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Argentina at the Ballot Box: The Uncertain Future of LGBTQ Equality





Alberto de Belaunde
Published Date

On November 19th, in a closely contested second round of presidential elections, Argentina will choose between progressive candidate and Secretary of Economy Sergio Massa and conservative contender and Congressperson Javier Milei. These elections are not just crucial for the nation's political and economic trajectory but are equally significant for the ongoing battle for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. The outcome will determine the future direction of the country, either reinforcing or challenging the progress Argentina has made in championing LGBTQ people’s equality and inclusive gender politics. 

Argentina stands out as a pioneer in championing LGBTQ people’s rights, particularly in Latin America. Since 2010, the nation has made significant strides, starting with being the first in the region to legalize same-sex marriage, ensuring equal rights and responsibilities for these couples. A pivotal move was the enactment of the 2012 Gender Identity Law, which allowed people to change their gender on official documents based on self-determination without undergoing surgeries, therapy, or other invasive or bureaucratic requirements and ensured that transgender people received comprehensive medical care. The nation further asserted its commitment to equality in 2015 when it lifted a ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. In 2020, Argentina again broke ground in the region when it legislated a trans labor quota that expanded employment opportunities for those who have experienced systemic marginalization on the basis of their gender identity. Additionally, Argentina is one of the few countries worldwide that has established a government special representative on sexual orientation and gender identity, further emphasizing its dedication to this cause. That this position is held by a trans woman, Alba Rueda, only further cements Argentina’s leadership in walking the talk on LGBTQ inclusion. 

The candidacy of Javier Milei has raised significant concerns for  LGBTQ people and their rights in Argentina. In his first speech after advancing to the second round of the elections, Milei remarked, “We are not here to take away rights; we are here to end privileges.” Contradictorily, the proposals of his platform, La Libertad Avanza (LLA), target progressive developments in Argentina that have advanced rights, such as comprehensive sexuality education and the trans labor quota. LLA has repeatedly expressed its intent to abolish the mandate for comprehensive sexuality education, which promotes gender equality, the right to information, and values such as affirmative consent across all educational levels. Milei's team has also attacked the trans labor quota. His candidate for Congress, Ricardo Bussis, declared: "I don't know why someone should be given a public position just for being a transvestite. We are the ones who pay for that. Whoever decides to be a transvestite should deal with it on their own. The State cannot give a quota to someone who belongs to a minority group because the State is funded by all of us."

Milei and his political allies go further in portraying LGBTQ people and gender equality more broadly as a menace to Argentinian society, adopting a threat construction strategy commonly used by authoritarian leaders. Milei described “the LGBT lobby,” alongside the climate change movement and abortion, as part of a “socialist agenda” and declared his intention to dismantle the Ministry of Women, Genders, and Diversity, which runs gender-based violence hotlines and implements policies aimed at dismantling structuring inequality, equating its work with “cultural Marxism.” (Bizarrely, he stated, "I will not be apologizing for having a penis. I shouldn't feel ashamed for being a blonde, blue-eyed white man. I won't concede anything to cultural Marxism. With this, you know what will happen to the Ministry of Women... because the only equality that matters is equality before the law.") A few days before the first round of elections, he declared, "We are not going to adhere to the 2030 agenda. We do not adhere to cultural Marxism; we do not adhere to decadence." Regarding the topics that were present in the Argentine school curriculum, Milei claimed that "gender ideology, native peoples, ecology and inclusive language destroy the values of society.” Ramiro Marra, the candidate for Chief of Government in Buenos Aires under LLA, proposed reducing LGBT events in cultural centers.  

Milei has tried on several occasions to escape from the debate on the rights of LGBTQ people, describing sexuality as an individual decision: "This is the individual freedom of each person to choose their sexual inclination, and we respect it.” However, what he says next makes clear his hostility to sexual diversity: "What we do not want is that we have to bear it all together because whoever decided his sexual path is responsible for his choices. We don't have to make the whole community responsible for that.” In this way, Milei seeks to avoid being labeled as intolerant or discriminatory while at the same time criticizing public policies that recognize LGBTQ people’s marginalization and seek to advance their human rights.

The potential success of a non-traditional candidacy like Javier Milei's in Argentina is rooted in the current political climate. Marketed as a libertarian yet fundamentally conservative, Milei taps into right-wing populist energy similar to that which produced electoral victories for figures like Bolsonaro in Brazil and Trump in the U.S. Widespread disillusionment with traditional political parties, often perceived as corrupt or ineffective, and an economic crisis have propelled voters to seek alternatives. Polls leading up to the second round indicate that this will be a tightly contested election. Working in Milei's favor is the fact that his progressive opponent currently serves as Argentina's Secretary of Economy during the country's most severe economic crisis in two decades. This association with the current economic downturn could sway voters towards Milei, who represents a radical shift from those they perceive as responsible for the current situation. Milei’s unorthodox style, which challenges the status quo, has a charismatic appeal, especially among younger voters looking for a departure from conventional politics. 

Some voters may not grasp quite how much is at stake. Being a woman, queer, or gender nonconforming can become markedly more dangerous under regimes marked by official hostility to gender equality and diversity. While gender issues and LGBTQ rights have not been at the forefront of Milei's campaign, his rhetoric,  even when not the primary campaign focus, could inflict considerable harm by perpetuating stereotypes. His policies, if elected, are likely to undermine LGBTQ social movements, advance a rigid understanding of gender rooted in biological determinism, and roll back hard-won rights. 

Furthermore, given Argentina's historical political significance in Latin America, any shift in its stance on such crucial matters can influence the broader regional political landscape, possibly setting a precedent for neighboring nations. Argentinians, Latin Americans, and concerned citizens the world over who care about gender equality and the safety and dignity of LGBTQ people should be watching the election closely, recognizing that human rights are in the balance. 

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