Michelle Suarez is used to shattering glass ceilings.
The 34-year-old became the first transgender person in Uruguay to obtain her law degree in 2010 and the first to practice law. Suarez became a legal advisor for Black Sheep, a trans rights organization in Uruguay. Suarez used that platform to advise a 2013 bill legalizing marriage equality in the forward-thinking nation. When Uruguay’s equal marriage legislation passed, it was the 14th country to recognize same-sex unions, as well as the third in South America.
Suarez again pushed her nation forward on Tuesday when she took office as Uruguay’s first transgender senator. After being first elected to the legislature in 2014, she referred to the milestone as a “sad honor.”
“Uruguay has evolved, but it’s still a discriminatory country,” Suarez claimed in an interview with the Associated Press.
The attorney and LGBTQ rights advocate pledged to use her new position to further transgender equality in a nation whereeven despite recent reformsmany trans people face widespread discrimination, unable to get a job. Suarez plans to push for legislation allowing transgender individuals to change their name and identity documents without the approval of a judge.
Titled Comprehensive Trans Act, the bill hopes to guarantee “the rights of trans persons of all ages, of diverse sexual orientations and socio-economic conditions.”
Suarez plans to achieve that goal by creating a program that would set aside one percent of government jobs for trans workers, as well as offering financial compensation to those victimized under the brutal dictatorship of Gregorio Alvarez. The move would be progressive but not unprecedented: Last year, Germany announced it would be paying reparations to gay men jailed under its defunct sodomy laws.
The Senator received a round of applause yesterday when taking her seat in the upper house of Uruguay’s General Assembly. She will be taking over in the Communist Party for Marcos Carambula.
Suarez’ achievement marks the emergence of Uruguay as a global leader on queer and trans rights in recent years. Uruguay ranked first on the 2016 Social Inclusion Index, which scores Latin American nations on how well their governments provide a quality of life for citizens. Seventy-nine percent of Uruguayans believe that the country is good for LGBTQ people to live in.
The most recent census estimated that there are nearly 900 trans people in Uruguay, which counts an overall population of 3.3 million.