a gender expression from an early age. It was difficult for me to start hormone treatments, [because of my] fear of drugs, so I decided to work on my body naturally, with physical training, I transformed my body to that of a powerful woman. I was also afraid of making a radical change because of the fear of rejection from my family, but I had and I have a lot of support, and although they did not like my decision, they never rejected me or took me out of their lives."

It is a Social Class Issue

In 2014, Redlactrans presented their Research Report on Trans People's Access to Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean, which reveals that trans people across the entire region "face a social situation that in the best of cases can be described as 'very worrying' and in most countries is frankly 'critical'."

This same research reports that 80% of trans women murdered are under the age of 35, and do not have easy access to comprehensive health care, nor do they perform periodic check-ups. For those who cannot afford private health care their main obstacle is "the lack of preparation, sensitization and training of staff and health system professionals to care for transgender people. The treatment they provide does not have a human rights approach and in most cases the gender identity of trans persons is not respected, nor the name they are presented with. "

On the other hand, it is also evident that "the majority of trans people do not own their own homes and it is extremely difficult to rent. The main difficulty in accessing housing, land, or credit is the impossibility of demonstrating economic solvency if there is no record of formal employment. And, of course, ubiquitous stigma and discrimination add complexity to the situation and create difficulties even in the few cases where the usual requirements are fulfilled."

Seeing these great difficulties Rummie's case becomes an example of struggle: she never had a "formal job". When she was very young she went to a job interview to apply for an administrative position with the Central Bank of Venezuela and she got the post but did not start: "I suddenly realized that I would have to disguise myself everyday as something [someone] that I wasn’t".

Not having privileged economic conditions was not an impediment for Rummie and she began to concentrate on what she likes most: to dance. Together with a friend, she took the initiative - twenty-five years ago - to set up her first dance school. Today this project, which is the Rummie Quintero Art Dance Academy, thrives on its own. "What was the main way to feel happy, to emancipate myself? By daring to establish my own business, not for monetary wealth, but for the wealth of freedom, to live doing what I like, to choose when and how to work, with dignity, ethics, and honesty. This process of emancipation is wonderful."

She stopped studying because she hated being called by her birth name, a name with which she does not identify. But in 2014 she resumed her studies, graduated with a high school degree, and entered the Bolivarian University of Venezuela with the option of studying International Relations or Psychology: "I chose the latter, because it will allow me to strengthen myself more personally. And in order to advance in collective construction, we must cleanse ourselves and understand each other first. "

Some of Rummie's accomplishments from her organization Divas de Venezuela (Divas from Venezuela) are:

In 2011, along with the Bicentennial Women’s Front, they managed to go to the National Assembly and incorporate the first article that explicitly speaks to non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, identity or gender expression into the Law of Popular Power. 

"This first great achievement is significant, it is the most important that we have achieved [thus far], this Law’s article guarantees the right to participate in any collective organizational space. There are those who do not value this achievement, its importance, in fact, the current transsexual legislator Tamara Adrian [with the Popular Will Party] has said that [the article] is not binding, but it is, it's emancipatory. "

In 2012, Rummie received recognition from the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, for participating in the regulations for gender parity in candidacies. Quintero took the opportunity to propose a pilot plan for the direct employment of trans, homosexual and lesbian people into the CNE. With this proposal, people like Angela, a young trans person from a working class Caracas neighborhood managed to gain her first stable job in which her identity and gender expression are respected.

Along with trans comrade, Rachel Briceño, she also put together and presented a working document for the recognition of trans identity to the the attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz.

"Ortega delegated several high-ranking officials at the Attorney General's Office, and together with the Director Against Corruption Paula Ziri-Castro, we managed to coordinate with the Administrative Service for Identification, Migration and Foreigners (SAIME) and ensure the right to gender expression in IDs". 

It is essential to know that in Latin America, as Redlactrans reports, "the combination of lacking personal documentation in accordance with one's self-perceived gender identity and the deep prejudices rooted in societies across the region mean that access to formal employment is practically impossible for transgender people in countries that do not have a gender identity law," a situation which pushes trans women to almost exclusively engage in sex work.

As Rummie Quintero comments, for all trans people, life’s process is hard and complex, but a lack of public policies certainly end up affecting populations that are on the margins, those with lower economic resources. It is not enough to be legitimized by the Academy or to hold publicly elected positions unless all possible means are used to work for collective, and not just individualistic interests.

"We must understand that the personal is political and that the struggle needs each one of us," Rummie emphasizes. Her goals are to be able to help more, to reach more spaces.

"We lack more strength, we must believe more in ourselves, transgender women".

Translated and edited by Jeanette Charles for Venezuelanalysis.com.