NGOs: attacks on LGBTI people persist

Local activists concerned by continuing violence against minorities, echoing IACHR report

Despite Argentina standing at the forefront of progressive legislation protecting LGBTI rights and its reputation as something of a “gay Mecca” for tourists in Latin America, there are worrying signs that the country may be taking backward steps in terms of violence, discrimination and acts of cruelty against LGBTI persons, activists and NGOs have told the Herald.

“Social and institutional violence against the LGBT community has raged in the country over recent months. This is related to some messages of impunity that have been sent out by the security forces, which have terrible effects on the streets,” claimed María Rachid, the founder and general secretary of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Argentine Federation (FALGBT). “This is happening in the provinces, but also in Buenos Aires City.”

Rachid’s warning echoes comments from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In a recent report, the body linked to the Organization of American States (OAS) expressed concern about the high levels of violence aimed at “non-normative sexual orientation, identities and gender expressions in the Americas.”

Collecting information from March to October, 2015, accompanied by public hearings and comments from civil society organizations in Argentina and the Americas, the IACHR stated that violence against LGBTIQ persons in the region is a form of “contextualized social violence” that trascends “individual-based acts.”

Crunching data from January, 2013 to March, 2014, the body found that 594 people who were or “were perceived to be” LGBT had been killed in the Americas, with 176 victims of “serious non-lethal attacks”. Moreover, the commission warned such numbers could be dramatically higher, as the majority of OAS member states “do not collect data on violence against LGBT persons.”

In Argentina, reports of violence against sexual minorities in the provinces have recently returned to the headlines. In recent months, newspapers have reported on attacks against Erica Rojas, who was found dead in Formosa early in April; Bella Inostroza, who was killed in Río Negro in January; and a still-unidentified trans woman who was was murdered in June in Mendoza.

But concerns over the safety of minorities are also mounting in the capital. Some local NGOs have said a recent ruling by the City’s High Court of Justice (TSJ) — which allows police officers to stop and briefly detain people without probable cause, with the stated goal of preventing crimes — has increased what they call “repression” against minorities.

“Cases of violence against our community have increased during the last year, and so has police repression against our population, as police (officers) resort to that ruling arbitrarily. There are many complaints … which were not so frequent years ago,” César Cigliutti, the head of the Homosexual Community of Argentina (CHA in Spanish), told the Herald.

Speaking from the province of Córdoba, Leticia Veber, a member of the LGBT group Colectiva Diversidad, pointed a finger at local authorities, condemning their “total lack of interest” in quantifying such crimes, meaning NGOs have to record attacks themselves — often presented with data that’s far from complete.

“There is no registry of the LGBTI persons killed, and there is no registry recording all the kinds of violence that affects the (LGBTI) community everyday,” Veber stated.

“Justice is the most important thing due the LGBTI community,” she continued. “There is often abuse in how complaints about gender violence (are treated), and in Córdoba, trans persons do not have any protection from the authorities.”

Support from the state
The authors of the IACHR report condemned in particular the use of discriminatory language and harmful stereotypes in mass media, saying they could help incite violence or foment hatred against LGBTI persons and calling on the state to be more forthright when speaking out against hate speech.

“States should adopt appropriate disciplinary measures with regard to hate speech or incitement to hatred by public officials,” the commission’s document reads.

Cigliutti agrees the state must take a stronger line. “We are very concerned about the increase of impunity and violence,” which he felt was almost “endorsed by the authorities.”

He plucked out one recent example from Argentina — an offensive op-ed written by the archbishop of La Plata, Héctor Aguer — to back up his point.

Aguer, writing in the La Plata newspaper El Día, wrote that “there is fornication ‘against nature,’ now endorsed by the iniquitous laws which have destroyed the natural reality of marriage and are based on the negation of the concept of nature and the notion of natural law,” going on to condemn homosexuality as “unnatural.”

Cigliutti said the government’s reaction, a complaint to the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI), was insufficient.

“The state should continue its actions against these immense setbacks to achievements regarding basic human rights. However, on the contrary, we have our authorities talking about the ‘dirty war’ and referring to old concepts that we assumed had been overcome.”

Activists emphasize that crimes against the LGBTI community stand out in their brutality and cruelty.
“Marcela Chocobar was brutally killed, dismembered, burnt. Almost only her head was left,” said Rachid, recalling the case of the young trans woman who was found murdered back in March.

The IACHR report underlines brutality, saying that lifeless bodies of victims often show signs of torture and mutilation of the genitalia.

According to the CHA report, in Argentina the murder of 25 LGBTI persons was reported between 2011 and 2013. In 2014, seven LGBT persons were killed, compared to five the previous years. The organization also noted that while there were fewer killings of gay men in 2014 in their records, killings of trans persons in the same 12 months doubled in comparison to the previous year. And in October 2015, three trans women were killed in just a month.

Transgender women experience an even greater risk of aggression than other LGBTI people, the IACHR and local NGOs report. The Argentine Transvestite Transsexual Transgender Association (ATTA) knows of at least 13 homicides of transgender, transexual or cross-dressing persons in 2015 alone.

“Trans persons are the most vulnerable sector … their basic human rights are being violated. Even after significant advances, they still have a very low average lifespan in comparison to the rest of the population, and too few are able to finish secondary school or have a formal job,” Rachid stressed.

Statistics back up those claims. The IACHR report found that the average lifespan of a trans person in the region is just 40 years of age. In Argentina, life expectancy for the average citizen is 76.3 years, according to the World Health Organization.

Almost all the NGOs consulted agreed that the police response to anti-LGBT violence is unsatisfactory, with a majority saying that law enforcement was “hostile” or “indifferent” to reported attacks. As a consequence, the IACHR report adds, there is a significant underreporting of acts of violence against LGBTI persons.

Citing “eleven OAS member states” that “maintain laws criminalizing private, consensual, adult sexual activity,” the body argues that such legislation contributes to stigmatization of minorities. Urging those states to repeal these laws, the IACHR said Argentine legislation was among the most progressive in the region.

In 2012, Formosa was the last province to abolish a penal code which explicitly criminalized homosexuality and cross-dressing. However, there are still some offences on the books that are often used by the security forces to persecute LGBTIQ persons, activists say. The IACHR agrees, acknowledging that some police officers use particular statutes “to penalize, harass and persecute” LGBT persons.

“(Such) classifications are left to the discretion of police officers or judges to determine. Sometimes, expressions of affect or trans people just walking on the streets can be interpreted as an indecent assault,” Rachid complained.

Source – Buenos Aires Herald