Vice Dean of the University of La Rioja, José Gaspanello, took to his personal Facebook account to publish a fiery anti-abortion rant that included a cruel insult toward Argentine actress Florencia de la V. Rife with controversy, the interaction highlights that the ideological chasm in the abortion debate goes far beyond pro-life versus pro-choice.
“Scientists who dedicate their lives to science say that life starts at conception. And this man dressed as a woman says there isn’t life at conception,” reads Gaspanello’s post, accompanied by a photo of Flor de la V donning a pañuelo verde, the green handkerchief that has become emblematic of the pro-choice movement behind the law to decriminalize abortion awaiting a vote in the Senate.
If you weren’t aware, Florencia de la V is an actress, comedian, and panelist on popular TV program Los Ángeles de la Mañana. She is also a wife, mother of twins, and trans woman—the first trans individual in Argentina who was able to get her name and gender changed on official documentation without undergoing a complete gender reassignment surgery. As a trans woman in the media, as well as a vocal supporter of the trans acceptance movement in Argentina, Flor de la V has unsurprisingly been the target of plenty of transphobic comments over the years.
José Gaspanello’s post didn’t take long to go viral, prompting a storm of criticism so loud that a petition on Change.org was created to pressure the man to resign. The actress herself took action, using Ángel de Brito’s program LAM to raise awareness about the danger of anti-trans rhetoric and officially reporting Gaspanello to INADI, the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism.
“Making my formal report to @inadi. We must end machismo, discrimination and gender violence. For a more just and equal society for everyone,” she wrote on Twitter.
— Flor De La Ve (@Flordelav) July 11, 2018
In tandem, the Association of Argentine Actresses released a statement to show solidarity with the actress and the LGBTQ+ community, “in the face of the discriminatory and irresponsible social media post from vice dean of the University of La Rioja, José Gaspanello, who attacks the integrity and gender identity of our associate.”
— Asociación Argentina de Actores (@actoresprensa) July 11, 2018
Some social media users came to the Gaspanello’s defense, arguing that the academic was merely exercising his right to free speech and using his platform to spread the pro-life message in which he believes so strongly. So, what’s the difference between Flor de la V advancing her politics via fame and the university figurehead espousing personal beliefs online? Aside from the exclusionary, transphobic nature of Gaspanello’s comment, the statement from the Association of Argentine Actresses argues that the answer also lies in his particular position as head of a university.
“We believe violence in all forms is inadmissible. But it is even more despicable when it comes from a public education official, who not only exhibits complete ignorance on gender issues and laws that exist in their respect, but also compromises the right to free expression in the context of the broad and diverse debate taking place in the legislative sphere on the Law on the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy, generating a symbolic violence truly inadmissible,” affirmed the statement.
After seeing that his job was on the line, the dean shared a follow-up post to apologize for his discriminatory comments.
A toda la comunidad:Ante un posteo realizado en mi cuenta personal, días atrás, considero necesario expresar mis…
“I consider it necessary to express my apologies to all those who felt offended or that they had been disrespected, especially the LGBTIQ community,” he shared on his Facebook account.
“I recognize my error and I hope this brief notes can partly remedy the unintentional damage caused, so I immediately deleted the picture I shared. I did not realize that the shared graphic cast a negative glance toward the sexual condition of the figure represented.”
While Argentina is lauded as having some of the world’s most progressive legal protections for trans individuals, the reality of the social treatment of the trans community is, well, mixed. Gaspanello’s comments remind us that many still hesitate to accept the right of others to freely choose their gender identity. And when it comes to the highly-contentious debate on reproductive rights, any argument that utilizes someone’s identity as a means to silence their voice isn’t an argument for or against abortion, it is discrimination.
The conflict also raises important questions about whose voices are being amplified and who, ultimately, will be affected by the outcome of the vote on August 8th. Although disregarding Flor de la V’s opinion on abortion rights on the basis that she was not born biologically female is especially misplaced coming from a cis man, if there is to be complete, fair, and open debate regarding the Law on the Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy, no one should be silenced based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.