Tamara Adrián Hernández is a transsexual activist living in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. However, what actually makes her stand out is her career as a professor in a faculty of law and as an active lawyer. She is a very well-known activist in South America. Not in her own country but in Ecuador and Bolivia, her studies on the subject of LGBT rights have made it possible for them to find their place in legal parlance. She is also one of the 33 specialists convened in Los Angeles in order to better Yogyakarta Principles. She still officiates as vice president of ILGLaw (International Lesbian and Gay Law Association) and is South America Woman Director.
Can you tell us about yourself a bit, please?
I was born in 1954 in Caracas. I graduated from the Catholic University of Andrés Bello and I finished my PhD thesis in Panthéon-Assas University in Paris in 1982. Since 1986, I have been working at the university I graduated from as a professor in Caracas. I also work as a lawyer and I am an activist. After my sex reassignment operation, in 2004, I went to court in order to be recognized as a woman. 8.5 years have passed but they haven’t even accepted the case yet. It’s like talking to a wall. I am still registered as a male in Venezuela and have to use my male name there. I am doing my job as a professor and a lawyer making the best of them, in fact I am overworking. Because just like you have to work twice as hard as a male to get the status and income which males get, you have to make an effort three times as much if you are a transsexual. I am working three times more than males to have the same status they have. I am trying to do my best without feeling myself as a victim.
Tamara, can you tell us a little about the current situation of LGBT individuals in Venezuela? For example, are sexual orientation and sexual identity protected at constitutional level?
Same-sex relationships are legal in Venezuela since 1999 but there is no law recognizing same-sex partnerships. In contrast to the constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia, the constitution of Venezuela does not include any articles about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and identity. We went to constitutional court to make it possible for economic rights of same sex partners to be protected but in 2008, the constitutional court rejected the case stating that the law against discrimination covered sexual orientation as well. What they mean by “cover” is the phrase “and etc” taking place in the clause “in addition to the areas specifically indicated as religion, language, sex, ethnic origin” which regulates discrimination “and etc”. The court stated that this covered sexual orientation as well. In Venezuela, there is no such right as the right to sex reassignment surgery. By extension even if you have that operation you have to live with your male name like I do. We are victims in Venezuela; we are murdered and face discrimination.
We thought that some things went well in Venezuela. Isn’t there a gain in favour of LGBTs?
One of the gains up to now in Venezuela has been the law against discrimination in employment covering sexual orientation and identity as well. Besides, theoretically sexual orientation and identity have been added in the law of the rights to housing but in practice it does not work. Because it is too hard to prove that the land lord does not want to rent his house or evict people because of their sexual identity or orientation and discriminates against them. Apart from this there is no concrete development. Similarly, it’s difficult to prove the means of discrimination in the matter of employment. For this reason, as I said, it’s only theoretical, unfortunately. There are very few developments in practice.
What is the attitude of the government of Venezuela towards the subject of these rights and protection of LGBTIs against discrimination?
The Venezuelan government describes itself as a revolutionary government. However, although the government describes itself as revolutionary one, it does not do anything while in the rest of the world most the left parties and socialist parties support LGBTI rights. We have presented some suggestions for changes in the law for the protection of basic rights such as the recognition of same sex partnerships. They accept the applications; they file them and forget about them. The government is too unwilling about this and does not even take the demands into consideration. When compared to other South America countries, we have a so-called a revolutionary government but it is not like that, in fact. It is not a country that discriminates LGBTIs much but it doesn’t do anything to recognize their existence legally and to give them legal status. They are not in a fight with us but on the other hand they pretend not to see us. This is the current situation in Venezuela.
And how do Hugo Chavez’s policies affect LGBTs?
I can’t say that they effect in a positive way, in general it effects negatively. We haven’t been able to gain anything but employment and housing. Chavez gives speeches on TV and radio all the time. Among all his speeches he only mentioned LGBT rights once and it took less than a minute. He said “like all others homosexuals should have the same rights” and that’s all. And once when he went to Venice for a documentary about his life, a journalist asked him what he thought about same sex marriages. Chavez said that the people of Venezuela did not support it. When the journalist asked what his personal thoughts were he said “No one should face discrimination but on this matter I think like the people of Venezuela. So that means we are not included in Chavez’s policies. Almost a month ago Chavez called for nongovernmental organizations to make a national plan. It was a very informal period and we answered that call as the LGBTI movement. In a meeting we, all NGOs, came together with a woman representing the government. That woman told us that we were there to discuss poverty and I told her that 95% of transsexuals were in poverty, they could not find jobs or housing and they lacked protection. The woman said “We are discussing the poverty of “NORMAL” people… and I asked “Who are the normal people?” “Heterosexuals?” “Are we abnormal?” “Do you think abnormal people do not have the right even to be in poverty?”. “Oh no, you got me wrong, I didn’t mean that.” said the woman. So the representative of the government also is not aware of what she meant like the government itself. Someone close to Chavez should tell him this “Listen Chavez, you are missing the opportunity to be considered as a leader who supports equality and struggles for it. Take a look at the president of Argentina; you are missing the chance to be remembered as a president who works for the equality of his people. This is a matter of human rights. All the other countries strive for this. If what you are trying to do is a revolution then you should take this issue into consideration.”
What is the point of view of society to LGBTs?
Although very little, some things are changing because as LGBT organizations we are in close relationship with the media and we work cooperatively. At least twice a week, the group I work with goes on television, talks and debates LGBT rights. It’s the same for the newspapers also. If you can influence the media you can affect general thought. I was on TV for a debate on same sex marriage and adoption rights for homosexuals. It’s of vital importance to use the media. We are in cooperation mostly with private channels. They really support us and this is one of the most effective ways of reaching out to society. Since the government remains silent and indifferent, we agreed to pressurise the government via outside forces such as the media. We think that we’re changing society’s point of view. The latest research shows that 52% of the society is against same sex marriage and 48% of them are in favour. There is a 3% gap to have the majority and we’ll get this with the help of media.
How have you come to this point? How long did it take?
We have come this very long road very slowly. Because all parts of the government are unwilling. They talk about revolution but they do not recognize LGBTIs. They do not even answer them. We started this in 2002 and have been continuing for 10 years. And we came to the conclusion that we should pressurise from the outside.
Are you hopeful about the rights of LGBTIs in Venezuela?
Yes, I am. Sooner or later we will get our rights. It’s been 15 years that in this region people struggle for LGBTI rights. Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina… all of these countries have managed! It’s been talked about society being ready. How come in these countries people were ready? What differences does Venezuela have from these countries? Two thirds of the people living in this region got their rights and our turn will come as well. It’s not about being ready or not, this is a matter of human rights. We want equality, we want equal rights.
Translation: Bahadır Ural
Original article: http://kaosgl.org/page.php?id=13022