Transgender woman groped and taunted by police as queer community ‘damned’ by gender-based lockdown rules

Panama: Trans community alarmed by gendered coronavirus restrictions

A trans woman in Panama has described being groped and taunted by police under the country’s gender-based coronavirus lockdown measures.

In Panama, lockdown rules specify that women are able to leave the house for necessities on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and men are allowed to do the same on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Everyone must stay at home on Sunday. 

With police checking gender markers on the ID cards of people on the streets, the binary gender-based measures mean that trans and non-binary people are even more at risk of violence and discrimination.

Monica, a trans woman living in Panama, told the BBC that she left to go the corner shop on a Wednesday.

She said that when she arrived the shopkeeper, who knew her well, told her: “We can’t serve you, Monica. The police said we can only serve women today.”

He said the police has instructed him not to allow “maricon”, an anti-LGBT+ slur.

Monica said she was not surprised as the local police had taunted her for years with homophobic and transphobic slurs.

She was forced to go home, and decided to try to get her shopping on Thursday, a mens-only day, but things went from bad to worse.

Police allegedly squeezed trans woman’s breasts as she tried to go shopping.

She went to a larger supermarket, but the queue was long. Although people in Panama are allowed to leave the house on the three days dictated by gender, they are only allowed to outside for two hours at a time.

She hoped she would make it in time, but the second her two hour window was up, six police officers made a beeline for her a pulled her out of the queue.

Monica said: “They told me that I was now outside my time limit for going to the shops.

“They began to do a body search on me. One of them squeezed my breasts in the search and said, laughing, ‘You’re not a woman,’ and repeated a transphobic slur.”

Cristian González Cabrera of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told the BBC: “The gendered days in Panama mean the trans community are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

“We have spoken to more cases like Monica’s. It sadly isn’t an isolated incident.”

Panama says it is taking action against transphobia.

In response to a letter from HRW, the Panama Ministry of Public Security released a statement saying it had “instructed the security forces to avoid any type of discrimination against the LGBT+ population”.

“This is a welcome step that should be commended,” said Cabrera, but added that it is unclear when trans people are actually allowed to leave the house.

“We are dealing with a historically marginalised population in the country and so the statement is not clear enough,” he said.

Similar gender-based lockdown rules in Colombia’s capital Bogotá were recently lifted after they fuelled a wave of violence against transgender people living in the city.

Gender-based rules have also been lifted in Peru.