160206 – Update: Lohana Berkins died this week. ILGA has this to say:
Each year the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers highlights sixteen women, men and organizations that standout in the fight against gender violence. Representing December 1st, is:
Lohana is an Argentine activist and the founder of ALITT (Asociación Lucha por la Identidad Travesti y Transexual/Association Fighting for Travesti / Transexual Identity). In addition to having run for legislative seats for left wing parties in Argentina, Lohana has organized prisoners, prostitutes, travestis, feminists, gay men, lesbians and poor youth to combat abuses.
After spending time in prison and experiencing various forms of police abuse, Lohana helped found the Argentine Travesti Association in 1995, and with ALITT has established a cooperative industry for travestis who want to leave prostitution.
Lohana has worked with many movements and crosses boundaries of identity politics: “I am a travesti, a woman, Socialist, Indian, fat, of colour, poor, labourer. I am all these things and much more. And I fight to build a world where I will be accepted for everything that I am.“
*Lohana has described a travesti as “a person identified as a man at birth, who later chooses to identify as a woman”.
In Argentina prostituition is not illegal, creating a “public scandal” is. As a consquence, latitude for determining when a person meets this criteria is used by the police. That Berkins reports that she is: “the first travesti who doesn’t have to resort to prostitution in order to survive in Buenos Aires” tells you how many people are unable to lead a normal life in Argentina.
Sex re-assignment surgery is also illegal in Argentina. People who find themselves trapped in a body that does not feel their own cannot make the change as hospitals will not treat them, leading to street purchase of drugs, hormones, and silicone. In addition, it is illegal to change your name. People who have adopted names more fitting to them are forced to show formal credentials indicating their original status.
One particular human rights effort is still very much at grassroots stage. Astraea is helping with a grant:
This year, with funds from Astraea, ALITT intends to purchase a video camera and their own computer. Long overdue, these tools will enable them to more effectively educate society, lobby government officials and publicize their work. “We will document how our compañeras are treated in the streets by the police, how we have to live in hotels, and how hospitals deny us health services. “
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