Panama has brought in gendered social-distancing regulations to tackle the coronavirus crisis, causing alarm and dread for the trans community.
Under near-total lockdown Panama has already closed its schools and borders, with citizens allowed outside for two hours per day.
Under the new rules, implemented on April 1, men and women are only allowed out of the house on specific, separate days – and police are checking the gender on the ID cards of people on the streets.
LGBT+ rights organisations immediately warnedthat the new rules – which will remain in place until at least April 12 – would affect trans people.
Trans woman stopped by police and accused of not being a woman.
The Association of New Men and Women of Panama, an LGBT+ rights organisation, said the measures had caused “dread”.
“There are still police patrols who use the argument that God only created Adam and Eve,” association president Ricardo Beteta told AFP.
“What does a transgender person do in this situation?”
These fears were immediately realised when – on the first day of the new gendered social-distancing rules – a trans woman called Bárbara Delgado was stopped by police on her way to work.
Police saw the male gender marker on her ID card and took her to the police station, where she was accused of not being a woman, held for three “humiliating” hours and then released with a fine, according to Human Rights Watch.
Panama only recognises trans people’s gender after surgery.
In Panama, trans people can only change the gender marker on their ID documents if they can prove they have had gender-confirmation surgery.
Ali, a 25-year-old trans man and tattoo artist, has an ID card that still says he’s a woman.
“My biggest fear, obviously, is the police, who aren’t trained or sensitised to this subject and I don’t know what attitude they will take with me,” he told AFP.
“I’m 100 per cent sure I’ll be stopped in the street and seeing as I don’t fit the mould … I don’t know if they’ll be aggressive. That’s what scares me,” Ali added.
As of yesterday, Panama had 1,988 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 54 deaths.
“No country will be fully prepared to fight the virus, if the population does not assume responsibility for protecting the individual and collective health of its inhabitants,” the country’s health ministry warned last week.
Under the lockdown rules, women are allowed to go shopping for food on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, while men are allowed to leave home and go shopping on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. No one is allowed outside on Sundays in Panama.