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From the streets of New York City to the townships of South Africa, the LGBT rights movement and its opposition are engaged in an unprecedented international battle. GlobalPost presents an ongoing series of reports from key locations at this pivotal time in history, telling highly personal, often overlooked stories from the fight.
LGBT rights advocates secured a major legal victory last year, but culture change will be a much slower process.
BUENOS AIRES — The decision finally came at around 4 a.m., broadcast live to the thousands who had traveled from every province — young and old, gay and straight — huddled together around small fires outside the National Congress building in Argentina’s capital.
After 14 grueling hours of debate in mid-July, the Senate voted 33 to 27 to approve La Ley de Matrimonio Igualitario (the Equal Marriage Law), making Argentina the first Latin American country to grant same-sex couples the right to marry and the critically important benefits that accompany the union.
“When we heard the approval, our differences ceased to exist,” remembers Verónica Capriglioni, a leader of the lesbian and bisexual women’s group La Fulana. “At that moment everyone in the plaza felt the same; we shared that feeling and we celebrated it. We hugged and we cried and we screamed. We felt love and happiness. We were all equal.”
Special Report: The Rainbow Struggle
But old stereotypes still run deep in Argentina. Despite its elite status as one of 10 countries with legal same-sex marriage and a progressive leader in South America, the reality is that homosexuality remains a taboo topic and violence persists, particularly outside the city of Buenos Aires. Conservative cultural beliefs prevail even as the Roman Catholic Church’s influence wanes, and the LGBT community is painfully aware that progressive laws don’t necessarily guarantee progressive behavior.
“The problem is that the society that has this progressive new law isnâ€™t prepared for it.”~Gregorio Tobar, former Catholic priest and current leader at LGBT Metropolitan Community Church
As Capriglioni, a slender 31-year-old with a sweet smile who goes by "Vero," often reminds friends and peers, “Lesbophobia, transphobia, homophobia still exist even if there are laws.”
Even in those magical hours of July 15, 2010, when the Senate passed the bill, Vero and other activists could feel a hint of despair nagging within the thrill of victory. Still raw were the emotional wounds of discrimination and hostility, of being called sick and mentally ill, of being labeled child abusers and of being publicly humiliated, most recently at a protest organized by the Catholic Church just days before the scheduled July 14 vote.
So although the Senate approval was the product of years of groundwork, it was in many ways just the start of the battle for equality.
“This just recently began, it didn’t end with the law,” said Gregorio Tobar, a former Catholic priest who is now a dedicated leader in the ecumenical LGBT Metropolitan Community Church (ICM) in Buenos Aires. “The time to raise awareness has now arrived.”
With a spike in gay tourism in recent years, the federal capital is known for being relatively LGBT-friendly, but the outer provinces are much less so. Many individuals and communities still deny same-sex couples the right to speak openly about their sexuality, let alone show public affection without fear of retribution. In certain areas, some schools have refused to implement lessons on sexual diversity, newly required by the Ministry of Education as part of the Equal Marriage Law. And the country’s anti-discrimination law still doesn’t include sexual orientation.
That became painfully clear in the recent conviction of Daniel Torres, who received 14 years in prison for killing his stepdaughter’s girlfriend, 27-year-old Natalia Gaitán, with a shotgun in what prosecutors argued was a hate crime. But despite all evidence indicating that Gaitán’s sexual orientation and masculine demeanor were motives for the murder, the two judges in the case elected to treat it as an act of domestic violence.
“The problem is that the society that has this progressive new law isn’t prepared for it,” Tobar lamented.
Tobar, who spent 14 years in a parish in Córdoba before leaving five years ago and moving to the capital, believes that the task of fostering discussion falls to community leaders.
“We need to take advantage of all space, public and private, to create awareness,” he believes. “Gay people are scared and wounded, they have suffered a lot of rejection. They don’t know how to give clear reasons to defend themselves. We have to help them raise their voices, so that we reach every part of society.”
Long before national political leaders latched on to the legislation, either for or against, LGBT activists had built the foundation for its passage. On February 14, 2007, La Faluna founders María Rachid and Claudia Castro, went to the Civil Registry in