Photo: Several transgender leaders from Argentina received brand new government ID's at a ceremony officiated by president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in celebration of passage of a groundbreaking gender identity law. Among them, Kalym Adrian, holding the white and rainbow-colored flag of the Argentinean LGBT Federation (YouTube screen capture).
Last week I was talking to a reporter about the marriage equality and gender identity laws in Argentina when she asked about my coverage of those stories on this blog over the years. I told her that when I began to write about them it was a way to share my excitement at the fact that these tremendous advances were taking place in Latin America and because there was so little coverage of them in English-language media. But then I joked that there was no point in writing about them anymore because media powerhouses such as The Associated Press and Reuters had caught wind of what they were missing out on and were now on the Latin American LGBT beat on a regular basis.
I bring this up because there was an incredibly moving ceremony that took place yesterday at the Argentinean government palace in Buenos Aires, better known there as The Pink House, and I thought I'd have the English-language exclusive today. Except those pesky upstarts at the AP were all over it overnight and beat me to it ("Argentine leader proudly delivers new identity cards to transsexuals, saying equality matters").
So, yes, as the AP reports, Argentinean president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner celebrated passage of the world's most progressive gender identity law by inviting a number of transgender leaders and personally handing them their new identity cards. The law was adopted by the Argentinean congress in May by a vote of 55-0 and became law last month after getting the president's signature. It allows transgender individuals to change their name and gender on government documents without having to prove that they have undergone gender reassignment surgery or need for court approval as had been the case before. It also grants government health coverage for transgender individuals who want to undergo a gender reassignment surgery.
Here is video of President Fernandez de Kirchner's comments at the event as posted on the government's YouTube page (in Spanish):
If you see lots of children in the room it's because the Argentinean president also signed a presidential decree yesterday which put an end to a legal loophole that kept same-sex parents who began raising children before the 2010 marriage equality law passed from registering as co-parents of those children. If I understand correctly, the decree gives same-sex parents that weren't covered by the marriage equality law a full year to legally register their children as their own.
During her speech and before an image of Eva Perón, the president seemed to tear up a couple of times as she repeatedly invoked her husband Nestor Kirchner's name as having been key in securing passage of the marriage equality law. Her husband, a former Argentinean president himself, died in October of 2010.
"Today is a day of tremendous reparation," the president said at the start of her speech, "today we do not shout for liberation but instead we shout for equality, which is just as important as freedom."
Referring to Kalym Adrian, who was sitting in the front row holding the flag of the Argentinean LGBT Federation (FALGBT), the president then stated that Mr. Adrian had known he was a man as early as when he was four years of age and said that it was only now at 42 years of age that he was finally being recognized for who he was. "He has waited all his life!" someone shouted from the audience which the president acknowledged by repeating "All his life".
Noting that the average age at which transgender individuals die in Argentina is 32, the president argued that part of it was due to the stress of being repressed and ignored and being denied legal rights. She said she hoped this law would change all that.
"I do not want to use a word that bothers me greatly: Tolerance. No. I do not believe in 'tolerance'. To tolerate is to say I'll allow you to be because I have no other choice", she said, "I want to talk about equality and I want to talk about all of you who will now have the same rights I have enjoyed from the moment I was born and the rights that so many millions of Argentinians have enjoyed from the moment they were born. This is the society we want."
She later added "There is nothing new under the sun and let's see if we all can agree on that. All these issues we are acknowledging today in a legal way are nothing new. They stem from the history of humanity and it's time for us to accept that reality is not how we'd like to be if I think in a certain way or someone else wants it to be but that reality is what it is."
children were taken away from families and the Mothers of the Plaza began their silent protests to get their children back and championed a history of peaceful protests in Argentina in demand of human rights. She compared it to the history of non-violent demonstrations by the Argentinian LGBT community and began thanking the LGBT activists and organizations present in the room until Alex Freyre shouted out "And those who are missing as well!"
Alex and José Maria Di Bello, who became the first same-sex couple to marry in all of Latin America when a court in Tierra del Fuego granted them a license in December of 2009, were sitting in the audience wearing their trademark red-ribbon sashes in memory of all those lost to HIV and AIDS.
The president took note and recognized that the fight for human rights sometimes left people feeling worn out but said that she was grateful for the altruistic efforts by some to not only fight for their rights but also the rights of others.
"It's better to have lived a worn out life than to always live like a flower or a butterfly without having achieved a thing," she said.
She finally closed by apologizing to people like Mr. Adrian for having had to wait for almost forty years to finally be recognized.
In the room, along with Alex and José, Kalym and members of the FALGBT were also Marcela Romero, Coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People (RED LACTRANS), Alejandro Iglesias, who revolutionized how people in Argentine felt about transgender individuals through his participation in the hugely popular Argentinean edition of "Big Brother", members of the Argentinean Association of Travesti, Transsexual and Transgender Individuals (ATTTA), Husbands César Cigliutti and Marcelo Suntheim who lead Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (CHA) who laid some of the groundwork for the gender identity law in the during the last decade, Diana Sacayan who leads the Anti-discrimination Movement for Liberation (MAL) and who was a recipient of one of the ID's handed out by the president, Maria Rachid, Esteban Paulón, María José Lubertino and so many other individuals who have played such integral parts in getting these laws passed.
The Argentinean fight for LGBT equality has not come without internal community tensions and ongoing differences between organizational leaders but it was a beautiful thing to see so many women and men I so admire sitting in that room at yesterday's event. I have covered their awesome work from afar and even met some of them during the past few years and I cannot tell you how much pride I have for them right at this moment. Bravo!
Side-note: During her speech, president Fernandez de Kirchner held a puppet version of herself which she dubbed "Cristinita". She joked that some of her critics had called a witch in the past and that perhaps the puppet should carry a broom.
The puppet was one of many created one of the lesbian couples who received a co-parenting certificate - including puppet versions of Nestor Kirchner and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. The president said they would be offered for sale at government chambers.
Shamefully, in their coverage of the event, Spain's EFE treated the reason for the ceremony as a side note and focused mostly on the president's joke about the puppet ("Argentine president presents her doll 'Cristinita'").
Extra: Video of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner handing out new ID's to transgender leaders as well as co-parent certificates to a number of lesbian couples.
- Argentina on the verge of adopting far-reaching transgender rights law (April 23, 2012)
- Stunning LGBT campaign ads from Argentina (November 21, 2011)