SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — Fabricio Chicas knows exactly what will happen. As soon as he hands over his ID, the employee on the other side of the counter will look at him suspiciously and ask why she is carrying a document that identifies him as a woman.
Whether in a bank, a hospital or a human resources office, the 49-year-old Salvadoran provides the same answer: I am a transgender man who has not been able to change his name and gender on his ID.
Their fate is shared by many transgender people in El Salvador, where Catholicism and evangelicalism prevail, abortion is prohibited and the legalization of same-sex marriage seems unlikely.
In 2022, the country’s Supreme Court ruled that the inability for a person to change their name because of their gender identity constitutes discriminatory treatment. A ruling ordered the National Assembly to issue a reform to facilitate the process, but the deadline expired three months ago and lawmakers failed to comply.
“It’s part of a much larger pattern of undermining the rule of law and judicial independence,” said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBTQ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
When he was little, Chicas’s mother agreed to dress him in men’s clothes and called him “my boy”. Everything changed when he turned 9 years old.
“I was abused and my mom started to be overprotective of me,” he said.
Perhaps sensing that treating Chicas like a child was exposing him to harm, she dressed him back in girl’s clothing. “He was so depressed that he didn’t want to live,” he recalled.
When she turned 15 she met a transgender man who advised her to start her physical transformation. The man suggested pressing her breasts with an iron to prevent them from growing.
Chicas ended up in the hospital, with an infection caused by bruising, and her mother made her swear to never alter her body to look like a man.
Although he said yes, he made a promise to himself: I will grow up, find a job, and leave.
At the beginning of a transition, the lack of support from one’s own family is often the biggest challenge, Mónica Linares said.
The 43-year-old transgender woman left home when she turned 14 and began her transition. She currently works as an activist in the organization ASPIDH Arcoiris Trans.
“It hasn’t been easy, but when you really have an identity and you want to defend what you really want, you’re willing to lose everything,” Linares said.
For more than 15 years, she was a sex worker. She lost friends to transphobic murders and saw others migrate because of gangs.
In her current work she collaborates with other organizations to support LGBT rights, especially to lobby lawmakers who show little interest in revising a gender identity bill that was introduced in 2021.
The bill would comply with the Supreme Court ruling from 2022 and go a step further, allowing transgender people to change not only their names but also their gender on official documents.
The lack of identification that is consistent with the gender identity of Salvadoran trans people can make their daily lives difficult.
Some employees of internet companies refuse to resolve complaints made over the phone, claiming that the voice of the person making the complaint does not match the gender they have registered.
Insurers do not allow trans people to register their partners as beneficiaries in the event of death, since their guidelines establish that couples must be made up of a man and a woman.
Chicas has had trouble collecting remittances, banks have denied him loans and employers have not hired him because his applications reveal that he is a transgender man.
In hospitals, he said, health personnel have delayed their appointments, claiming that they cannot treat “people like him.”
In this deeply religious country, discrimination against transgender people goes beyond paperwork.
Three decades ago, Chicas tried to join Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I admire that they are a caring family,” he said.
She put away her pants, bought a skirt, and let her hair grow. He spent time preaching alongside them, but he always felt monitored.
One day, while toying with the idea of being baptized, the elders advised him as if he were a criminal. “You need to go back to reading the Bible… Close your bedroom doors when your nieces are visiting.” They also wanted me to date another member of the church.
When he did not agree to date a man, he said, the congregation began to ignore him. Soon, he was denied access to the cult.
“I had to let go. I dressed as a man again. I returned to the world, rejected by Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
A Human Rights Watch and COMCAVIS TRANS report in 2022 details how transgender people in El Salvador experience violence and discrimination.
“Security forces, gangs, and the families and communities of the victims are perpetrators; the damage occurs in public spaces, homes, schools and places of worship,” the report states.
Latin American countries such as Chile, Argentina, Cuba, Colombia, and Mexico have passed laws that protect some rights of the LGBTQ community and allow transgender people to modify their official documents to match their gender identity. However, in El Salvador, since President Nayib Bukele took office in 2019, there have been setbacks.
Among other actions, the government dissolved the Ministry for Social Inclusion, which investigated LGBTQ issues at the national level, and restructured an educational institute to address sexual orientation in schools.
Bukele has said he will never legalize same-sex marriage, and the Catholic Church has backed his position. The archdiocese office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press.
In the backyard of the Chicas house, Pongo and Oso Polar wag their tails. Behind the dogs comes Elizabeth López, a Chicas couple for seven years. They met shortly after the death of Chicas’ mother, when she decided to use hormones and begin her transition.
At first, López seems suspicious. Too many strangers have hurt them beyond words.
He recalls a guard ordering them out of a public pool after Chicas said she couldn’t take her shirt off since her physical transition was incomplete. They both remember the moment when they underwent an emergency operation and the health personnel forbade them to visit him, alleging that they were both “women”, so they could never marry or start a family.
Girls disagree. Family, he said, are not those who share blood; they are the ones who support each other.
The couple have been sharing their home with a young transgender man who left his own home. Chicas offers care and advice.
Recently, the young man came home with his girlfriend and approached Chicas to introduce them. He told his girlfriend: “Meet my old man.”
Associated Press religious coverage is supported through the AP partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.
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