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‘Venezuela has gone backwards’ on LGBTQ+ rights, says congresswoman Tamara Adrián

 

Photo published by the National Assembly of Venezuela.

This article is part of our special coverage of LGBTQ+ Pride 

Tamara Adrián, the first transgender National Assembly member in Venezuela and the second in the region, is a leading figure in the decades-long legal battle by the Venezuelan LGBTQ+ community for equal recognition. While Article 21 of the country's constitution is supposed to guarantee equality before the law, Adrián sees Venezuela as a country in crisis whose priorities do not include those affected by discrimination.

On 19 May, the National Assembly published an agreement which, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, recognized for the first time the unique impact of Venezuela's humanitarian crisis on the LGBTQ+ community. The agreement calls on the Venezuelan state to respect the LGBTQ+ community's right to healthcare without discrimination. While Adrián pushed within the National Assembly so the agreement recognizes the community's equality before the law, another anonymous lawmaker added a clause denying equal marriage rights. This proved controversial among supporter of the LGBTQ+ community.

Global Voices author Andrea Paola Hernández interviewed Adrián by WhatsApp in order to shed light on the current situation of LGBTIQ+ people in Venezuela. Adrián, like many activists, international observers and opposition politicians, refers to Maduro's government as a dictatorship or an authoritarian regime.

Andrea Paola Hernández (APH): What is the current legal situation of the LGTBQ+ community in Venezuela?

Tamara Adrián (TA): La situación jurídica de la población LGBTIQ+ en Venezuela es de total desamparo; a diferencia de lo que ha ocurrido en casi toda la región, en la que hoy hay derechos iguales. Costa Rica, México, Colombia, Ecuador, Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile y Bolivia, en menor medida, tienen protección contra la discriminación, matrimonio igualitario o uniones civiles (salvo Bolivia). También hay reconocimiento de la identidad de las personas trans sin necesidad de operaciones genitales ni requisitos patologizantes y por vía administrativa, con el otorgamiento de una nueva partida de nacimiento.

Mientras tanto, Venezuela no avanzó, y no solamente no avanzó sino que retrocedió. En Venezuela no se reconocen los derechos de pareja, la identidad de las personas trans — que sí se reconoció, con los estándares de la época, hasta el año 1998, cuando llegó Chávez al poder y modificó la constitución. Y no hay una protección integral contra la discriminación. Venezuela es prácticamente el único país donde no hay ningún tipo de protección en el espacio público, y sobre todo a nivel escolar y educativo, lo que facilita o produce la deserción escolar y la violencia y discriminación que lleva muchas veces a considerar el suicidio.

Estamos entonces absolutamente desamparados. La propaganda de la dictadura — que durante mucho tiempo vendió que habría derechos iguales y que eso solo era posible en revolución — quedó en el pasado y hoy estamos en presencia de un régimen que abiertamente desconoce todo tipo de derechos a la población LGBTIQ+.

Tamara Adrián (TA): The legal situation of the LGBTIQ+ population in Venezuela is one of total abandonment, in contrast to what has happened nearly everywhere else in the region where there are now equal rights. Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and to a lesser extent, Bolivia, have anti-discrimination protections, equal marriage or civil unions (except Bolivia). In addition, the identity of trans people is being recognized without the need for genital surgery or pathology requirements by the granting of a new birth certificate via administrative means.

Meanwhile, not only has Venezuela not progressed, it has gone backwards. Venezuela does not recognize the rights of partnership or the identity of trans people — which was recognized by the standards of the time until 1998, when Chávez came to power and modified the constitution [from 1977 to 1998, the identity of trans people was legally recognized in Venezuela]. And there is no comprehensive protection against discrimination. Venezuela is practically the only country where there is no form of protection in the public sphere and particularly at the school and education level, which causes school abandonment, and the violence and discrimination which often leads people to consider suicide.  

So we are completely abandoned. The dictatorship's propaganda — which for a long time promised equal rights and maintained that this was only possible through revolution — has remained in the past and now we are in the presence of a regime which openly fails to acknowledge any kind of rights for the LGBTIQ+ population.

APH: The National Assembly's Agreement about the unique impact of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ+ community was rejected by civil society, not just because of its open denial of the right to equal marriage but because of complaints by specialist NGOs which stated they had not been consulted or included in the agreement. Will it be modified?

TA: Incluir a las ONG no es la forma en la que se lleva a cabo un acuerdo en la Asamblea Nacional. Solo las leyes pasan por la fase de consulta pública y lo declarado no fue una ley. Este tiene el valor de acuerdo nada más, por lo que no impide que se legisle sobre tema del matrimonio igualitario, solo que, en las condiciones actuales, no se ha podido porque desde el año 2016 ha sido bloqueada la función legislativa de la Asamblea Nacional.

