Alejandro Nasif Salum, Secretary of International Relations – Federación Argentina LGBT (Argentina LGBT Federation) and University Teacher, describes the new law and the years long, coordinated effort of LGBT activists that led to this extraordinary progress.
On the night of Wednesday, May 9th Congress of Argentina enacted the Gender Identity and Health Comprehensive Care for Trans People Act. It is the first time that the Argentinean Congress fully recognizes the rights of trans people, and the rule is probably the most advanced in the world in this regard.
From now on, anyone, just by manifesting his or her will through an affidavit, may request in the Civil Registry the change of sex and name in his or her identity card and birth certificate. Unlike what happens in other countries, he or she will not need the intervention of any judge, or a medical diagnosis, or witnesses, or have to wait a certain period before being granted the change of documentation.
Moreover, both the public health system and private must ensure comprehensive health care for trans people, and will have to cover hormone treatments, sex reassignment surgery or any other treatment they need. There is no need of judicial intervention or diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” or a “gender identity disorder.” In this sense we could say that the Argentine State depathologized trans identities.
Even people under 18 can access the documentation modification or health treatments. Just in the case of gender reassignment surgery that Congress has requested the intervention of juvenile justice.
We understand that while some of these features are present in other legislation in the world, the law in Argentina is really the only one with all these advances at the same time and in a single act that deals comprehensively with the rights of trans people.
Everyone is asking, “How did you do it?” It is not easy to answer that question, but reviewing what happened in the past few years we could understand a little better the process.
The law that passed a few days ago is not the first initiative to be introduced in the Argentine Congress. In 2007 Argentine Federation for Lesbians, Gay, Bisexuals and Trans (FALGBT) and Association of Transsexuals, Transvestites and Transgendered of Argentina (ATTTA) developed together with the Socialist MEP Silvia Augsburguer the first draft of a Gender Identity Law, which was introduced in Congress with the signing of deputies in various political blocs. The project proposed the formation of a public office, formed by an interdisciplinary team of professionals, which was to evaluate requests for modification of data in the documentation. Although this might seem a conservative law in relation to current law, still it avoided the requirement for a diagnosis of dysphoria. The law was never addressed, and was introduced again in 2009, without being addressed then, either.
In 2010 the FALGBT and ATTTA presented a much more ambitious project. We developed two bills: one dealing with the documentation and the other with the comprehensive health care. Both together contained all the points that stand in the act finally enacted. Later, other organizations focused on sexual diversity, organized in a Parliamentary Front, had a similar rule that gathered both issues in one project. All these rules were unified into a single project agreed upon by the civil society organizations and the Parliamentary deputies who promoted the change.
The Impact of the Argentinean Equal Marriage Act
It would be difficult to understand how such an advanced nrom could be adopted without regard to one central fact. In mid-2010 Argentina recognized the right of marriage to same sex couples. The parliamentary, social, and media discussion of the Equal Marriage Act set in the society the issue of LGBT rights as something that should be recognized and protected. Since then, the activists of the FALGBT, in each intervention to defend equal marriage, used the media and social networks to insist on the importance of Congress also passing a law on gender identity.
It was not just a slogan. We were convinced and we still believe that the Law on Gender Identity was much more important because the consequences on the lives of trans people would be enormous. However, it was a law much more difficult to explain to society, more complex, full of details, technicalities and queer theory. Equal marriage, however, was simple: “We want the same rights, with the same name,” we insisted.
Days ago, after the enactment of the Gender Identity Act, while celebrating, we reflected; if this Act had been discussed a few years ago, we would have negotiated every point, and surely would have obtained a much more conservative norm. The key was to have installed the issue in public opinion over the years.
But that was not all. Both for the Equal Marriage Act and the Law of Gender Identity, the FALGBT organized a campaign that aimed to get the commitment and work of the three branches of government.
The Courts, Congress, Government and Public Opinion
While the laws were presented again and again in Congress, we sought for allies between legislators in the Senate and House of Representatives who were really committed to the cause and worked hard for this result. We also organized a campaign of habeas corpus in justice, calling for recognition of identity.
For several years the Courts in Argentina had been recognizing gender and name changes in the documentation, but this usually involved doctors, psychologists and experts who conducted countless interviews and tests sometimes clearly invasive, and only then a long process could reach to the chance of modifying the documentation. But in 2010, the FALGBT began a campaign of appeals for protection in the courts, in which we explicitly asked that no medical diagnosis or any other evidence should be required, other than the manifestation of will of the involved person.
Several judges said yes, and since the beginning of this campaign until the enactment of the law many trans people saw their identity recognized in this way. These recognitions had a very important effect, both pedagogical and political. On the one hand, repeated recognition of identity in these terms by the Courts represented a strong pressure for Congress: it is very difficult to pass a law that is much more conservative than what the judges themselves are already acknowledging and affirming that the Constitution guarantees. Something similar had happened with Equal Marriage: How to opt for a “civil union” when justice had already recognized the right to marry to ten same sex couples?
But perhaps the most important effect of the Court injunctions campaign has been its educational effect on public opinion. Each recognition (especially at the beginning) received much media attention and was thus a great opportunity for activists to explain to our society the importance of recognizing self-perceived gender identity, why a medical diagnosis should not be required and other issues. I must say, it was surprising to hear journalists using terms like “self-perceived identity”, “de-pathologization” or “gender expression” among others.
It was also very important that we develop a “Guide for Communicators on Gender Identity” (http://www.lgbt.org.ar/archivos/folleto_identidad2_web.pdf), especially trying to educate journalists for them to use appropriate vocabulary, understanding that this would also influence the rest of society. During the campaign for equal marriage we had already noticed that many times journalists supported our cause but had no tools or knowledge to defend it. At that time we developed a little material that gave them very useful arguments, and then we did the same on gender identity.
All this was gradually installing the issue in public debate as something that had to be changed. The particularly vulnerable position that trans groups face in Argentina added urgency to the question, but basically I think we convinced society, the Congress, Justice and Government that what was at stake was the right to identity, to be who you actually are, and receive a comprehensive health care.
Simultaneously, we were contacting various government officials, gaining significant support in many cases. For example, the Ministry of Interior in 2011 took a resolution authorizing trans people (even without change of name or gender) to have a photo documentation to respect the self-perceived gender. Until then it was usual for trans women to have to remove their hairpieces and their makeup for such photos.
As another example, in 2011 the Security Ministry ordered all security forces to respect the gender identity of both detainees and staff of the force. This also generated a sense that the government was ready to move in this direction and helped to set the debate in society and in Congress.
LGBT Unity, Civil Society and Coordinated Activism
All this was possible with the tireless work of activists of civil society organizations. In the case of the FALGBT, we are deeply proud to be a network that brings together more than sixty organizations across the country and that also contains activists from the groups of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. We believe it was this diversity in every sense, one of the keys to the success that has allowed us to simultaneously perform tasks so diverse and complex, and come to have a law which today we are proud of will represent an unthinkable jump in the quality of life of trans people.
We believe that this diversity is what we must get working among organizations around the world — to share experiences, to network, and to ensure that the progress made in each country’ drives change elsewhere in the world.
We are united by the same stories and the same causes. And probably it is when we are united in our diversity that we will achieve full recognition of our rights, and with hard work, a time over, we will get to real social equality.
Alejandro Nasif Salum
Secretary of International Relations – Argentina Federation LGBT