This report presents information on public opinion about transgender people and their rights in Mexico. We analyzed data from The Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey, Mexico panel, to provide new information on views toward transgender people, their rights, and their status in society. No research to date has been conducted on public attitudes toward transgender people and their rights in Mexico.
Previous studies examining prejudice against lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals show that in the general population, men, people with low levels of education, and persons above 60 years old are more likely than their counterparts to hold negative views toward sexual minorities.However, these studies did not measure attitudes toward transgender people specifically. Some studies have examined Mexican transgender people’s experiences of discrimination and violence. This research is based on qualitative interviews with transgender people and a few quantitative measures of their health and lived experience. This research has explored the social configuration of the transgender subject; how transphobia affects physical health and substance use; social transformations, embodiment and micropolitics; and the impact of discrimination related to sex work among transgender people. The limited data available on the conditions in which transgender people live show that they are usually from a working class background, have limited access to health services, report having experienced violence, including sexual and physical assault (90%), and more than half of them have attempted suicide at least once in their lifetime.
Being transgender is no longer considered a mental illness in Mexico, and transgender people can carry out an administrative process for legal gender recognition. However, cis-heteronormativity and the enforcement of a binary sex model continue to pathologize transgender people and expose them to stigma and violence. Public policy in Mexico is heterogeneous, in the sense that, despite rulings from the Nation’s Supreme Court of Justice mandating equal legal, social, and political recognition of gender and sexual minorities, many states and entities do not create local laws to this end.
In August 2008, the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City approved a change in the city’s civil and financial code that would allow “any person that had changed their sex through surgical intervention or hormone treatment, [to change] their given name and register their sex change.” These changes were only possible after initiating a judicial procedure that could last multiple years and cost up to 200 thousand pesos (more than USD 8,000) for medical evaluations that would serve as evidence.
The National Supreme Court of Justice heard appeals to this process and, in 2017, approved an administrative process that simplified the necessary steps for legal identity change, ruling that failing to guarantee a streamlined process violated the rights and dignity of transgender people. In Mexico City alone, 3,866 people sought a change to their legal gender recognition between January 2013 and March 2019. Mexico is also a party to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 2018 that all states must allow transgender people to change their name and gender marker on identity documents.
Currently, 10 states allow any person to change their legal documents to align with their chosen name and gender identity: Mexico City, Coahuila, Colima, Hidalgo, Michoacan, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, Tlaxcala, Chihuahua, and Nayarit. However, 23 other states have not adjusted their civil codes and procedures in order to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling. As a result of advocacy by transgender activists, two municipalities in the state of Jalisco permit changes to legal gender markers.
Same-sex marriage first came into effect in Mexico City in 2010, even though a similar legal regime recognizing “societies in coexistence” had existed in both Mexico City and the northern city of Chihuahua since 2006. In 2014, the National Supreme Court of Justice held that state-level bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, effectively paving the way for legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. Nevertheless, many states have not changed their laws to reflect the 2014 ruling. Consequently, heterosexual transgender people can access marriage in any part of the country, but in more than half of the states LGB transgender people cannot get married to a same-sex partner.
In 2011, the Mexican constitution was amended to prohibit discrimination based on “sexual preference.” Even though this amendment is important for sexual minority communities, it does not include discrimination and violence based on gender identity and/or expression. In 2019, stemming from Mexico’s ratification of the Interamerican Convention against All Forms of Discrimination, which expressly recognizes gender identity/expression, the Commission of Gender Equality of the federal Chamber of Representatives took up another constitutional amendment that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender expression and identity. However, this proposal is still “being discussed” within this chamber. Such an amendment would legally protect transgender people from many forms of discrimination, such as allowing them to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity without facing harassment.
According to reports by the Mexican LGBT rights organization Letra S as well as the Trans Murder Monitoring project, Mexico is second only to Brazil in the number of known homicides against transgender people worldwide. Transgender women in particular are at risk: on September 30, 2016, Paola Buenrostro, a transgender woman and sex worker in Mexico City, was found murdered a few blocks from where she usually worked. Outraged by her friend’s murder, Kenya Cuevas—another transgender woman and sex worker—filed a complaint with the Mexico City Human Rights Commission, sparking anonymous threats of violence against her. In June 2019, almost three years after Paola’s murder, the Human Rights Commission issued a recommendation that all murders committed against transgender women be registered as “transfemicide,” making Paola’s murder the first to be documented under this new classification. The concept of transfemicide underscores that homicide against transgender women is a result of both misogyny and lesbo-bi-homo-transphobia. It also aids in combatting the social erasure that transgender communities have historically experienced by recognizing the unique threats they face, and highlights both the structural and physical violence that transgender people endure on a daily basis.
Public policies that do recognize the dignity of transgender people are the result of decades of activism led by a multitude of transgender women. Such activism has inspired transgender youth to form organizations like the Red de Juventudes Trans (Network for Trans Youth) and Asociación por Infancias Transgénero (Association for Transgender Children) that focus on issues affecting transgender children and youth. Priorities of this advocacy work include identifying services that can be delivered to families of transgender youth that will provide safe spaces, shaping state responses to violence targeting transgender youth and their communities, and advancing the rights of transgender youth to legally change their gender identity. Advocacy organizations and activists have moved the topic of transgender issues into the public eye, producing larger conversations around transgender issues in the media, the judiciary, academia, political parties, and religious organizations.
Analyzing public opinion on public policy regarding transgender people illuminates how people in Mexico view and understand transgender identities and provides important context to the political environment regarding transgender people in Mexico: which areas are ripe for change, and which ones require further work. But more importantly, it helps us understand the ways in which the conceptions of gender, body and sexuality have changed over time—how shifting public opinion increasingly provides space for alterity, for liminality, and thus, how we have moved our horizons of intelligibility regarding these social and political categories.