Paulina Urgiles, a community activist and law student in Cuenca, Ecuador, wants to provide pro bono legal representation for LGBTI persons who are victims of vicious discrimination, violence and homelessness. But she can't because she has outstanding medical bills that are blocking her path.
Since 2008 Ecuador’s constitution has recognized gender identity and sexual orientation rights to LGBTI persons, but the ideals inscribed in the constitution are not reflected in reality on the ground, with widespread discrimination and hate crimes still the norm. The government has not taken any steps to implement or enforce the recognition of rights of LGBTI persons in such areas as housing, health care or employment.
Same-sex sexual activity was first decriminalized in Ecuador in 1997. In June 2019 the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage, making it legal throughout the country. Society at large continues to reject the idea of same-sex marriage, though. Same sex partners continue to encounter difficulty in getting their marriages recognized and recorded by civil authorities.
Discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity was outlawed in the Constitution in 1998, but widespread violations continue to occur. In 2015 a labor law made it illegal for employers to discriminate against people due to their sexual orientation, but employers continue to widely ignore the law.
In 2014 criminal statutes were updated to prohibit forced conversion therapy clinics, where LGBTI persons (principally lesbians) are imprisoned involuntarily, sometimes for years, and tortured in an effort to change their sexual orientation. While these clinics are now illegal, they continue to operate clandestinely.
Police almost always refuse to investigate LGBTI hate crimes, and prosecutors refuse to bring cases against attackers even in cases resulting in death or severe injury. Paulina wants to compel the government to obey and enforce the constitution, which is supposed to be the law of the land.
While there is a government ministry for assistance to vulnerable groups, low income members of the LGBTI community are not considered eligible for assistance. Many LGBTI senior citizens suffer from insufficient food and a lack of housing.
Paulina will be graduating from the University of Cuenca law school in mid-2021 and would like to provide pro bono legal representation to LGBTI victims of discrimination or violence. She owes $22,000 of medical debt to the IESS Ecuadorian public health system as a result of emergency medical treatment received while her coverage had lapsed due to an inability to pay the monthly premiums. Additionally she faces discrimination from the IESS system which refuses to pay for gender assignment-related expenses, which must be paid out-of-pocket.
Because of this outstanding debt, Paulina is barred from applying to any city, provincial or national government job or participating in the financial system. The debt is keeping her from pursuing her ideal job, which would be as LGBTI liaison for the city or provincial government.
Paulina is passionate about fighting for justice for all Ecuadorians. Her long-term dream is to create a non-profit organization that will be able to provide pro bono legal assistance directly to LGBTI persons suffering unjust treatment, as well as seek government enforcement of existing laws.
Won’t you help Paulina with a contribution?
- David Ho
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