- Diane Rodriguez, former sex worker, became Ecuador’s first elected transgender senator.
- She revealed that she received death threats upon her election.
- Her journey from activism to politics was motivated by lack of political leadership in the area of rights and gender equality as well as her own experience of discrimination.
A transgender woman who used to be a sex worker was elected to Ecuador’s National Assembly, becoming the first ever transgender senator.
According to NBC published on November 7, Diane Rodriguez became the country’s first senator who is an openly transgender woman.
“Being a public figure comes at a price,” Rodriguez said after receiving death threats upon her election. “But I see that cost is a sacrifice for younger generations so that they don’t have to suffer the same experiences that I have to suffer through now.”
A psychologist by profession, she had quite a challenging journey. Born Luiz Benedicto and disowned by her family at age 16, she became a sex worker to earn a living.
She has been a staunch LGBT activist for a decade, spearheading initiatives to forward legislative reforms in support of rights and gender equality.
Being discriminated for her gender identity and the realization that more needed to be done, particularly addressing the void in political leadership, motivated her to go from activism to politics.
In 2013, she became the first transgender candidate running for a seat in Congress. Her defeat did, however, did not stop her from continuing to work for her advocacy.
“You feel politics with your heart,” she said. “It’s a commitment that you have to make with yourself, a commitment that you make with your people and humanity in general. And that type of commitment you have to live with the rest of your life.”
In one of earlier transgender news stories, transgender rights in Latin American countries such as Ecuador are marked with progress and setbacks. While Rodriguez won electoral victory, the larger society is still conservative.
Aside from her political ambition, Rodriguez has caught national attention for her public announcement in having a child with her partner, transgender man Fernando Machado.
Neither have their sex reassigned and their child was conceived and born naturally in 2015, a situation that challenged prevailing views on gender roles and promoted diverse family.
The transgender couple received death threats and were subject to withering censure.
“Male trans criticized me the most,” Machado said in the 2017 documentary Sununú: The Revolution of Love. Sununu was the name of their son that means “revolution” in indigenous language Guarani. “They said that I was going backwards. That I was just a pregnant girl now. But for me, my pregnancy was a total evolution. I gave myself the opportunity to have a child, but I continued feeling like a man,”
Rodriguez said that while her election as a senator would mean she would be fighting against a wider spectrum of injustice, she will continue to be committed in forwarding trans rights.
“The rights of trans people are among the least protected from all the groups in the LGBTI community,” she explained. “What interests us mainly is that we don’t get killed on the streets. That is our main fight. Trans people are still walking targets.”
Shying away from credit of being a pioneer with her political success, she pointed to other trans people who have been steadfast in their advocacy and their stories have challenged the way she thought about power.
“Power cannot be found in political spaces,” she told NBC. “That type of power is ephemeral. Real power can be found in the people, their communities, and their organizations.”