Marea Editorial

On how Argentina became a trailblazer in LGBT+ rights

“The way in which rights are earned is equally important as the rights themselves”.

By Jassir de Windt, Communication for Development & Journalism

In 2012, the senate and chamber of deputies of Argentina passed the country’s Gender Identity Law. Two years earlier, the nation’s upper house had already approved a same-sex marriage bill, giving Argentina a vanguard role in Latin America. These advancements sketch a, what many would call, socially progressive country, at least in terms of LGBT+ matters. Against this background, logical questions that arise are: how did the Argentine contrive these social changes and how have these changes unfolded thus far? In this debate, the floor is given to a key figure in this voyage: the Argentine-born journalist, author and activist, dr. Bruno Bimbi.

TG: You are considered one of the major players behind the realisation of same-sex marriage in Argentina. Today, more than a decade later, how do you look back on this process?

“From a personal point of view, having been part of this historic achievement for human rights in my country is something that I take great pride in — it’s perhaps one of the most significant accomplishments in my life. When we headed off, we were merely a small group of activists that gathered at the house of María Rachid, who is a grassroots social leader in the area of LGBT+ rights in Argentina. Together, we worked tirelessly on an issue that a great part of the Argentine LGBT+ movement deemed as total madness. Three and a half years later, we were celebrating the adoption of the same-sex marriage bill. Then along came the Gender Identity Law and many other advances that changed the life of millions of people, making Argentina a more just and inclusive nation and motivated the rest of Latin America to initiate similar changes on a regional scale. Indeed, hereafter, countries like Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico followed, while adopting various approaches. Currently, there are also processes underway in Chile, Ecuador and other neighbouring countries”.

TG: Your most recent book is entitled El Fin del Armario (i.e., The End of the Closet). Can it be assumed that ‘the closet’ is a thing of the past in Argentina?

“No, we are, unfortunately, still far from this scenario. As I mentioned in the preface, the title of the book is both a confirmation of a change, which has been put in place, as well as an expression of hopes and wishes. What is true, however, is that the social debate revolving around the laws discussed above, induced changes of historical dimensions that enabled Argentina to advance half a century in only a couple of years. As such, we evolved into a nation with one of the most advanced LGBT+ legislation in the world. Nowadays, any politician knows that he or she has binding commitments with the LGBT+ community. As a consequence, many policies containing fundamental rights were called into existence. Similarly, even the most conservative Argentinian newspaper has an LGBT-blog besides the fact that its reporters publish constructive articles about sexual diversity.

In the course of the equal marriage debate something unheard of took place: for months it was the main topic on the political agenda of the entire country. Virtually all newspapers were writing about it and it was discussed on many television and radio programmes. Many Argentinian LGBT+ couples, that, up and until then, had led a secluded life, were interviewed on television and in tabloids. For weeks and weeks, this topic was the talk of the town in queues at public transportation terminals, at bars and restaurants, during family dinners and friends gatherings, at schools, universities and work. In only a few months, thousands of gays and lesbians in Argentina came out of the closet as they felt that it was either now or never and that they had to convince their families and friends to support the law. Alongside politicians and journalists, artists and social leaders had to take a stance on the matter as well.

Regarding the steering group, we did our homework and were thus prepared to discuss all aspects of the law, be it on the religious, historical, legislative and societal level. While the Catholic church, steered by the man who some years after would become the first Latin American pope, led a campaign promoting a holy war and discouraging our devilish plan, we still won the social debate. By extension, not only did we visibly contribute to getting these laws passed, but the process did also lead to a diminishing of homophobia and an alteration of the perception of the Argentine media towards homosexuality. Much remains to be done, but it was indeed a huge step forward”.

TG: Javier Corrales, Professor of Political Science at the Amherst College in the US, concludes that in the post-legal stage in many Latin American and Caribbean nations, LGBT+ related laws have changed faster than institutions. In your opinion, is this applicable to Argentina as well?

“Most definitely — but this has been the case in many parts of the world. Still, there is a distinctiveness to the Argentinian case: while being no exception to the rule, in Argentina institutional, political, social and cultural advancements have been more profound and rather supportive in nature. A good way to understand it all is by drawing a comparison between Argentina and Brazil. In Brazil, where I coordinated the equal marriage campaign, we did indeed obtain a victory, but it all happened through judicial decisions. That is, there was neither a debate in the parliament nor the mass media and least of all in the Brazilian society. A group of judges associated with the Federal Supreme Court and National Justice Council decided that it was unconstitutional not to allow members of the same sex to get married and forced civil registers to start doing so. It was thus a rapid change, from a legal perspective, that was not accompanied by social debate. In fact, the accession to power of Jair Bolsonaro shows that, in the last decades, Brazilian society has regressed on the topic due in part to the increase of neo-Pentecostalism. On the other hand, in Argentina, change came about firstly in society thanks to pivotal sociopolitical debates that preceded the legal aspects. In Argentina, it was thus a pedagogical and not just a legal-political process. That is why the way in which rights are earned is equally important as the rights themselves. Accordingly, and despite all still existing challenges, institutions in Argentina were forced to alter their statutes”.

TG: In general terms, what is the overall contribution of the Argentine LGBT+ case to the world?

“When we started this journey of madness many years ago, I promised María Rachid that, in the event of success, I would write a book about this endeavour. Hence, in 2010, I published Matrimonio Igualitario (i.e., Same-Sex Marriage). This is a journalistic chronicle of nearly 600 pages that not only narrates the Argentine case all through but also puts forward a practical guide that could be implemented in other countries. In current times, there seems to be a shift in the relationship societies build with members of their LGBT+ communities. Although large-scale, this change has also been unequal — while it concerns a global tendency, it has not been experienced in the same vein everywhere in the world. Factually, many nations are not even aware that change has started. In El Fin del Armario (i.e., The End of the Closet) this is also discussed while providing a platform to cases from different parts of the world. Change has manifested itself at a faster rate in liberal democracies and secular states. In turn, in authoritarian regimes, whether right-wing or left-wing oriented, and, particularly, in Islamic-majority countries, the processes have been more tedious. In this uneven progression, Latin America was far behind, but the corresponding changes that took part in Argentina started the ball rolling. Sure enough, what happened in Argentina has been so important and powerful that it did positively affect the region — like a ripple effect, it will likely eventually affect even those countries in which it is exceedingly complicated to bring about change”.