RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 10, 2012 (IPS) – The state of Rio de Janeiro in southeast Brazil will introduce a pioneering policy in March to reduce the under-reporting of crimes against transvestites and transsexual people, who will be able to identify themselves with their preferred names when they report crimes to the police.
The right to use the names and pronouns chosen by transgender people, rather than the names on their official identity documents, is one that has been long sought after by their community.
Among sexual minorities, transgender people suffer the most from prejudice and discrimination, especially at the hands of the police, Claudio Nascimento, the coordinator of the state government’s Rio Sem Homofobia (Rio Without Homophobia) programme, told IPS.
Worldwide, Brazil is one of the countries with the highest number of hate crimes against sexual minorities.
"There is an important symbolic aspect here. For many decades, the relationship of the police with transvestite and transsexual people has been punitive and condemnatory. Transvestities are still rejected, persecuted by hatred and the assumption of criminality," said Nascimento.
"The denial of personhood to an individual for taking on another gender identity is very damaging," added this activist for sexual minority rights, who now works in the Superintendency of Diffuse, Collective and Individual Rights of the Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat for Social Assistance and Human Rights.
"Diffuse" rights, a category that provides guarantees to a group of individuals with common legal interests but who are dispersed within society, are protected by the Brazilian constitution, and gay rights fall within this classification.
Following previous procedures "there was no way of identifying crimes affecting this group (of transgender people)," said Nascimento. As the procedure for making a statement to the police did not cater for the use of chosen (rather than legal) names, "coercive situations arose in police stations, as well as under-reporting of violence against transvestite and transsexual people," he said.
In 2011, the state’s three Human Rights Referral Centres for Preventing and Combating Homophobia directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) recorded 5,000 interviews and 2,000 reports of crimes, 20 percent of them directly affecting transvestite and transsexual people.
"Given that this population (transvestite and transsexual people) comprises the smallest fraction of the LGBT community, proportionally they are suffering the highest level of attacks," Nascimento said.
Over the next two weeks, police staff will receive training in the reception of this kind of crime reporting and its correct recording. And from March onwards, transvestite and transsexual people will be able to use their chosen names when they report crimes against the LGBT community, in all 164 police stations in the state.
The Rio Without Homophobia programme has already trained more than 5,000 military police and 1,200 civil police.
The transgender population "is already victimised; we do not want them to be mistreated a second time in a police station. Those who seek out a police station, whether as victims, witnesses or authors of crimes, may use their chosen names," announced Martha Rocha, the chief of the state’s civil police.
According to Rocha, Rio de Janeiro’s policy is unprecedented in Brazil.
"We hope it will inspire other states" to adopt it, said Nascimento. "It involves no additional costs, it encourages respectful treatment of persons, and includes public administration within the civilising framework of human dignity. The way a country treats its sexual minorities is the measure of how civilised it is," he said.
According to the statistics of the Bahia Gay Group, an NGO based in the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, in 2010 there were 250 murders motivated by homophobia in this country of 192 million people. A killing of this type takes place every 36 hours, the group said.
The new crime reporting procedure in Rio de Janeiro was approved Jul. 8, 2011, by a decree signed by the state governor, Sérgio Cabral.
If police agents fail to comply with the new standard of rights, they may be reported to the Corregedoria da Policia , an oversight and disciplinary commission that investigates complaints against the police force.
"This is transforming the structure of the security services. Acceptance of gender identity will make it possible for us to have reliable data about the violence experienced by this population, and to take concrete actions to assist them," Nascimento added.
Rocha said that in the run-up to the carnival festivities later this month, meetings were organised with police authorities in the traditional locations of celebrations, where there will be higher concentrations of LGBT spectators, in order to ensure they are well treated.
Transvestite celebrity singer Jane di Castro views the new policy as a victory for the LGBT community.
"I have been an activist since the 1960s and I never expected to see this change in this century. Today we are actually respected. In those days we had no rights, except that of being beaten up. We had no right to lodge complaints because we were homosexuals, gays and transvestites. If we went to the police to report a crime it was more likely that we would be arrested" than get any justice, di Castro told IPS.
She can recall many instances of police denigration, as well as her fear of making a complaint, which was so strong that she would keep quiet and hold her tongue.
The representative of the Rio de Janeiro Association of Transvestite and Transsexual People (ASTRA-RIO), 37-year-old Marjorie Marshi, fears the new measure may not be put into effect.
"As with any newly approved policy, people are not convinced that it will be implemented as intended. This is the first step in its collective construction. A decree, by itself, can never alter reality," Marshi said.
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