It takes being in Palermo Soho for all of five minutes to realize that Buenos Aires has a thriving gay scene, and a refreshingly open take on what it means to be a “gay-friendly” city. As an outsider, it’s pretty easy to forget that many everyday Argentines have a different reality, a reality that puts them at odds with the hatred being spewed out by homophobes and conservatives the country over.
Something happened a little while back that got the country talking about the stark reality some LGBT people face, and while at first glance it looked like a textbook hate crime, things get a little more complicated (as all things do) when we look at the situation in context. Here’s the story of how in the Land of Machismo — talking heads and public officials managed to entrench society further in misogyny while having a conversation about seemingly progressive ideas like fighting homophobia.
A young gay guy named Pedro Robledo found himself in the center of a story that made some serious waves throughout the country last month, when he came forward as being a victim of a hate crime that took place when he tried to enter a house party in San Isidro (a posh residential area outside of Capital Federal) with his boyfriend.
In addition to totally sucking for Pedro, this event serves as a pretty poignant case study into what homophobia looks like in contemporary Argentina: a country that somehow wound up being the first in Latin America to approve gay marriage on a federal level, while also being the first to have one of their own sitting in the Vatican as the Pope.
For those of you who didn’t follow the story, 21-year-old Pedro Robledo went to a house party in San Isidro with his boyfriend, Augustí Sargiotto on March 25. Before entering the house, a pair of male guests told the couple to stop holding hands, and reprimanded them for being gay. Robledo claims he thought the pair was joking, continued to hold his boyfriend’s hand, and tried to get into the house. The situation escalated, Pedro ended up on the ground, punches and slurs were thrown by a small group of men who were quoted as saying “Con Papa Argentino, no hay putos argentinos” which roughly translates to, “Now that there is an Argentine Pope, there can’t be (or aren’t) Argentine faggots.” More on what to do with a statement like that later.
After sustaining some painful-looking injuries, most notably a nasty abrasion to his nose, Robledo went to the hospital and asked the doctor attending to him to call the police so that he could report the incident as a hate crime. The doctor allegedly refused, saying she did not feel the hospital should be involved with “that kind” of situation. Pedro and his boyfriend eventually made their way to the police station and reported the incident, and to their surprise were treated very well by the police. Talk about a study in contrast…
The next day Robledo went public with his story, and was interviewed by multiple media outlets in the Buenos Aires. Public response was generally positive, and upon initial inspection the story seemed to be great opportunity to further the fight for gay equality here in the republic. The potential was totally there. The story had an attractive well spoken victim who studied law and very articulately advocated for equality and an increased public awareness for gay issues. He even managed to turn notoriously conservative politicians like Buenos Aires City Governor Maurico Macri into an “ally”.
This is where the story started to turn for those paying attention. After letting the pixie dust settle, a very different reality began to come into focus. While being interviewed by C5N, Rebledo repeated the story a few times over, but started to throw his own politics into the mix. A few interviews into the media circuit, it was clear that he was fine-tuning a very specific message. The first interview he gave, was a little all over the place. This probably has as much to do with the Argentine style of journalism as it does with a clear desire on his part to take advantage of his time in the spotlight.
In a move that surprised just about every lefty in the country, this apparent hate-crime victim found a way of advocating for the conservative party here while telling us all about his horrible encounter with bigotry, his most notable statements had to do with identifying bigotry and homophobia as an Argentine problem independent of political parties. He also took issue with how his attackers brought up the Pope while beating him. Apparently Pedro got a memo the rest of us missed, because he adamantly defended how the Pope was opening up the Catholic Church to everybody.
So why didn’t the rest of the world realize Pope Francis was down with the gays? Probably because that never happened. In fact, the opposite did.
But OK, Rebledo was clearly on a mission to show just how open-minded the conservative sectors of Argentine society really are, but there’s got to be a bigger reason for that, right?
Turns out that long before any of this hate crime stuff happened he volunteered for the conservative PRO movement, and worked for the über conservative Minister of Economic Development, Francisco Cabrera. Early on in his media tour, it became clear to many people that he was working very hard to not only prove himself as a political force to be reckoned with, but also had his sights set on serving as the poster child for the new more “inclusive“ conservative “Pro” movement. It looks like he may have gotten what he was looking for.
So the quick history lesson on the “Pro” is that it is a political movement built off ideology that is both socially and economically conservative. People here love contrast, and most think of Pro as the main antagonizing force against those gay loving Kirchnerites that enable the poor and overtax the middle class. As far as gay rights are concerned, like everything here it’s a bit complicated. The party on a whole was VERY vocal in opposing gay marriage back in 2010.
Now, to downplay his experience would be unethical, but anyone who actually gives a shit about gay rights in Argentina has to look at this experience in context. A solid way of doing this is to compare Pedro’s experience with what happened to a young woman from Cordoba named Natalia Gaitán. In 2010 Natalia was shot and killed by her girlfriend’s stepfather because he was disgusted by their relationship. This happened after gay marriage was passed, just like Rebledo’s experience, and both are textbook hate crimes. The thing that really sets these two horrible acts apart is the way the media and Argentine public reacted.
The goal here is not to make assumptions, but we need to ask ourselves why the death of a young gay woman made for a small news story and was only covered by special interest news sites and local newspapers, while Pedro’s case was made into a national discussion that the country has been having for almost 3 months after his attack. No, seriously. If you Google Natalia Gaitán, a Colombian football player comes up, where as Pedro Robledo’s name will bring up YouTube clips of him and the top news sites.
So what is the difference between the two victims? I realize that I run the risk of sounding like the angriest liberal since Rosie O’Donnell, but I can’t help noticing that the difference between the victims’ gender, ethnicity, and economic status’ seems to be key factor in why one case got more attention than the other.
Gaitán was a lesbian of humble financial means, and didn’t exactly have a physical appearance that fit neatly into the Eurocentric/hetero-normative beauty standard held by most Argentines and Olsen twins. We will never be able to know for sure whether her death would have upset people on a larger scale if she had been whiter, wealthier, or more stereotypically pretty, but if we don’t ask ourselves how these factors came into play when we look at cases like Pedro Robledo’s, then we are missing half the picture, and most certainly won’t make any real progress on supporting civil rights.
Bigotry and prejudice are sneaky, insidious things that get so deeply ingrained into people and societies that sometimes we can’t even tell when they skew our vision of a situation. While an enormous amount of credit should be given to Rebledo for his bravery in coming forward with his story and for opening up a dialogue on these kinds of issues, Argentine society needs to ask itself why it took a handsome, wealthy, straight-looking guy to get hurt before the country got this conversation going.
A lot of talk has been focused on Rebledo and his apparently inevitable political career, and while some might argue that appointing an openly gay man to a position in a conservative political party is progress, I would argue that it is probably more of a testament to the potency of white privilege and the underhanded nature of misogyny rather than an example of some kind of social evolution. At the very least it says something about the set of values some Argentines have, and shows us the very real way abstract things like hate and privilege manifest themselves into situations that can impact everybody.