Chile passes law allowing transgender teens to change their sex, name

SANTIAGO – Lawmakers in Chile on Wednesday passed legislation allowing people over the age of 14 to legally change their name and gender identity, despite intense lobbying by the Church and conservative political parties in the predominantly Catholic country.

The Chamber of Deputies passed the Gender Identity Law by a vote of 95-46. It allows people aged 18 and above to change their name and legal gender, while those aged over 14 can do so with the permission of a parent or legal guardian.

The law, introduced in 2013, was fiercely contested by conservative parties until an article relating to children under the age of 14 was dropped. Children aged 14 to 18 must first obtain the consent of their parents or legal guardians.

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Yesterday, the coordinator of legislation and public policies of OTD Chile, Franco Fuica, called on parliamentarians to vote conscientiously and in favor of the project. “We are still at risk, we need the sanction of the Chamber, 89 votes in total, to be able to seal a job that has taken us more than 5 years. To vote yes, is to vote for the lives of trans people.”

Fuica also called for better access to the Chamber, since, unlike other occasions, only one invitation was granted by a deputy. “Before we had to pray to continue the discussion of a law that only affects us.”

The Senate had passed the bill last month, so Wednesday’s vote brought an end to a five-year battle in the deeply conservative South American country. The hotly debated legislation had come close to passing several times, but the issue came to a head earlier this year in the final months of former president Michelle Bachelet’s term.

“We are witnessing a historic event which we celebrate with great emotion and joy,” said Alvaro Troncoso, head of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh). “It will improve the quality of life of thousands of people whose dignity and rights have been denigrated simply by the prejudices that exist against their gender identification.”

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The gender identity law must be either rejected or entered onto the statute books by center-right President Sebastián Piñera within 30 days.

There are no official statistics for the number of trans people in Chile.

The law is one of a number of progressive laws recently passed in Chile. In August last year, the Constitutional Court partially lifted a ban on abortion if a woman’s life was in danger, if she was carrying an unviable fetus or if she became pregnant as a result of rape.