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Transgender Bolivians Get an Unlikely Bit of Good News

Bolivia is on the verge of passing a law that will allow trans people to legally change their name and gender.

Bolivian members of the transsexual, gay and lesbian community take part in a march during the International Day Against Homophobia in La Paz on May 17. 2013. AFP PHOTO/Aizar Raldes        (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)
Bolivian members of the transsexual, gay and lesbian community take part in a march during the International Day Against Homophobia in La Paz on May 17. 2013. AFP PHOTO/Aizar Raldes (Photo credit should read AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images)

Life may never be perfect for transgender people in Bolivia, but it’s about to get a little bit easier.

That’s because a law allowing individuals to change their name and gender identity was just approved by the Bolivian lower house. The law will move to the country’s Senate on Friday afternoon, where it is likely to pass.

Transgender women attending the legislative session reportedly cried as the Law on Gender Identity was approved.

“We are very happy,” Alex Bernabé, the director of the Bolivian advocacy group Igualdad LGBT, told Foreign Policy in a phone interview. He added, “However, we very much agree with our transgender colleagues that this is just a first step. The law is not going to solve all the problems and all of the precariousness in which transgender and transexual people are now living.”

With the law, Bolivia will join Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, England, and Spain in passing laws to make it easier for transgender people to change their gender identity. Argentina’s laws are the most liberal, allowing trans people to change their gender identity without a medical diagnosis and even guaranteeing free hormone treatment and gender reassignment surgery to those who need it.

Many U.S. states still require surgery in order to change the gender marker on a government-issued ID. In 2010, the  U.S. state department began requiring “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition to the new gender” instead of surgery to change one’s gender identity on passport and consular documents.

The Bolivian law will require an interview with a psychologist in order to change one’s name and gender.

“Only a law can return life and the possibility of happiness to the hundreds of people that suffer discrimination and violence that can even result in death,” Gabriela Montaño, the head of the lower house of the Bolivian parliament, said during the session.

Bolivian transgender people still face extreme discrimination and vulnerability, Bernabé told FP, including higher rates of HIV, rejection by families and schools, and risky black market gender reassignment procedures.

Still, he said that for trans people, the new Law on Gender Identity “dignifies their life, so we are receiving it with lots happiness, hope, and excitement.”

If the Senate approves the law, it will head to President Evo Morales. Though Morales has not commented on whether he will sign it, the law was originally proposed by his administration’s Ministry of Justice.

Photo credit: AIZAR RALDES/AFP/Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert
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