Argentina’s radical gay rights movement

(Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Jacobin.)

At first glance, the gay rights movement in Argentina looks oddly familiar to an American. In the early 1970s, gays and lesbians began forming political organizations, advocating for other queers to come out of the closet, and demanding equal rights and an end to discrimination. Police repression at gay bars in the nation’s largest city lead to further politicization, as did an out lesbian appearing on television. Queers organized pride protests and parades, satellite organizations sprung up in less populated areas, and by 2009 gay marriage became the movement’s biggest issue.

What happened next might not sound as familiar. Just two years after gay marriage became legal in Argentina, the Law of Gender Equality was passed. Among other things, the law de-pathologizes trans identity, removing transphobic medical clearance requirements to change gender on their legal documents, and increasing access to gender affirming treatments through the public health system. If passing gay marriage in a heavily Catholic country — with the archbishop of Buenos Aires threatening to wage “God’s war” in opposition — seems difficult, then passing one of the world’s most progressive laws for trans rights would seem an impossible accomplishment.

Argentina’s gay rights movement is distinct from our own, and demonstrates that the same law can resonate differently depending on how it is situated in a larger political movement. Even as a vocal opponent of gay marriage in the US, it’s apparent to me that even if the change directly wrought by gay marriage is neutral at best, regressive at worst, the political logic behind it made it a justifiable and perhaps brilliant first step.

The most powerful organization is a federation of local groups of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans folks from across the economic spectrum, who have committed to supporting social and cultural changes that affect all or part of the coalition. In contrast, the mainstream American gay rights movement, has missed the potential for long-term solidarity in this sort of campaign, instead burning bridges and insisting that marriage itself is the ultimate goal.

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