In June 2021, Argentina passed a new bill setting a 1% quota for transgender people working in the public sector. As a late-comer democracy, Argentina was the first country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, and has been even more successful than the United States, a superpower with a powerful justice system, in terms of LGBTQ movement outcomes.
Argentina’s success contributed to the activists’ construction of legitimacy depending on the economic circumstances and public awareness of the different periods. According to Max Weber, the state is defined as “monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force1.” Once activists are able to organize specific movement frames to legitimize the issues they advocated, the public would be drawn to attention, engaged in collective action, and further empowered the protesters. For Argentine activists, they constructed the movement frames by three stages: Marxist class consciousness, democratizing political discourse, and liberal micro-individualism.
At the beginning of the movement, Peronist Argentina was a class society. Although citizens who are sexual minorities have no systemic disparity in economic income or capital with others, there is a discrepancy for group identities characterized by sexual orientation2. In my opinion, the gay community in Argentina at that time was facing a class struggle based on sexual orientation, that is, compared with heterosexuals, homosexuals were “second-class citizens” without complete civil rights. For instance, their personal freedom or property rights are impeded systematically due to police edicts. It would explain why leftists and communists became members of the Homosexual Liberation Front(FLH) and allied themselves with feminists. Because they all confronted class conflict between normal citizens and second-class citizens, without full human rights. The solution proposed by the radicals was the revolution and emancipation aiming at overthrowing the regime, which is the consequence of class struggle.
Nevertheless, even though gay Americans in the Stonewall era faced a similar situation, why didn’t they achieve similar success in a short time? It’s because activists in Argentina were so nimble to the progress of democratization that they switch the frames of the movement again. In the early days of democratization, Argentina’s culture of discrimination against homosexuals remained stubborn. The Interior minister Antonio Tróccoli even openly referred to homosexuality as a disease that needed to be dealt with3. Instead of continuing to propagate the revolutionary discourse of Marxism, activists chose to link sexual minorities with democracy, moving toward human rights, liberalism, and reformism. They thus placed an advertisement in the country’s most popular newspaper: “with discrimination and repression there is no democracy4.” This discourse is so powerful because it equates the significance of LGBTQ rights with the significance of democracy, and all Argentines who aspire to democracy should support LGBTQ rights. Meanwhile, politicians who want to gain power in the new democratic institution also need to rally support on pressing issues like LGBTQ rights. The effect was enormous: activists were not only linked to more institutions and social organizations, but the new reformist approach also allowed them to work with progressive parties to increase their influence. They gained great visibility in the 1980s and 1990s, even with leaders of the movement, Carlos Jáuregui, becoming the partisan candidate.
At last, as democracy stabilized, the movement faced new difficulties in continuing to expand LGBTQ social and economic rights, and the lack of social protection made sexual minorities less resistant to accidents such as AIDS or death. To deal with it, activists began their third modification of the frame, focusing not on the inclusiveness of democracy but on the equality of human rights and, above all, sexuality. To prove the legitimacy, they lobbied and debated in the court and congress to pursue the civil unions using the resonating frames, human rights, while avoiding the ethical dilemmas that can be contentious. At the same time, this liberal frame focuses on the micro-analysis of individuals, so movement leaders interviewed the experiences of many sexual minorities who have been unfairly treated, and hope to evoke audiences’ empathy. As a result, the discourse of human rights emerged as a tremendous force in Buenos Aires city’s debates, which overcame critique about bill’s aggregation of constitutional prerogatives on family events and the moral scruples of wavering minds to legalize civil unions3.
Finally, it is important to note that the social movement’s construction of legitimacy as well as visibility does not fully explain the success of the LGBTQ movement in Argentina. According to Hahrie Han, power is not just about winning elections or passing policies, it is also about gaining a seat at the decision-making table, shaping the terms of debate and influencing the way people interpret and understand political issues5. The autonomy and independent constitution of Buenos Aires city allows activists to concentrate in one city and persuade their opponents through public debate. It contributes to the formation of favourable public opinion, to local legislation and, in turn, to national legislation. On the other hand, Argentina does not have a large Christian democratic party representing conservative views. Religious conservative forces can only influence policy implementation through the executive branch or find allies in the legislature. In the case of the same-sex marriage bill, strong lobbying by religious group made it difficult to pass the bill, which is absent in Argentina.
- Tufekci, Zeynep. “Do Protests Even Work?” The Atlantic, 24 June 2020, www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/06/why-protests-work/613420/.
- Engel, Stephen M. The Unfinished Revolution: Social Movement Theory and the Gay and Lesbian Movement. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- Jordi Díez. “Argentina: A Queer Tango between the Lesbian and Gay Movement and the State”. Burlington, Vt.
- Brown, Stephen. “‘Con Discriminación y Represión No Hay Democracia’: The Lesbian Gay Movement in Argentina.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 29, no. 2, 2002, pp. 119–38. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3185130. Accessed 9 Jun. 2022.
- Han, Hahrie. “Beyond Numbers (SSIR).” Ssir.org, https://ssir.org/books/excerpts/entry/beyond_numbers. Accessed 9 June 2022.
“Argentina Goes Further to Protect LGBTQ Rights with New Law on Trans Employment.” NPR.org, www.npr.org/2021/08/08/1025845759/argentina-goes-further-to-protect-lgbtq-rights-with-new-law-on-trans-employment.