Social Issues

Peruvian trans woman: I was denied seat in Congress due to discrimination

By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, Mar 31 (EFE).- Gahela Cari was on the verge of becoming Peru’s first transgender congresswoman, but she said she was denied a seat due to transphobia and fears that her presence in that legislative body would disrupt the status quo.

“The presence of a trans woman with a class perspective, with gender consciousness, the presence of someone like me in Congress threatens to upend the status quo” in Congress, Cari said in a virtual interview with Efe.

That historic first seemed imminent when Peru’s Congress on March 22 accused lawmakers Betssy Chavez and Roberto Sanchez of being co-conspirators in former President Pedro Castillo’s failed bid last December to dissolve Congress and begin preparations for a constitutional convention.

In that same session, the legislature voted to suspend Chavez, who resigned as Peru’s prime minister on Dec. 7, the same day Castillo was arrested on charges of rebellion.

But it did not remove Sanchez, who had served as foreign trade and tourism minister under Castillo and would have been replaced by Cari, his substitute.

The ex-candidate said that move was a “predictable” one by a legislature that “has turned its back on women, transgender people, transvestites, lesbians and gays.”

Cari, founder of the leftist New Peru party, acknowledged that some lawmakers found insufficient grounds for removing Sanchez. But she said others voted against the measure “merely due to transphobia.”

“What surprises me really … is that it’s so blatant. Beyond whether or not the accusation (against Sanchez) was flimsy, the most decisive factor was transphobia,” said the 30-year-old activist, who defines herself as a trans, indigenous and peasant woman.

Cari, instantly recognizable with her distinctive Andean hat and braided hairstyle, lamented the lack of progress in fighting transphobic discrimination in Peru, a country without a gender identity law or “any strong public policy to guarantee trans-people the full enjoyment of their rights.”

She recalled that while on the campaign trail she filed a complaint with the National Jury of Elections over the discrimination she endured from other candidates.

In that complaint, Cari reported being misgendered by her rivals, who referred to her by her birth name (a masculine name that still appears on her national ID because Peruvian law does not allow it to be administratively changed).

“Since we are very young in Peru, as well as in many other parts of the world, we have to face transphobic bullying,” she said, adding that social, educational and work-related obstacles serve to steer transgender persons into prostitution.

“No trans person in Peru dreamed of being a prostitute. No one said at five years old, ‘when I’m older, I want to be a whore,'” she said of the work done by roughly 70 percent of trans women in the Andean nation.

Cari said the most visible manifestations of “transphobic violence” in Peru are “trans femicides,” at least five of which were committed in the first two months of this year, according to the Cayetano Heredia University’s LGBT Human Rights Observatory.

In the most recent murder, assailants shot a trans-woman named Rubi more than 30 times.

“That shows the cruelty with which trans people are treated in Peru,” Cari said, recalling that trangender individuals in the Andean nation have a life expectancy of around 30 years.

Even so, she said she is convinced the tide is turning and that “nothing will prevent” transgender people from occupying “positions that have historically been denied to them” and securing full recognition of their rights in Peru.

“I’m sure that equality will win out sooner or later,” Cari said. EFE


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