Cross-dressing Argentine girl sign of hope for transgender community

Gabriela Mansilla, Luana's mother, during a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013.

Gabriela Mansilla, Luana's mother, during a news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013. AP

MERLO, Argentina (AP) — Luana grabs her sparkly blue dress with one hand and spins, using her other hand as a guide while a strand of tulle floats around her body.

The 8-year-old has long brown curls, gold butterfly earrings and an amulet with a princess hanging from her neck.

“I love it when my hair does this,” she said, shaking her head as her hair flutters. “And I love dresses.”

Luana had to fight to be a girl. She was born a boy, and struggled with a world that insisted that was what she must be. Then, in 2013, she became the youngest person to take advantage of an Argentine law that allows people to identify their own gender for legal purposes.

The case turned the child into an international symbol of progress in the transgender community. At the same time, it sparked a debate in this conservative, Catholic country — the homeland of Pope Francis — about how best to raise children who identify themselves with the opposite sex.

But that discussion — one that has become more and more common around the world — feels very distant from the family’s modest, two-bedroom cement home in Merlo, a small town about 27 miles (43 kilometers) west of Buenos Aires.

“I’ve always been a girl,” said Luana, flashing a smile at her identical twin brother, Elias, the kind of boy who loves remote-controlled cars. He nods.

“If you gave Luana all my toys it would not make any difference,” Elias said. “She still wouldn’t be a boy.”

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