Transvestites and transsexuals in Argentina, who were among the most marginalized minority populations, have seen respect for their rights grow in recent years, especially since same-sex marriage became legal in this country a year and a half ago.
"Equal marriage has done a lot to make us more visible, and doors have started to open," transvestite Valeria Ramírez, the head of the transgender section in the Buenos Aires AIDS Foundation (FBAS), told IPS.
A book published in 2005, "La gesta del nombre propio" (which roughly translates as "the epic struggle for a name of one's own"), described the intolerance, humiliation, marginalisation and even attacks suffered by transvestites in this South American country. It also reported that the leading cause of death among this population group is AIDS, and the second cause of death is murder.
The law on same-sex marriage was passed by Congress and went into effect in July 2010, after an intense campaign for equal rights by the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans persons.
The law was the first of its kind in Latin America. Since then, some 2,700 same-sex couples have married, gaining the same rights and obligations as heterosexual couples.
But transvestites and transsexuals are also fighting for a gender identity law that would allow their identity card to match their appearance and carry the name they go by, rather than the one they were given at birth.
The discrepancy between gender presentation and documentation is an enormous hurdle to access by transgender people to formal education, employment, housing or healthcare, unless they hide their transgender identity.
Although around 50 transsexuals in Argentina who have had sex reassignment surgery over the last few decades have obtained documents reflecting their new identities after lengthy legal battles, no law has yet been passed to guarantee that right without the requirement of extensive medical and psychological testing.
This month, the lower house of Congress passed a bill on gender identity, which now goes to the Senate. "For us, having our name on our documents will be a major stride, because otherwise we suffer humiliating experiences," Ramírez said.
As an example, the activist recalled an embarrassing incident at the dentist's office. In the waiting room, when she responded after she was called by the name on her identity card, the dentist said he had called Oscar Ramírez, not her.
"When we have to travel, we look like criminals. They look at our identity document or passport, and make us wait. Finally they let us on, but everyone looks at us as if we were terrorists," she said.
Nevertheless, while they wait for the gender identity bill to be passed, transgender persons are already enjoying a climate of greater acceptance and less marginalization in Argentina, fomented by the state, and seen in different spheres.
In show business, the country's most famous transvestite, popular actress and TV personality Florencia de la V, married her long-time partner. And she and her husband hired a surrogate mother in the United States, who gave birth to their twins.
Furthermore, in a historic legal ruling handed down in 2010, she obtained her new identity card, in which she is identified as Florencia Trinidad, rather than her birth name, Roberto Carlos Trinidad.
This month a group of artists held the third edition of the Encuentro de Arte Trans – Festival DesTravArte – a transgender film, theatre, dance, poetry and literature festival.
The aim of this edition was to support the gender identity bill. The organizers pointed out that although sexual minorities have enjoyed greater acceptance since same-sex marriage became legal, many transvestites in the country are still marginalized by society.
And in the programme "Salida de Emergencia", broadcast by the education ministry's TV station Encuentro, representatives of sexual minorities from around the country talk about their often traumatic experiences of social integration or rejection.
The University of Buenos Aires, meanwhile, passed a statute this month requiring the university identity documents of transgender students, professors and other staff to reflect the gender and name they use.
The same measure had already been adopted by the National University of Córdoba.
And the cooperatives movement backed by the ministry of social development supported a group of transgender persons who organized and received training and jobs in the textile, food and design industries.