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Mexico: Guanajuato Should Legally Recognize Trans Identities

State Governor, Congress Should Create Simple Gender Recognition Procedure

(Mexico City) – Trans people in the Mexican state of Guanajuato suffer economic, medical, and labor discrimination, as well as other onerous legal impediments, because the state has no process for issuing identity documents consistent with their gender, Human Rights Watch said in a documentary released today. Guanajuato’s authorities should urgently create an administrative procedure to allow trans people to reflect their self-declared gender identity on official documents.

The Keys to My Freedom, produced in collaboration with Amicus DH, is released on the heels of International Transgender Day of Visibility. It follows the stories of two transgender women, Ivanna Tovar and Kassandra Mendoza, who have fought to have their gender and names legally recognized in Guanajuato. Eight additional trans people from the state also share brief experiences of discrimination and messages of hope.

“The documentary powerfully shows how trans people in Guanajuato are disadvantaged in work and education and weighed down with legal proceedings due to authorities’ undue delay in recognizing their gender identity,” said Cristian González Cabrera, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The governor and state congress should urgently establish a legal gender recognition procedure that will contribute to reducing discrimination.” 

Each of Mexico’s 32 states has the authority to determine its laws and policies in civil, family, and registration matters in accordance with the constitution. It is up to the state legislature or state governor to pass a law or issue an administrative decree that enables legal gender recognition through a simple administrative procedure at a state-level civil registry. Twenty-one Mexican states already have such a procedure. Guanajuato does not.

“It has been difficult to find a job,” says Kassandra Mendoza in the documentary regarding her lack of documents reflecting her gender identity. “[Employers] see my documents, then they see me and say, ‘This doesn’t add up.’ I’ve been made fun of, I’ve even been insulted.”

Ivanna Tovar says in the documentary: “Without a gender identity reform, we [trans people] cannot work in a dignified manner because we are violated, because we are not called by the [legal] names that appear in our documents, and [dealing with that] is the state’s responsibility.” She described gender recognition as her “keys to [her] freedom.”

In October 2021, a state lawmaker, Dessire Ángel Rocha, introduced a legal gender recognition bill, but the bill has not advanced in the current legislature. Previous gender recognition bills presented in February 2019, October 2019, and April 2021 also did not advance.

Until last month, the state congress was unwilling to consider bills relating to the rights of LGBT people. In February 2024, the state passed the Law for Persons of Sexual and Gender Diversity. It aims to establish coordination mechanisms between various authorities, as well as guiding principles, “to promote, protect and progressively guarantee” the rights of LGBT people. However, this reform did not address gender recognition for trans people.

Human Rights Watch and Amicus DH, together with the Trans Youth Network and Colmena 41, interviewed 31 trans people from Guanajuato state in April 2022 in the cities of León, Irapuato, and Guanajuato city, as well as remotely, to understand and document the harm related to a lack of legal gender recognition in the state. They found that the absence of a legal gender recognition procedure in Guanajuato leads to serious economic, legal, health, and other ramifications for trans people.

In states like Guanajuato without procedures for legal gender recognition, transgender people have to initiate an onerous legal proceeding to enjoin the state to recognize their gender identity on the basis of the Supreme Court rulings and international law. Federal judges generally grant the injunction, but it can be a lengthy and expensive process which requires hiring an experienced lawyer.

In a successful case, the judge orders the civil registry to permanently seal a trans person’s original birth certificate, meaning it is no longer readily accessible in its information systems, and to issue a corrected certificate. This new state birth certificate is necessary to request new nationally valid identification documents like a voter registration card, a tax number, or a passport.

In 2017, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued an advisory opinion saying that states must establish simple and efficient legal gender recognition procedures based on self-identification, without invasive and pathologizing requirements. The ruling is an authoritative interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights, which Mexico has ratified.  

In 2019, the Mexican Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling with clear guidelines on legal gender recognition. The court said that this must be an administrative process that “meets the standards of privacy, simplicity, expeditiousness, and adequate protection of gender identity” set by the Inter-American Court.

The Supreme Court ruling binds all lower federal courts. The court said that in order to comply with the constitution, state authorities should ensure that trans people can update their legal documents through an administrative process. In 2022, the court expanded the right to legal gender recognition to include adolescents and other children.

“The trans people who shared their stories in the documentary are just a few of the many trans people who are suffering under the state’s inaction on gender recognition,” González said. “Guanajuato should heed activists’ calls and Mexican law and join the majority of Mexican states that uphold the rights of their gender minorities by creating an administrative gender recognition procedure.”

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