Trans rights targeted during the rise of right-wing populism in Argentina

A LGBTQ+ pride parade in Argentina in 2017. Credit: Roberto Michel / iStock

The rights of sexual minorities and dissidents in Argentina have seen considerable progress in recent decades. Argentina became the first country in Latin America to protect the rights of the LGBTQIA+ population through legislation recognizing marriage equality in 2010, the inclusion of sexual and gender diversity within the armed forces in 2011, the gender identity and anti-hate crimes law in 2012, the assisted reproduction law in 2013 (including same-sex couples), and the anti-discrimination law and transvestite labor quota law in the province of Buenos Aires in 2015. However, despite the achievements of collectives and activists in recent decades, historical reparations are still pending for LGBTQIA+ victims of the military dictatorship.

As the economic crisis has deepened during the post-pandemic period, right-wing populism has ascended in Argentine politics, leading Javier Milei to win the 2023 presidential elections. Unlike the political climate of the early millennium crisis, the victory of the right in 2023 is particularly concerning for sexual and gender minorities because of the direct attacks Milei launched during his presidential campaign, not only against the LGBTQIA+ community but also against gender policies, especially the law on the voluntary interruption of pregnancy passed on December 30, 2020. 

Moreover, Milei struck a reactionary tone against progressivism more broadly in political debates during the 2023 presidential elections. In those discussions, Milei’s denial of the country’s history of dictatorships effectively revictimized all who were systematically persecuted, tortured, disappeared, and killed during that period. Milei’s victory poses a threat to progressivism and specifically to the rights of sexual and gender minorities in Argentina, with a potentially broader impact on the Southern Cone and throughout Latin America. 

Far from being isolated to Argentina, this phenomenon is taking place on a global scale. Progressive gender policies have been attacked by right-wing populist parties and movements across the Western world, both in Europe and the Americas. With the rise of authoritarian governments in Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Serbia, and Turkey in the last decade, sexual and gender minorities have been subjected to hate speech and exclusionary practices promoted by right-wing populist politicians. These populist movements promote the polarization of society and are especially detrimental to democracies, particularly when they seek to delegitimize opponents and exclude them from the political arena. Likewise, sectors of the European right—such as the Alternative Für Deutschland in Germany, Partij voor de Vrijheid in the Netherlands, and VOX in Spain—have directed attacks against the LGBTQIA+ community. Similarly, right-wing populists in the Americas—including Brazil, Colombia, the United States, Guatemala, and Uruguay—support this position. 

In many cases, the LGBTQIA+ population has been targeted by campaigns promoting hatred and the marginalization of sexual and gender minorities “as a political strategy to gain the support of reactionary and conservative sectors in Western societies, ultimately aiming to regain executive and legislative power. It also serves as a distraction from significant issues affecting their societies, such as inflation, violence, corruption, poverty, and unemployment, among others.”

Thus, the attack on the collective is part of a pre-established formula designed to prove its efficiency in different geographies. As an example, during the political campaign conducted by the far-right to delegitimize the peace process between the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FARC) in Colombia in 2016, the LGBTQIA+ population and the section seeking reparations for victims based on sexuality or gender in the Colombian armed conflict were subjected to misinformation and hatred. Brazil also stands out for the high rate of transfemicides and the direct attacks by far-right populist Jair Bolsonaro on the LGBTQIA+ population during his rule (2019–2022). Finally, the example of the United States and the presidency of Donald Trump between 2017 and 2021 exemplifies the efforts by authoritarian right-wing politicians to undermine the rights of the LGBTQIA+ population, especially the labor rights of trans and non-binary individuals.

During the 2023 presidential campaign in Argentina, Milei applied the formula of stigmatizing gender minorities used by other right-wing populists. Milei’s campaign also turned anti-abortion discourse into one of its main platforms. His opposition to mandatory sex education in schools and free medical coverage for gender reassignment treatments has also directly attacked the LGBTQIA+ population. This anti-LGBTQIA+ discourse also appeared on the regional scale during the Argentine elections. Ricardo Bussi, elected national deputy for Milei’s party, Libertad Avanza, has equated minority gender identities with a disability, stripping the state of its role in protecting the rights of the trans and non-binary community. 

It is essential to highlight that these homophobic and misogynistic discourses take place within a broader national discussion that touches all social sectors, defining the ultimate role of the state during the military dictatorship that occurred between 1976 and 1983 and its need to provide reparations to the dictatorship’s victims. One of the documents that mobilized part of the LGBTQIA+ population is the report by Néstor Perlongher, clandestinely disseminated in 1981 by the Commission for the Rights of Gay People. This document revealed the extent of state terrorism during the dictatorship, compiling testimonies of homosexual, lesbian, and transgender individuals who were detained and tortured. 

It is likely that the Milei government’s first attack against sexual and gender minorities will be directed at the abortion decriminalization law and the free coverage of gender-affirming treatments. According to Sonia Corrêa, coordinator of sexuality and policy, it is crucial to distinguish between campaigns against trans rights and systematically organized and implemented anti-trans policies by governments. While these executive mechanisms may not initially have a national impact, as Sonia Corrêa points out, they could occur at the federal level. For example, the speeches of Ricardo Bussi exemplify an attack on the community in the province of Tucumán. 

Among the first measures taken by the new president is the dissolution of the Ministry of Genders, Women, and Diversity, which has been turned into a sub-secretariat under the Ministry of Human Capital, and cutting subsidies for zero-positive treatment. This decision constitutes an initial setback in the institutionalization championed by the LGBTQIA+ movement in recent decades and jeopardizes the representation of marginalized sexual and gender identities in the national agenda. The closure of the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Racism (INADI), proclaimed through the package of reforms known as Omnibus in the last weeks of December 2023, also represents a serious threat to the rights of the community if approved in Congress. 

The case of Argentina is of great importance due to the global magnitude that the return of hate speech to institutional levels and exclusionary policies against sexual and gender minorities can have. It is important to pay attention to the Argentinian state’s behavior towards the rights of sexual and gender minorities. Milei’s government could mark a trend within the new wave of right-wing populism to undermine the democratic gains of the last decade, as well as to reactivate the oppression and systemic institutional exclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community.