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Killing of Three Lesbians in Argentina Signals Need for Attention to Anti-LBQ Violence





Andre Rivas
Laura Piazza
Published Date

This commentary was co-written with guest writer Andre Rivas, a member of Outright International’s LBQ Connect Sounding Board. Rivas is a nonbinary lesbian and the president of the Diverse Families Association of Argentina (AFDA).

In the early hours of Monday, May 6, 2024, Justo Fernando Barrientos threw a Molotov cocktail into a tenement hotel room in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where four lesbian women lived, setting them and their home on fire. Pamela Fabiana Cobbas and her partner Mercedes Roxana Figueroa, both 52 years old, lived in the room, and Sofía Castro Riglos, 50, and Andrea Amarante, 43, were temporarily residing with them. Within a week, Pamela Fabiana Cobbas, Mercedes Roxana Figueroa, and Andrea Amarante had all died from their burns. Sofía Castro Riglos, the only survivor, was recovering from her injuries at the time of writing. 

Barrientos, the attacker, lived next door to the women. “He had already threatened them once,” another resident of the rooming house, Diego Hernán Britez, told the media outlet Presentes, referring to Cobbas and Figueroa. “It was last Christmas. He told them he would kill the two of them, and look what happened now.”

The reason for the murders? According to Britez and other witnesses, the attacker targeted the victims because of their sexual orientation. He was known to have called them “monsters” for being lesbians. Cobbas and Figueroa had previously filed harassment complaints against him with a government legal aid office, but no clear steps were taken to prevent an escalation of violence.

The evidence indicates not only premeditation but also the level of hatred of the attacker. The attack was premeditated and carried out while the women were asleep, taking advantage of their vulnerability at night. Witnesses had previously reported threats, and the perpetrator had deliberately assembled a homemade firebomb to execute their plan. Witnesses also recounted that when the women emerged from the room on fire, the attacker began to hit them and pushed them back inside. The economic vulnerability of these women significantly increased their risk. Residing in precarious conditions with limited financial resources exposed them to heightened dangers, including targeted violence, making them especially vulnerable to further harm.

Lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women live at the intersection of misogyny, homophobia, and sexism, which exposes them to various forms of discrimination and violence, including forced marriage, sexual harassment, and homophobic rape. The EuroCentralAsian Lesbian* Community published its Observatory on Lesbophobia in 2023, which describes hate against lesbians as structured around three entrenched determining social factors:

  1. “lesbians with their sexual orientation and gender expression refute the social expectations and stereotypes concerning ‘male’ and ‘female’ gender roles,
  2. lesbians disrupt the expectations that women are at the ‘disposal’ of men, especially because women’s sexuality is widely objectified, and
  3. they compel society to confront widespread taboos related to female sexuality and to non-heterosexual sexual orientations.”

Patriarchal insecurities emerging from these three factors become particularly dangerous when states and other institutions reinforce the idea that queer lives lack value, as recently articulated by the right-wing administration of Javier Milei. Days before the murders, Milei’s biographer described homosexuality as “self-destructive behavior.” Other officials and politicians close to Milei have also disparaged LGBTIQ people.

The government’s responses to the killings have amounted to presidential gaslighting. When asked by a journalist about the hate crime committed against four lesbians, Milei’s presidential spokesperson, Manuel Adorni, said, “I don’t like to define it as an attack towards a specific group or collective; it’s wrong; it’s terrible, reprehensible, whoever it may be against.” This position ignores the fact that the crime committed is expressly provided for in Article 80 subsection 4 of the Argentine Penal Code as an aggravating factor for a homicide committed for “gender reasons or sexual orientation, gender identity or its expression.”

The risk of violence and hate crime becomes more acute when associated with a political environment in which the public authorities are denying the rights of and withholding services from those who are also subject to violent attacks. This denial of rights and services is what makes the lesbicide in Argentina not only a dreadful hate crime against LBQ women but a wake-up call as to how the political climate in the country is fueling misogynist and homophobic violence. 

Since that day, the LBQ movement in Argentina has been actively seeking justice for three lesbians who were killed, pushing for the recognition of a hate crime as an aggravating factor due to their sexual orientation, as evidenced by precedents and statements from various witnesses reported in the media. Additionally, they support Sofía Castro Riglos’s recovery, organizing demonstrations and challenging the National Government’s reluctance to address hate crimes and lesbian homicides. 

The crime in Buenos Aires has captured attention as a result of its sheer brutality, but violence against LBQ women is persistent, widespread, and generally underreported. Some organizations are taking steps to address LBQ vulnerability to violence. In early 2023, Outright International, which manages a program called LBQ Connect that brings together LBQ activists worldwide, conducted a mapping and needs assessment among organizations working on violence against LBQ women. This mapping exercise showed that, despite the scarce resources and the lack of political support, LBQ-led organizations worldwide are doing groundbreaking work to fill the gap left by public authorities and to document violence against LBQ women, raising awareness and providing support to victims. As highlighted in a feminist funders’ report on funding for LBQ initiatives, these groups do their work with intense commitment and very few resources, often in harsh and repressive circumstances.

Still, LBQ women remain disproportionately underrepresented in leadership and decision-making roles in both LGBTIQ and feminist movements, which results in issues that affect them – such as domestic violence, bodily autonomy, forced marriage, and economic inequality – being invisibilized and sidelined compared to other priorities. As highlighted by a recent Human Rights Watch report, violence against LBQ women is often a subset of broader rights abuses against LGBTIQ people or abuses against women, which present LBQ women as a variation on a theme not built for them and perpetuate their marginalization and invisibility. LGBTIQ movements and feminist movements need more queer women in leadership roles, and LBQ initiatives need more resources, not only to enable queer women to live fulfilling lives but also to protect marginalized queer women that the public authorities have abandoned and forgotten.

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