South America has begun in recent years a political and social process that has restored dignity to the popular sectors, mainly in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. The southern area of the “Patria Grande” has reduced poverty and indigence considerably through labour policies and high impact social initiatives such as conditional cash transfer programs. These efforts have improved indicators of infant mortality, education and nutrition. “Bolsa Familia” in Brazil, the “Asignación Universal por Hijo” in Argentina and the “Juancito Pinto” grant in Bolivia are a few examples.
While these programs have generally improved income distribution, they fail to incorporate the perspective of gender and sexual diversity in all cases. Hundreds of thousands of families formed by LGBTI people do not have access to such programs because of the discrimination they experience because of their sexual orientations, gender identities, and/or non-heterosexual family units. This discrimination in the popular regions coupled with the violation of fundamental rights to employment and housing causes further marginalisation. Indeed, poverty combined with social violence based on sexual identity is an explosive cocktail.
In the case of Argentina, there have been legal and political recognition of very important rights: marriage equality law was approved in 2010 and the gender identity law was promulgated in 2012. Both laws came with strong commitment from the national government led by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and both were supported and complemented by programs that succeeded in drastically reducing unemployment, poverty and indigence.
However, transgender, transvestites, transsexuals, transgender men, and intersex people are still the most marginalized group in Argentina. The trans* movement is, in fact, one of the most excluded social movements in our country. The few studies available that demonstrate the severity of trans* exclusion in Argentina have been developed by community member/advocates working within their own social organizations.
The main conclusions are¹:
- 85% claimed they assumed their identity between their childhoods and their teens.
- The vast majority were expelled from their homes in early adolescence.
- The average age of death is around 32 and 70.8% said they knew a transvestite who had died.
- The main causes of death are HIV/AIDS (54.7%), murder (16.6%), and, in smaller numbers, suicide, overdose and conditions resulting from bad practices in bodily adjustments procedures (he’s referring to surgeries and other medical procedures).
- 73% did not complete secondary school, of which 16% did not complete primary education; only 12.5% were enrolled in school when surveyed, and 39.5% left the education section blank for fear of discrimination.
- Only 53.9% said they live in their own homes, of which 81.5% live in overcrowded housing.
- 94.8% are not legally employed: 80% said they are in prostitution and 14.8% of respondents said they are working in precarious and informal occupations such as sewing, waxing and hairdressing. 77.5% said they would leave prostitution. We conclude the lower the education, the higher the involvement in prostitution.
- 90% of the population surveyed reported being a victim of some type of violence, of which 74.2% claimed this violence, occurred while traveling on public roads and 54.5% claimed they were hurt at a police station.
- 83.3% said the police abused them and when asked about the type of abuse, the responses indicated that 82.7% were illegally detained, 57.9% were beaten, 17.3% were tortured and 50% were sexually abused.
- 81.3% modified their body. Of these, 86% said they had injected silicone into their breasts, of which 90% stated they’d done so in someone’s home. This means that the modifications were performed using low-quality silicone in dangerously unhealthy conditions.
In Part 2 we will outline the results of these studies and discuss how Argentina can most effectively move forward without leaving any of its citizens behind.
¹Here you will find studies detailing the living conditions of the population: “La Gesta del Nombre Propio” and “Cumbia, Copeteo and Tears; National Report on the situation of transvestites”, both compiled by activist Lohana Berkins, leader of the Association of Struggle for Identity Transvestite and Transsexual (ALITT) and the “First Survey on trans population: transvestites, transsexuals, transgender and male trans in La Matanza” prepared by the INDEC and the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI).