Signs of setback for Argentina’s LGBTQ community under the new Milei government

Signs of setback for Argentina's LGBTQ community under the new Milei government

Luana Salva had not even completed a year in the first formal job in her entire life, as an employee of the Argentine Foreign Ministry, when a telegram warned her that she would be part of the thousands of state workers laid off by the adjustment plan of libertarian president Javier Milei.

Unemployed, she confesses that she could return to prostitution. Proposals for formal, well-paid work for a 43-year-old trans woman are scarce, especially in the context of a deep crisis in which the national economy continues to be submerged.

Argentina, a country that has been at the forefront of Latin America in rights for sexual minorities in the last decade, has been governed since December by a president who openly criticizes feminism and rejects equality and non-discrimination policies. Although there have been no significant regressions in these advances during his first months in office, feminist groups and LGTBI+ see in Milei’s statements, warnings and first measures a threat of regression in the rights already conquered.

And one of the first defeats was for the 2021 trans labor quota law, which obliged the State to hire no less than 1% of transvestites, transsexuals and non-binary people in the public sector to promote their inclusion.

Although the norm was stagnant without having fully met its goals due to lack of resources before Milei came to power, now it has not only been parked in a corner but some of the contracts made have been liquidated.

Some 105 people from this group have lost their jobs as civil servants in the last three months, according to the State Workers Association. They are few in a universe of 15,000 public jobs eliminated, but for a group that has chronically seen joining the labor market as impossible, each dismissal is a vital setback.

“The only option we have left is prostitution. I don’t want to, I’m going to turn 44 and I don’t see myself standing on a corner, getting cold, experiencing violence. I thought it was over for me,” lamented Salva, who had been carrying out administrative duties since July of last year.

These dismissals operated in the trans community as a confirmation of the fears aroused by the arrival of the ultraliberal to power due to his anti-feminist and anti-inclusion positions. The government has justified the job cuts in a strategy to balance fiscal accounts, in a country with year-on-year inflation of almost 288% in March and poverty that exceeds 40%.

“The quota for me was the possibility of changing my life,” Salva stressed in an interview in the library of the Mocha Cellis civil association, considered the first trans-transvestite school in the world. “I came from a context of prostitution from the ages of 13 to 39. “I thought there was no more hope.”

Although the 1% quota was never fully met, according to official figures there were 955 hires of the 5,551 that were to be filled in the national public administration by this community. And this quickly had repercussions on a sustained decline in sex work as an economic support from the implementation of public policies in favor of that segment of the population, according to a report published by the Public Ministry of Buenos Aires in conjunction with organizations that work in the theme in 2023.

While in previous years, 90% of trans and transvestite women reported living from prostitution, the percentage dropped to 70.4% in 2016 and to 56.1% in 2022.

Salaries average the equivalent of $380 per month.

For those who entered the State, it was a reparation on behalf of a community historically excluded from the labor market and the health system and exposed to violence that places trans women at the head of the victims of hate crimes in Argentina. The life expectancy of the trans population averages 35 to 40 years, according to the same official study.

“We are a number, a minority as always excluded. I don’t think (Milei) feels empathy for anything. It is a government that is not aware of what was built so that we feel included, with a gender perspective,” Salva questioned.

Alba Rueda, trans activist from the social organization Mujeres Trans Argentina and appointed first undersecretary of diversity policies at the national level during the previous center-left government of Alberto Fernández (2019-2023), questioned that ultraliberals like Milei justify the dismissals with “an argument “economic” when “it is not in those terms that people’s rights are valued.”

When asked about the impact on the LGTBI+ group of cutting public jobs, the presidential spokesperson, Manuel Adorni, commented that “the quotas do not make much sense.” And he stressed: “We are always going to work until the last day because Each place is occupied by the best, the most capable and the one with the most qualities. Be it a man, be it a woman, be it a transvestite or be it any other definition.”

But LGBTQ activists reject that the layoffs are justified as part of austerity economic policies.

“The market does not solve this inequality, it never solved it. All social studies on the trans population show that the unemployment rate is greater than 90%. The State has to protect your most basic rights. The quota was a response to that context of inequality,” Rueda noted.

The law also required that if one of the employees who accepted the job quota was dismissed from their position, they had to be replaced in the position by another trans person. This has not happened until now.

“The sad thing is that Argentina’s position in what we have achieved is being discredited. Unfortunately, we are going backwards,” said the former undersecretary of diversity policies.

The country was the first in Latin America to legalize marriage between people of the same sex in 2010 and two years later it took the lead worldwide with a law that recognizes the right to gender identity as a human right.

But since Milei took office as President, the president has taken measures in the opposite direction. It demoted the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity to the rank of undersecretary, prohibited the use of inclusive language in public administration, closed the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI), eliminated the resolution demanding gender parity in companies and civil associations and canceled training programs with a gender perspective.

The president said on repeated occasions that he is against abortion, legalized in 2020. A representative from his party recently presented a project for its repeal, although it has not yet even been debated in a parliamentary committee.

Milei considers feminism “a gender ideology”, in the same line as other far-right leaders such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil or Santiago Abascal, a representative of Vox in Spain.

“The only thing that this agenda of radical feminism has resulted in is greater intervention by the State to hinder the economic process, giving work to bureaucrats who do not contribute anything to society,” said the Argentine president in a recent presentation at the economic forum of Davos.

Former center-left president Cristina Fernández (2007-2015), under whose administration many of the laws in favor of sexual minorities were passed, criticized this direction in a recent statement. “It is a shame that there is this supremacist, masculine concept with medieval characteristics. Especially from people who want to claim modernity. And the truth is they are older than the suction cup,” she reproached.

The affected groups have raised their voices in the streets against the position of the new government.

“We obtained this thanks to many fighters who gave up their lives for this cause. They are trying to make people believe that these rights are wrong. It’s crazy,” said Ariel Heredia, 36 years old and who identifies as non-binary, in a recent protest called by the state employees union in Buenos Aires. He was fired from the Directorate of Women, Gender and Diversity of the cabinet of ministers.

Without a job, Heredia lost health coverage to access the HIV medication he needs.

The Argentine LGBT Federation promoted a collective protection action in justice to stop what it described as “an unprecedented attack on the trans community.” Other organizations are preparing presentations before international organizations.

“There is a focus there. Many of these people worked in gender offices of public departments that were dismantled,” said Clarisa Gambera, head of the ATE Gender Department. “There are organizations where it is openly said that the public administration must be cleaned of ‘travas’ (a pejorative adjective to refer to transvestites).”

Heredia now regrets having to “disguise myself as a cis male”—one who identifies with stereotypical male roles—to look for a job. “Because I am a non-binary person, it is a contradiction for me, but I also have to update (adapt) to the system. Or starve to death. That’s unfortunately how it is.”

Connect with the Voice of America! Subscribe to our channels Youtube, WhatsApp and to newsletter. Turn on notifications and follow us on Facebook, x and instagram.

Source link