Are NGOs good mediators between government decision-makers and civil society? Is it wrong to accuse them of bureaucracy and financial motivation? Why should it be such a surprise that they neither "represent" the LGBTI (1) population or trans women, nor do they have a social base? Colombia and other Latin American countries have seen a recent and significant, but chaotic, growth of third-sector organizations. Part of the problem is the conceptualization of this third sector, in its apparent confusion/cooptation with civil society and NGOs. A number of authors have demonstrated that the current denomination for the third sector is used indistinctively by government agents and members of international cooperation agencies to refer to what was once referred to as civil society, mixing in grass-roots organizations, non-governmental organizations, cooperatives, foundations, and associations (Alvarez, 2009; Gomez-Quintero, 2014; Cohen & Arato, 2000).
The empirical sources for this article reside in interviews applied, in 2016, to four transgender people who were responsible for forming the organizations mentioned here. We have researched the existence of mechanisms of accountability through which these organizations interact with this population to relate the actions carried out in their name. We have also studied the procedures to which claims by trans people are subject; trans people who resorted to these entities to request support over the course of claims against natural and legal persons. Finally, we explored the possible existence of a gender branding common to the professional labor of those interviewed in these LGBTI organizations: job stability, promotion opportunities, workload, pay and presence in management positions in comparison to cisgender people.
Our access to information was mediated by one of the authors who acted as a participant observer (Guber, 2001), and who recognizes herself and is recognized as part of the study population. The definition of the nature of her place as a researcher does not undermine her eligibility to examine the exchanges between third sector organizations and people with non-normative gender identities: her own subordinate experiences allow her to ask questions that attempt to explain this marginality (Haraway, 1988). This translates into an approach to the work of the trans people who carry out the work within these NGOs, striving to incorporate their different reflectivity.
This text will focus on NGOs whose agendas are related to sexual diversity, the LGBTI population, and the rights of trans women in three Colombian cities: Cali, Bogota and Barranquilla. These organizations differ in the fact that some manage social projects promoted by public administrations; others avoid contractual relationships with the state to maintain their independence; and others still flow both ways. Our main focus is put on how these organizations manage activism in relation to the rights of trans women.
As shown in the related literature, in the case of Latin America, a number of these organizations are becoming depoliticized as civil society actors in order to participate in the "outsourcing" of the state. After the Washington Consensus, many voices have claimed that the main public services have been privatized through complex relations, and the emergence of the so-called "third sector" is, undoubtedly, one of them.
A visible posture in the literature of reference maintains that the intervention of the third sector is one of the most ambitious attempts to isolate and inoculate the social movements, subjected first to a process of NGOzation and then to outsourcing, both aimed at their domestication (Alvarez, 2011). Whereas social movements are seen as contentious and disruptive, the third sector appears as a partner or collaborator of the government within the frameworks established by neoliberal policies.
For authors like Sonia Alvarez (2011), the domestication of social action was verified in a number of phases, all related to the use of legal forms and organizations existing within the so-called "market democracies" (Dagnino, Olvera & Panfichi, 2006). First, came the depoliticization of the idea of civil society, which has been increasingly invoked since the mid-80s. This was followed by the depoliticization of NGOs, a process that reached its peak in the early 90s, until finally reaching the third sector towards the end of the 90s. For Alvarez, this is more than a mere semantic change or something natural or inevitable. On the contrary, it needs to be understood as the result of a deliberate strategy implemented by a government immersed in neoliberal policies and of transnational actors interested in the consolidation of such policies. She also considers it an expression of a process of dispute concerning the meaning, forms and roles pertaining to the associative lives of the citizens. The NGOs and their operation can only be understood within the structure of such processes of the growing precarity of the public and the political (Alvarez, 2001).
In Colombia, a characteristic feature of the years following the 1991 Constitution is the organization of activism with regards to diversity. As has occurred in a number of countries in the region, the diversity label has served as an umbrella label, which agglutinates a number of different struggles. Despite the fact that the feminist and the LGBTI mobilizations encompass different, often contrasting, agendas (such as abortion and adoption), (2) reference is made to a global "gender ideology" based on two basic premises: a) gender is socially constructed (this is the premise that is usually associated with "gender ideology"), (3) and b) the differences created by this social construction have insurmountable asymmetries due to unequal resource distribution (Schild, 2016).
This agenda reached Latin America in the 1960s, together with the feminist and development movements, and it positioned institutional reform as a channel of inclusion. The mobilization and political dialogue of the late 80s and the discussions of the grassroots political organizations and political parties that led to women's participation in the National Constituent Assembly were displaced by a new methodology of participation-action (MacKinnon, 2012; Bergtora, 2011). This new modus operandi was closely related to the transnational development agenda that led a number of multilateral organizations to include gender equality and the diversity agenda as one of the millennium goals; a general characteristic of the gender and diversity agenda all over Latin America (Goetz, 1997; Rupp, 1999; Hodgson, 2011; Molyneux, 2018; Fergusson, 1984).
This positioning within the agenda led the Global South to organize itself around capturing funds for gender, diversity, and development. A number of NGOs from the Global North opened branches in Colombia to connect with transnational mobilizations that are basically dedicated to locating international normative standards in local spaces through the discussion of women's rights as human rights (Friedman, 2009; Woodcock, 2011; Johnson, 2018). This implied a change in the narrative of local gender and diversity activism, through the emergence and stabilization of new strategies, focusing on the use of the law: public actions of unconstitutionality, nullity proceedings, the monitoring of proceedings, and structural disputes, among others (Lemaitre, 2009; Albarracin, 2011, Lehoucq, 2016; Abadia, 2012).
This dynamic also fostered the transplantation of new participation-action methodologies that revolved around the constitutional scenario: they used concepts such as the constitutional block, the Colombian Constitutional Court, judicial action, judicial activism, and the text of the Constitution itself to formulate their strategies and term their demands (Roa, 2018). Strategic litigation or the mechanism through which the movement in favor of social changes with legal bases is developed before the constitutional courts rather than the legislative arena, was one of the preferred strategies of this gender and diversity agenda (Jaramillo & Alfonso, 2010; Sarmiento, 2012). The decriminalization of abortion in three cases is one of its most visible achievements.
The main feature of this new strategy that has led gender to diversity activism in Colombia is its focus on constitutions. The actors that make use of this--NGOs--seek to present the gender equality and diversity agenda as something which is already written in the constitutions, highlighting language-based ambiguities, appealing to arguments that show the state the inconvenience of not fulfilling international treaties incorporated into the constitutional block or seeking strategic cases that oblige the amplification of the standards in place to protect, for example, cis women (4) or tons women (Eisenstein, 1998; Cornell, 1991; Vergel, 2011).
In Colombia, this was only possible following the Constitution of 1991 given three factors visible to the so-called new law or progressive legislation: (i) the creation of the Constitutional Court in 1991; (ii) the establishment, in 1995, of the constitutional block by the Court as a tool that integrated international law and internal law; (iii) the inclusion of the equal protection clause in article 13 of the 1991 Constitution. The determination that the precedents of the Constitutional Court are associative and obligatory for all the judges of the Republic only dates back to the development of the doctrine of the precedent by the court. In this line, the Constitutional Court developed a huge jurisprudence on equality that is mandatory to all judges in all jurisdictions. That is, the Constitutional Court has been, in legal terms, the technical ally of the social movements that seek protection via the law (Jaramillo, 2006).
This turnabout in terms of the patterns of action has been documented by Magdalena Leon (2007), who...