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By Christine Murray

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, Weds. June 16 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In a first for Mexico, two transgender women are preparing to sit in the lower house of Congress, with both vowing to push for affirmative action in Latin America’s second-largest economy.

More than 100 LGBT+ candidates took part in the June 6 elections, which saw the highest mid-term turnout in more than two decades, according to the electoral authority INE.

Mexico’s first trans Congresswomen, Maria Clemente Garcia and Salma Luevano, are both from President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s governing Morena party, which took power in 2018, promising to give priority to the poor.

“There’s really a lot of poverty … extreme poverty within our trans population,” Luevano, a 52-year-old activist who also owns a beauty salon in the central state of Aguascalientes, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I’ll take this fight proudly … for our people who are vulnerable.”

Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies has 500 members, 300 of whom are directly elected, while the remaining 200 are assigned through proportional representation, which means they are allocated to parties based on their share of the national vote.

Garcia and Luevano, who will take two of the proportionally assigned seats when the new Congress opens in September, said they intended to work for LGBT+ rights.

More than half of Mexico’s 32 states recognize gay marriage, and the nation’s top court has ruled that trans people have a legal right to change their gender identity on official documents.

But access to those rights is uneven and dozens are killed in hate crimes each year as gay and trans people still face prejudice in the predominantly Catholic country where religious groups often criticize LGBT+ rights.

Luevano, director of a collective called Together for the Way of Diversity, said she went into activism after she was detained by police more than three decades ago for dressing in feminine clothes.

“Thirty years have passed and we still have the same discrimination, we still have the same fight,” she said.

Luevano’s non-profit helped push for new electoral rules this year that introduce minimum numbers of candidates from under-represented groups, including LGBT+ people.

Garcia said her appointment to Congress gave voice to Mexico’s LGBT+ minority and she intends to push for tax breaks for companies that hire LGBT+ staff to improve diversity in the private sector as well.

“It’s an achievement, it’s a step forward, it’s a symbol,” said the 36-year-old, also a long-time activist in Mexico City.

Garcia also aims to amend the first article of Mexico’s constitution, which outlaws discrimination based on “sexual preference”.

“It’s a concept that no international organization has used for 30 years,” she said, adding that she would like to see the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity and expression” used instead.

Garcia said she would also fight to defend the budget of CONAPRED, Mexico’s public anti-discrimination body, which has been slashed by Lopez Obrador, even though she agreed with him that it needed reform.

Lopez Obrador has made swinging budget cuts across the public sector, angering some activists who say he is threatening essential services, particularly for women and the environment.

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