Argentina: LGBT+ survivors of dictatorship win ‘historic’ apology

Growing up transgender in 1970s Argentina, Noelia Trujullo knew that just walking the streets in her long hair and a skirt could get her arrested, locked up and abused.

Aged just 16, she was detained by police, who ordered her to strip and then mocked her. On other occasions she was held, sometimes for up to two months at a time, in police stations in Argentina’s eastern Santa Fe province.

This week Trujullo, now 55, finally received a public apology, under a first-of-its-kind reparations scheme, set up by the Santa Fe province, for LGBT+ people who suffered during the 1976 to 1983 dictatorship – many of them transgender women.

“We were considered criminals, sub-human, because we wore women’s clothes”, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“You were made to feel worthless. It was the psychological violence that most affected me”.

Three decades after Argentina’s dictatorship ended, the country has made big strides in advancing LGBT+ rights.

In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to let gay couples marry and adopt children.

It is also one of the few countries that allow people to change their gender on official identification documents, following a law passed in 2012.

In Santa Fe, transgender men and women can access free sex-change surgery and hormone therapy in public hospitals.

“We are lucky to live in a province that has taken the issue of our rights seriously. There’s political will”, Trujullo said.

Since the reparation policy for LBGT+ people started earlier this year, 15 transgender women have received compensation from the government of Santa Fe.

Victims receive a monthly pension of about $450 each as part of their compensation, and another 10 transgender women are set to receive compensation next year, said Esteban Paulon, the province’s deputy secretary for sexual diversity.

“This historic reparation is unprecedented at the national level in Argentina and across Latin America. It provides some justice against so much persecution and pain”, Paulon said.

“It not only recognizes the violence carried out by the state, gives a public apology, and economic reparation for part of the damage caused, but it also sends a powerful message to society about respecting trans people and their inclusion”.

During Argentina’s right-wing dictatorship, LGBT+ people suffered “systematic persecution” at the hands of state security forces, including beatings, torture and rape, Paulon said.

In all, about 30,000 people were killed during the brutal dictatorship, according to figures from human rights groups.

LGBT+ people were seen as rebelling against the ideals of a nuclear family, as advocated by the military regime and Catholic Church.

“There was a special viciousness towards the LGBT community, and in particular trans people”, Paulon said.

Other Latin American governments have also recognised that LGBT+ people have been targeted for their sexual orientation or activism, during times of conflict.

In Colombia, a law passed in 2011 recognizes the suffering and rights of victims of a civil war including the persecution of LGBT+ people by armed groups and provides for financial compensation.

More than 2,000 of the 8 million people on Colombia’s official list of war victims list are LGBT+ people.

Colombia’s truth commission, set up after the 2016 peace accord with the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, aims to collect testimony from victims and perpetrators about abuses, including those against LGBT+ people.

In Uruguay, lawmakers are considering a bill that would pave the way to compensate transgender people persecuted under a 1973 to 1985 dictatorship.

Despite the progress made, LGBT+ people still face violence across Latin America.

Between 2008 and 2014, 46 transgender people were killed in Argentina, according to Trans Murder Monitoring, a project run by the Berlin-based rights group Transgender Europe.

Across the Americas, LGBT+ people face “high levels of violence” from society and their family, according to a 2015 report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Between January 2013 and March 2014, 594 LGBT+ people were killed in the region, IACHR figures show.

For Trujullo, the next big battle is fighting against discrimination often faced by transgender people in the workplace.

“Prejudices against us are very difficult to get rid of. Trans people are still not given jobs, and are rejected at work”, Trujullo said. “But we can walk in the streets in peace”.

-Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Thomson Reuters Foundation

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