29 May 2013

Argentina Won't Cry For Him

One year ago, Argentina took the unprecedented step of, essentially, making it legal for anyone over the age of 18 to choose his or her gender. To date, no other country has even come close to allowing such freedom in gender identity and expression.

Two years earlier, the country became the eighth to legalize same-sex marriage. That law, perhaps, caused even more surprise than the one allowing people to choose their gender identity.  Argentina, like its neighbor Chile and other countries in the region,  was emerging from a cell of brutal authoritarian government (in Argentina's case, a military dictatorship) and Catholic Church authorities that colluded with the country's political and military leaders.  

Arguably the worst of such rulers--or, at any rate, the worst Argentina ever had--died on 17 May.  Jorge Rafael Videla participated in the coup d'etat on 24 March 1976 and served as the de facto president of the nation for five years.  During that time, about 30,000 people--including gays--were "desperaciados," or disappeared. Notice that "disappeared" was used as a verb:  Those people, in essence, were made to vanish from the face of the Earth; the fate of many is still not known.

Jacobo Timerman, who edited a newspaper critical of the government, was among them.  He was arrested, held without a trial date and, after months in prison, was abruptly put on a plane to Tel Aviv.  His excellent Prisoner Without A Name, Cell Without A Number recounts those experiences as well as others who were arbitrarily arrested, tortured and sometimes murdered.

As wonderful as Argentina's new laws are, and as happy as I am for Argentinians, I think they--and we--should not forget Videla, if only to remember what life was like only a generation ago for gays, transgenders, Jews, dissidents and others in Pope Francis' home country.

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