Chile’s groundbreaking transgender rights bill was finally signed into law on Wednesday after a nearly five-year battle.
First introduced in 2013, the Ley de Identidad de Género — or Gender Identity Bill — was approved by Congress in September. The legislation allows trans people over the age of 14 to update their name and gender marker on documentation such as passports and birth certificates.
While those over the age of 18 can apply for the changes at a registry office, individuals between the ages of 14 and 18 will need parental permission — in addition to approval from a family court.
President Sebastian Piñera acknowledged the bill’s long road to passage in a statement on Wednesday, noting it remains controversial among some conservatives. Upon signing the bill, the center-right politician remarked that he’s “aware there are varying opinions on this issue.”
“But I am firm in my conviction that we have taken a step in the right direction,” he said.
Piñera, who succeeded center-left President Michelle Bachelet earlier this year, hoped that the bill would serve to fight “discrimination” in what he called a “highly prejudiced society.”
With a population that’s 54 percent Catholic, Chile has long taken a religiously conservative approach to social and human rights issues. In 2004, the Andean nation became one of the last countries in the world to legalize divorce — only the Philippines and Vatican City continue to bar couples from divorcing.
While Chile’s strict abortion ban was partially lifted in 2017, terminating a pregnancy is only permitted under specific and limited circumstances.
Juan Enrique Pi Arriagada, executive president of the advocacy group Fundación Iguales, claimed the law’s passage represents a “significant advance for the rights of the trans community” as the country tiptoes toward greater progressivism.
“The rights that were excluded from transgender people in Chile are being acknowledged at last,” he said in a statement. “After years of fighting to ensure their legal recognition, we celebrate this historic triumph that will change the lives of many of those who, for far too long, lacked protections and lived in the shadows.”
Ty Cobb, director for Human Rights Campaign Global, added that the decision “marks a milestone for LGBTQ rights… in South America.”
With the Gender Identity Bill set to become effective next year, half of South American countries now provide a pathway for trans people to update their name and gender marker. According to National Geographic, more than a third of nations across the world offer some form of documentation change.
Many South American countries have gone even farther. In October, Uruguay passed one of the world’s most progressive transgender rights bills.
The Comprehensive Law for Trans People set aside one percent of government jobs for trans workers and ordered the government to pay reparations to trans people harassed under the country’s former military dictatorship. To be eligible for compensation, individuals must be born prior to 1973.
But many noted that Chile still has more work ahead to ensure the equality of trans people in society.
Rolando Jiménez, co-founder of the Integration and Homosexual Liberation Movement (Movilh), took issue with the Gender Identity Bill’s denial of documentation change to children 13 years and under. He called that provision an “obvious violation of human rights that we hope will be corrected.”
Nonetheless, Jiménez joined politicians, lawmakers, and advocates in celebrating the bill’s signage.
“A basic right, that of identity, is being recognized,” he told the Agence France Presse. “It’s a right that most of us have from birth but which is taken from the trans population at birth.”
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