Yesterday marked yet another important day for the LGBTQ community in Argentina. The Buenos Aires City legislature approved a measure to name the Sante Fe station of the newly inaugurated “H” subway line after Argentine LGBT activist Carlos Jáuregui.
The memorializing of one of the country’s most impactful activists is an act that appears to bridge the gap that continues to exist between Argentina’s progressive social policies and the functional acceptance of members of the LGBT by segments of Argentine society. It should be noted though that the country’s track record on progressive policy making is remarkable – Argentina was first in Latin America to put marriage equality into law and has one of the most advanced and inclusive gender identity policies on the planet.
While there is zero argument that the legal recognition and reinforcement of these rights was important, and to a large degree revolutionary for the region, they are not a panacea for the discrimination still taking place on the ground.
The words Jáuregui wrote in his autobiography maintain a relevance today as much as they did in 1990s Argentina. “If being gay were to affect those who are, it is because of the lack of rights, discrimination and marginalization to which we are exposed to unfairly. All discrimination, which to me have touched me in particular is the legal helplessness.”
The “legal helplessness” has been assuaged to a certain degree, there is a government bureau dedicated to helping citizens right discrimination both on an individual and community level, but violent crime against gay, lesbian and trans people continues. Within the last year alone Neo-nazi activity in Mar del Plata resulted in the servere beating of multiple gay men. Trans activist Diana Sacayan was murdered in her own house in the country’s capital – considered by many to be the most tolerant part of Argentina. Major blows to the community like this are paired with more mundane examples of casual discrimination like what took place in a Recoleta bar when two lesbian women were forcibly kicked out from the establishment after the comfort one was offering the other was deemed “offensive” by the establishment.
The fact that there exists the possibility of legal recourse is a direct result of the activism and sacrifice of people like Carlos Jáuregui. He wore a many hats during his 38 years on the planet – historian, journalist, commentator and activist. He helped found an LGBT rights organization CHA (Homosexual Community of Argentina) that fought for legal recognition and dignity after “seeing what was possible” while living in France. He helped form a unified front in the face of the HIV/AIDs epidemic when it blew through the country – taking among its victims his brother Roberto and his partner Pablo Azcona. After the loss of his partner, he was evicted from the apartment they shared at the request of Azcona’s family.
Loss was a clear theme in the activist’s life, but he appeared to have a remarkable ability to transform his moments of hardship into opportunities for activism. He fought for the legal rights he was refused, for the treatment those in his life (and later he) would need as HIV decimated his community. He participated and helped organize the country’s first gay pride parade an event that was notably more somber event than the Marcha de Orgullo we revel in today.
He spoke up when it was inconvenient, and dangerous. He saw a world he knew his community should have the right to live in and fought to make it a reality in Argentina. The naming of a subway station might appear from the outside as a nice, if bureaucratic gesture to a notable person from a not so distant part of Argentine history. In this case however, it is an act that demonstrates that Carlos, and the people finding themselves facing his same hardships existed. Recognition materialized after decades of discrimination and rejection by a society that continues to need to fight for the functional acceptance of those living on the margins. It’s a stop on the continuing line of viable social justice.