Argentina enjoys a reputation in Latin America as being part of the vanguard of the LGBTQ rights movement. But members of this community tell a different story.
Last weekend’s brutal murder of Pablo Fullana Borsato — a widely known architect and activist for gay and trans rights in Argentina – has been described by authorities as a drug- and theft-related crime. However, the nature of the killing — approximately 70 stab wounds, according to local outlets — and Borsato’s identity as a gay man who fought publicly for equality has left his colleagues and comrades calling for the homicide to be investigated as a hate crime instead.
“A hate crime doesn’t have to be something that’s explicitly sexual in nature,” said Jose Malé Franch, an advocate and journalist at the La Tetera online magazine. “Given who he is and how he was killed, this is clearly a hate crime.”
Argentina was the first country in the region to legalise same sex marriage and give couples the same “rights and responsibilities” as their heterosexual counterparts. The groundbreaking 2010 law was passed despite grave opposition from the Catholic Church.
In 2012, the Gender Identity Law then granted adults the right to receive sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy through existing healthcare plans, repealed criminalised “sex diversity,” permitted homosexual couples to use reproductive technology and created a protocol to provide LGBTQ sex education in schools.
However, passage and execution of laws are two different things. Plenty still threatens the lives of anyone who doesn’t express her sexuality or gender identity the way society deems appropriate, according to Franch. It’s more insidious, a legacy of the “machismo” that pervades Argentine society.
He points to a lack of public policies to safeguard gay, lesbian or trans persons beyond their immediate needs and the failure to provide this population with the equal resources or protections that are guaranteed by law as proof of the “absence of the State.”
“For example, we don’t have a diversity ministry in Colón,” he told the Times, referencing the small Buenos Aires Province city where Borsato was killed. “And our hospitals aren’t adequately prepared to treat trans people or provide them with hormones.”
During his life, Borsato recognised this vacuum and sought to address it. He was an early member of the city’s first gay rights group and helped plan the city’s first Pride Parade. Friends described him “an artist and a militant” whose ideas stemmed from “pride and conviction.”
Latin America’s most LGBTQ-friendly country saw 147 reported hate crimes in 2018, according to the National Observatory of LGBTQ Hate Crimes. The report, however, is quick to point out that the real tally is likely higher. Many are afraid to report crimes for fear of persecution, it says. In addition, the gender identity of many trans people is often not respected in official registrars, so crimes against them aren’t always considered as gender-specific hate crime.
Trans women were 64 percent of the victims, followed by gay men at 28 percent, according to the Observatory’s tally. Nearly half — 46 percent — of the crimes were ultimately fatal, either through homicide, persecution-related suicide or the absence of state services that contributed to death.
The vast majority of hate crimes took place against people between 20 and 40 years old in major cities like Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, LGBTQ persons continue to move into the capital due to the marginalisation and isolation so readily experienced in smaller towns or interior provinces.
“Socially and culturally, hate and violence continues. Hate is indifferent,” Francha said.
This data is consistent with trends across Latin America showing trans people face especially dangerous conditions. The Observatory of Assassinated Trans Persons tallied that 78 percent of the killings of trans people worldwide happened in this region between 2008 and 2016. Argentina has the sixth-highest count.
According to a letter written in tribute to Borsato on La Tetera, the activist placed “continued emphasis” on his “trans comrades,” ensuring they were “included and considered in every idea or activity he proposed.”
The magazine was established in 2016 to make visible the continued violence plaguing this community and to push for legislative reforms.
“We demand equal access to health, livelihood, work, culture, all those rights that are guaranteed for all non-LGBTQ people in Argentina. That’s what we’re fighting for,” Francha said.
DEFINING ‘HATE CRIMES’
Congress also modified Argentina’s penal code in 2012 to include stricter penalties for homicides motivated by “hate against the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of the victim.”
Only Uruguay and the Federal District of Mexico — the state where Mexico City is located — also delineate hate crimes in their penal code.
However, with no widely accepted international definition to follow, some campaigners believe the law fails to encompass the breadth of crimes that can be motivated by this kind of hate, instead relying on only the most obvious of a sexual nature.
“It’s about the selection of the victim,” Fancha said. “But they [politicians] don’t look at this as having anything to do with his sexuality.”
On Wednesday, hundreds gathered in Colón to march and call for justice Borsato. La Tetera wrote that his death is an example of how the “danger wakes any human who is vulnerable in this society,” and that the community must “open its eyes even more and require justice for those who can’t demand it.”
Demonstrators held signs condemning the absence of the State, an alleged dearth of adequate hormonal therapies for sexual reassignment and HIV treatment and the continued death of LGBTQ people.
Outside the municipality building, they called on the government to address the void in services and protections swiftly and resoundingly – before more lives continue to be lost.