En cuanto al contenido, hubo un cambio que introdujo alguien cuyo nombre no es conocido aún, y que pretendió volver al “pecado original” [el pecado original hace referencia al matrimonio entre personas del mismo sexo]. El “pecado original” con relación al matrimonio igualitario viene de la Asamblea Constituyente del año 1999, que introdujo el artículo 77. Ese artículo se creó para evitar justamente el matrimonio igualitario.

En 2008, después de años de que la asociación civil Unión Afirmativa intentó una acción en justicia para resolver la incoherencia entre el artículo 21 de la Constitución, que habla de la igualdad ante la ley, y el 77, la Sala Constitucional dictó una sentencia absolutamente retrógrada. Señalaba que, como las parejas del mismo sexo son “distintas” de las parejas heterosexuales, entonces no tienen una protección constitucional directa. En la misma época, entre el 2007 y el 2009, otros tribunales supremos de la región, concretamente en Colombia, en Brasil y en México legislaron sobre el tema de manera completamente contraria.

TA: Including NGOs is not the way that agreements are reached in the National Assembly. It is only laws which go through a phase of public consultation and this declaration was not a law. It has the value of an agreement, nothing more. This does not mean that equal marriage will not be legislated on, just that in current conditions it hasn't been possible because the legislative function of the National Assembly has been blocked since 2016.

Regarding the content, a change was introduced by someone whose name is still unknown, which intended to refer to “original sin” [original sin refers to marriage between people of the same sex]. “Original sin” in relation to equal marriage comes from the Constituent Assembly of 1999, which introduced Article 77 — an article created for the sole purpose of avoiding equal marriage.

In 2008, after years of civil society organization Unión Afirmativa attempting to take legal action and resolve the inconsistency between Article 21 of the constitution (which talks about equality before the law) and Article 77, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice issued an absolutely backwards judgement. It indicated that since same sex couples are “different” to heterosexual couples, they do not have direct constitutional protection. During the same time period, between 2007 and 2009, other supreme tribunals in the region, specifically those of Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, legislated in completely the opposite way.

APH: What project proposals exist at the moment to deal with the particular problems faced by the Venezuelan LGBTQ+ community?

TA: Los proyectos que existen son los que están desde el 2016 en la Asamblea Nacional: la modificación de la Ley Orgánica de Registro Civil. La finalidad de esto es modificar la definición de matrimonio, introducir una figura de unión civil igualitaria, establecer el derecho a la identidad de las personas trans por vía administrativa y sin necesidad de operaciones genitales ni requisitos patologizantes, el establecimiento de un sexo registral intersex. También la prohibición de mutilación genital de niños y niñas intersex, el establecimiento del orden y la modificación de los nombres y apellidos, y otros aspectos relativos a la protección igualitaria de todas las personas, incluyendo a los esposos que quieren tomar el apellido legal de su cónyuge, sea hombre o mujer.

TA: The existing projects are those that have been in the National Assembly since 2016: the modification of the Organic Law on Civil Registry. The aim of this is to modify the definition of marriage, introduce the concept of equal civil union, establish trans people's right to identity via an administrative route without the need for genital surgery or pathologization, and the establishment of intersex as a registration category. Also the banning of genital mutilation of intersex children, the establishment of the order and modification of names and surnames, and other aspects relating to the equal protection of all people, including spouses who want to take the legal surname of their partner, be they a man or a woman.

APH: How do you view what lies ahead for the LGBTQ+ population in the current national and global context?

TA: La situación en Venezuela es compleja, la dictadura no se ha enfocado nada en los crímenes de odio, cuando Venezuela es uno de los 70 países en el mundo que criminaliza la relación entre personas del mismo sexo. Ese es otro proyecto de modificación: el del Código de Justicia Militar, donde esto aplica para sus miembros pero, al crecer la población reclutada, crece la población afectada por este código [El articulo 565 del Código de Justicia Militar prohíbe relaciones con personas del mismo sexo]. También es necesario atender con urgencia el tema de políticas públicas en materia de educación, en materia de salud, en materia de vivienda y en definitiva lo que se viene es todo lo que tiene que hacerse para romper las brechas que históricamente han afectado desproporcionadamente a las personas LGBT y particularmente a la población trans.

TA: The situation in Venezuela is complex, the dictatorship has not paid any attention to hate crimes when Venezuela is one of 70 countries in the world which criminalize relationships between people of the same sex. This relates to another amendment project: that of the Code of Military Justice. The code applies to members of the military, but as the number of recruits grows, so too does the population affected by this code [Article 565 of the Code of Military Justice prohibits relations between people of the same sex]. We also need to take an urgent look at the topic of public policies in education, health and housing. In short, what we're doing is everything that needs to be done to break down the barriers that have disproportionately affected LGBT people and particularly the trans population.

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