Argentina’s big step towards true sexual equality

Posted on 3 September 2011


Proposals to allow trans people to change their names and gender on legal documents could be another landmark measure

Flavia Dzodan, Friday 2 September 2011

A gay couple kisses outside Argentina’s congress during a 2010 rally to support a proposal to legalise same-sex marriage. Photograph: Natacha Pisarenko/AP

The 15 July last year was a historic day for equality in Latin America. Argentina was the first country in the region to legalise same-sex marriage. People took to the streets in celebration after a long vigil in front of congress. The law, sponsored by the government of the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was the result of a long and arduous campaign by LGBTQ organisations and allies against conservative sectors led by the Catholic church.

Although it has not drawn as many international headlines, 18 August 2011 was yet another historic day for equality. The Argentinian congress began the debates for a proposed gender identity law. If passed, this law would allow transgender people to correct their names and gender on all legal documents, including birth certificates, IDs and passports through a quick procedure.

According to first-hand accounts in local media, never before have there been so many trans activists in a congressional debate session. The debates have been set in motion by four different projects, each supported by a group of legislators and NGOs, each of them with a slightly different approach to providing a legal framework for identity issues that are currently addressed through court procedures that leave the final decision in the hands of judges and magistrates. The main differences between projects are based on healthcare services for those who wish to undertake hormone and/or surgeries as part of the transition processes.

If congress approves one of these four projects, the gender identity law would be another landmark in Argentina’s efforts for LGBTQ equality. This path was initiated in 2007, when, in a meeting sponsored by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, the Yogyakarta Principles were launched as a global charter for gay rights at the United Nations human rights council. Due to resistance of several member states where homosexuality and gender identity are penalised, the principles have not yet been adopted worldwide. However, those initial accomplishments paved the way for Argentina’s deep social changes, which resulted in same sex marriage and could possibly grant trans people the right to recognition of their identities.

Argentinian LGBT Federation (FALGBT), together with ATTA (Asociación de Travestis, Transexuales y Transgéneros de Argentina), launched a media campaign to raise awareness of the proposed law and garner public support. The campaign, which includes videos and brochures, emphasises the recognition of gender identity without the need of medicalisation and the subsequent involvement of psychiatric or surgical procedures. Instead, their aim is the depathologisation of trans identities and the elimination of gender-related matters from the realm of psychiatry and the legal system. This campaign has also benefited from the recent high-profile case of Florencia Trinidad, a popular comedian who not only successfully exercised her right to identity through a very publicised court case but also married her long-term partner and became a mother of twins through surrogacy last week.

A statement released by ATTA explains:

“Trans people suffer discrimination based on gender identity. Many of us are kicked from our homes and rejected by our families. Most of us could not finish school because the system expels us for being different. Even those of us who managed to finish school grow tired of searching for jobs and face nothing but closed doors. Most of us do not have an ID with our names and we have to put up with media referring to us as ‘transvestites'”.

Marcela Romero, ATTA’s national co-ordinator, elaborated on her experience: “Not having an ID for us means the denial of basic right to identity,” she said. “In addition to the moral damage, this lack of ID often limits our access to healthcare, excludes us from the education system, keeps us from getting a job, receiving retirement pensions or signing legally binding contracts. In many provinces, the police stop us, imprison us and kill us.”

The next few months will probably see virulent attacks against this law from the extremely conservative sectors that have not taken Kirchner’s approach to equality and inclusivity well. They will most likely attempt to derail the initiative with tactics previously seen during the debates in congress about same-sex marriage, when Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, regularly used his pulpit to speak out against the bill, which he deemed to be “a destructive attack on God’s plan”.

However, the president’s indisputable victory in the election primary two weeks ago gives LGBTQ organisations hope that this bridge can, once more, be successfully crossed. If that happens, Argentina will again make historical headlines and, given the regional traction that human rights campaigns are taking in South America, this might as well be the first one of several more to come in the continent.