A month ago the world stood still, shocked at the carnage in Orlando and the growing realisation that those murdered had been targeted because of their sexuality. It was a stark reminder in a world where, just 12 months before, the rainbow flag of the LGBT community decked social media following the approval of same-sex marriage by the US Supreme Court, that homophobia, transphobia and discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics is still very much alive.
And it’s a scourge, from which Uruguay is far from immune.
Homosexuality has been legal in Uruguay for over 80 years, but it’s really within the last decade that the country has become a leader for LGBTI rights both within Latin America and on a global scale.
Today, laws are in place to prevent discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity, to allow same-sex marriage and adoption and to undo previous employment discrimination through affirmative action. What’s more, over-half of Uruguayans in 2013 supported same-sex marriage.
Nonetheless despite these legal advances and social acceptance, the LGBTI community in Uruguay and across Latin America still face stigmas which bar them from full access to certain markets, services and spaces, which mean they are likely overrepresented in the bottom 40%, and therefore remain vulnerable to falling into poverty. This poverty cycle is then pernicious, limiting access to public health, education and housing.
And the impact of such exclusion is reflected in public data. According to the director of Uruguay’s State Health Services Administration (ASSE), the life expectancy for transgender women in Uruguay is just 45 years old - 32 years below the average for the general population. Two thirds of transsexuals in Uruguay will experience serious violent acts at least once in their lifetime and transgender women have the highest rates of HIV of any community in the country at 36.5%. Compare that to 9% for gay men and men who have sex with men, and 0.5% for adults between 15 and 49 years old.