Global Pride Warriors

In the spirit of widespread change, meet four international gay rights activists from Nepal, Russia, Nigeria, and Chile.

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 07 2008 12:00 AM ET

Andrés
Ignacio Rivera Duarte president and founder of the
Organization of Transsexuals for Dignity and Diversity
Five years ago Maria Georgina Rivera Duarte had a
double mastectomy. Two years later she underwent a
hysterectomy and began taking hormones. But it wasn’t
until last year that Maria officially won the legal
right from the Chilean courts to become Andrés
Ignacio Rivera Duarte.

“Masculine
transsexuality was absolutely invisible,” Duarte says
of the environment in Chile when he began
transitioning. “Society wasn’t prepared
-- well, it never is for something different, but without a
doubt it was not prepared for a 38-year-old woman to
announce that she was in reality a man. I was an
extraterrestrial—too strange for the rational
understanding of society.”

Duarte, one of
two 2008 recipients of the International Gay and Lesbian
Human Rights Campaign’s Felipa de Souza Award, has
confronted intolerance repeatedly in his quest to be
recognized as a man. He suffered humiliation
“at the hands of those who claimed they were my
friends.” Coworkers and family members turned
against him. In 2006 he was fired from teaching
childhood education at the University of Rancagua, a
decision he sued the university over and ultimately won.
“We succeeded in showing that they had
discriminated against me exclusively for being a
transgender person,” he explains.

In the early days
of his transition, frustration and anger over the
discrimination he faced took its toll. “I went to the
bottom,” says Duarte. “I had problems
with alcohol abuse and attempted suicide.” But
Duarte isn’t one to give up -- “It’s in
my blood to fight against injustice and
discrimination”—so in 2005 he transformed his
despair into strength, founding the Organization of
Transsexuals for Dignity and Diversity. Located in
Rancagua about 50 miles outside Santiago, the
organization is made up of trans men and allies, lawyers,
social workers, psychologists, and one anthropologist.
They work with government officials to try to
establish transgender policy, and with local health
care providers to aid in the evaluation, treatment, and
surgery of trans people. On a grassroots level, they
provide outreach to young trans sex workers to prevent
drug use, HIV/AIDS, and other sexually transmitted
diseases, and also aim to foster self-esteem and personal
growth within the entire Chilean LGBT community.

While
Duarte’s battle to legally change his name and sex is
a personal triumph, he’s proudest of the
visibility his organization has given to transsexuals
in Chile. “Now that we ‘exist,’ we are
invited to universities to participate in seminars,
which helps make future professionals aware. People
find us in the street and ask us about transsexuality
but with a lot of respect,” says Duarte.
“There’s a lot left to do, but we have
made advances.”

As for the
future, Duarte hopes, among other things, to establish a
department of nondiscrimination and diversity in the Chilean
government, integrate training about trans people in
the armed forces and police force, and create a
national health network covering transsexuals in
public hospitals. He knows the goals are ambitious and the
road ahead will be difficult, but he says, “We
also have the profound conviction that we are fighting
for our rights, for a more dignified life with
equilibrium for body and soul, which permits us to develop
as people and dignified human beings, integrating
ourselves into society and reaching that gift
intrinsic to birth -- respect.” -- Rachel Dowd;
translation by Carolyn McCarthy

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