In Mexico, transgender politicians make strides

MEXICO CITY — Salma Luévano was arrested for publicly identifying herself as transgender in provincial Mexico in 1985. Now she is set to take office as a member of Congress.

It has been a long journey, but one that appears to be breaking through the rigid definitions of gender that long prevailed in Mexico. Luévano is one of two transgender federal legislators elected to the lower house in the country’s June 6 elections.

Luévano plans to lead a campaign to get gender equality written into the constitution and gain recognition nationwide for same-sex marriage and gender identity.

Luévano, a hair stylist who ran on the ticket of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party, is under no illusions about how hard the task still is.

“The fact that I was able to get here doesn’t mean they’re going to roll out the red carpet for me, and everything is solved,” Luévano said in an interview this week.

López Obrador himself is socially conservative, and has not pushed gender issues.

“What comes next is the struggle to try to convince 500 colleagues, but it is not impossible,” Luévano said, referring to the number of seats in the lower house.

At the age of 17 in 1985, Luévano was surrounded by dozen of police in the central plaza of the provincial city of Aguascalientes and detained amid shoves and blows, accused of being a threat to public decency and morals.

That started Luévano on a three-decade struggle for equality, alongside María Clemente García, the other transgender person elected to Congress this year.

One of their first efforts will be to get the national statistics institute to perform a census of LGBT people.

More than 100 candidates from the LGBT community ran in the June 6 elections, and more than 20 of them were transgender.

But on the other hand, 79 people from the LGBT community were murdered in 2020, 43 of them transgender, according to the activist group Letra S. That was a decline of about one-third from 2019, something that may be associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

But Mexico still holds second place in the world for murders of gay and transgender people between 2008 and 2020, trailing only Brazil, according to a study by Transgender Europe and the academic journal Liminalis.

Same sex marriage is recognized in 20 of Mexico’s 32 states and only 13 have laws recognizing self-identified gender.

“Society must turn its attention on us because it’s not fair that we are getting killed,” said Luévano, who identifies as female.

Rocío Suarez, a member of the activist group Support Center for Trans Identities, said the two legislators face a hard battle.

“There are going to face a lot of inertia, but we trust that their ability to start a dialogue inside Congress will allow them to reach agreements and consensus,” said Suarez. “They are our hope.”