Panama’s Arbitrary Gender Quarantine Needs To End



Panama was one of several Caribbean and Latin American countries to enact a gender quarantine at the start of the pandemic. Panama is the only one still requiring men and women to appear in public on alternate days.

This restriction, widely seen as an ineffectual, patriarchal, and misogynistic has left an indelible mark on gender non-conforming Panamanians.

On June 8, 2020, citing an increase of infections Panama reinstated the gender quarantine in the provinces of Panama and West Panama. Even though the government clarified the restriction doesn’t apply to trans people, the residue effect continues to embolden transphobes countrywide.

Movement in the Panama and Panama Oeste provinces according to the US Embassy is also restricted based on gender and ID number. Gender restrictions allow for 2-hour movements as follows:

  • Women: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
  • Men: Tuesday and Thursday.

They grabbed my breasts and said, ”Maricón you’re not a woman’

Todos cambiamos (everybody changes) Panama’s 2019 Oscar international nomination surprised many

In some documented instances, trans people with the means to buy food and medicine have been stopped before getting to their destinations and an untold number are so terrified that they haven’t risked venturing out.

In Panama,  gender confirmation surgery is required in order to change the sex on government identification. This expensive operation, unattainable by most, unwanted by some is still required by the government. Many of the world’s countries have removed this barrier after campaigns exposed it as nothing more than state-sponsored gendercide.

However, trans-Panamanians can change their names, as a scant few have managed successfully, but this has often exacerbated the problems they face.

Trans Visibility.

The pandemic has highlighted the existing inequalities even more,” Pau González, a 35-year-old transgender activist who had to travel to Colombia to make his transition, told El País. Although he has not yet been able to change his gender option on his identity card, he has been able to change his name — he was the first trans man in Panama to do so.

At the moment, neither the activists’ strategies nor international pressure has achieved a change in the quarantine measures. AL DÍA reports. But the Panamanian authorities have issued two statements in which they urge respect for gender identity and reject transphobia. “At least the government mentioned us. I had never mentioned the trans community, ”González celebrates. “The best thing is that we make ourselves visible enough so that they recognize that we exist and so that they see that we are not asking for favors, but demanding our rights as human beings that we are with a basis and foundations.”

This seemingly impossible situation brought González and other FTM activists to form FTM Panama.  If the world sees us it makes discriminating against us very difficult, To that end, Pau González and others have documented their transition on Instagram to increase their visibility.


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@pau21gs nos comparte un poco su transición! ?

A post shared by Hombres Trans Panamá (@hombrestranspanama) on

The perfect storm.

Panama’s gender quarantine gives guards and policemen the perfect opportunity to act on their bigotry. They know by outing and publicly humiliating trans people they are causing irreparable harm. As documented by Human Rights Watch their dysphoria will exponentially increase leaving them fearfully behind locked doors resulting in malnutrition, without medicine and eventual starvation.

Since May 11, Human Rights Watch has documented six incidents of discrimination against transgender people in Panama. Human Rights Watch also spoke with four people who had previously had similar experiences. All four said they had been afraid to leave their homes.

Some of those cases are shared here.

  • On the week of June 8, on a day designated for the men to go out, Pamela, a trans woman, and her male partner headed to a supermarket in the Calidonia neighborhood of Panama City, intending to wear a bond issued by the government. A security guard indicated to Pamela that she could not enter. After Pamela explained that she was a trans woman and showed her her identity card that indicated that her gender was male, the guard, according to her, denied her admission because she wore women’s clothing. Pamela said: “I felt very angry, and my partner had to go to the supermarket to do the shopping. I had to stay outside. I have not yet used the entire bonus because I am afraid of what might happen if I go out and try to use it ”.

Previously Pamela had been denied entry to that same supermarket twice, on days designated for men. On one occasion, it was a policeman who prevented her from entering, and on the other it was a private guard. According to Pamela, they both told her that her body was “too feminine.”

  • On June 10, a day designated for women, Katherine, a 24-year-old transgender woman from West Panama Province, was on her way to a medical appointment for treatment of a kidney condition. Two police officers stopped her on the street, apparently because they did not think she looked like a woman. Katherine showed the officers a paper with her appointment, but the officers called a patrol, handcuffed her, and took her to a police substation in Burunga.

“In the substation, there were seven officers and they were laughing at me,” she said. “I was wearing make-up and they were mocking that. They put me in a cell by myself.” She was released about an hour and half later, only after a higher-ranking official listened to her story and ordered her release. “I ran to the hospital to make the appointment even though I was late and luckily I could still see the doctor,” Katherine said.

Human Rights Watch also spoke again in June with four trans people Human Rights Watch had interviewed in April from the provinces of Panama and West Panama. All said they avoid going out for fear of another incident of discrimination:

  • Miranda, a transgender woman in Panama Province who faced discrimination in April when attempting to enter a supermarket on a day designated for men, reported that she has not left her home for fear of discrimination. She received a food basket from the community-organized Trans Solidarity Network and is trying to make it last as long as possible.
  • “Sofía,” a transgender woman who was denied entry into a supermarket in April on a day designated for men, said, “I am scared every time I leave my home.” She said that even though she has a letter of transit from her workplace, she fears any contact with the police and purposefully does not leave her vehicle if she sees them. She often pays for grocery delivery services instead of risking discrimination at the supermarket.
  • Li, a transgender man from Panama Province who was denied entry to a supermarket in April on a day designated for women, said, “I am taking it one day at a time, it’s a stressful situation and I try not to leave my home because there are situations where people don’t understand the issue.” Li pays for grocery delivery services instead of risking discrimination at the supermarket.
    Mónica, a transgender woman who was arrested and fined in April when she attempted to enter a supermarket on a day designated for men, said that she has tried not to leave home for fear of another arrest. Her friends and family do her shopping for her. Mónica said, “I feel like a prisoner. It’s unjust. I cannot risk going out again and having to pay a fine. I don’t have the money to give the government.”
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Kelli, Busey is managing editor at Planet Transgender


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