Hate crimes against the trans community

Verónica Delgado, November 2020.

On 29 of August 2020, Melody Barrera was murdered in the middle of the street in Mendoza, Argentina, her life finished with 6 shots in her back. She was a transvestite; she has 27 years old and worked in one of the red zones as a sex worker. The crime became a mystery and the keys to finding the killer were the cameras that recorded the car and the testimony of a cab driver.

The investigation conducted by the Guaymallén Prosecutor’s Office No. 8, has already qualified the case as transvesticide and it has been addressed from a gender perspective. The author, Darío Jesús Cháves, a police officer, was accused of aggravated homicide by the use of firearm and hatred of gender expression, and malice aforethought.

CLIK, an LGBT organization contacted Melody’s family to offer support. Marito Vargas, a member of the organization from 2013, sociologist, and employee in the National Secretary for children, adolescents, and family in Argentina, has accompanied the family throughout the process. In his words:

“The case of Melody has that particularity; the police forces have much more impunity than any person, and they have more tools to be able to commit these crimes and get away with it.

(…) This case must serve to show not only what the police do in the prostitution rings but also for the peopleto know how transvestites live and die in Argentina.”

Melody’s transvesticide is taking place in a context where the defense of human rights of the trans community has become a major issue. Today society has moved forward, recognizing Melody’s case as a transvesticide, is a sign for recognizing her deaths that for a long time have been silenced.

Clicked by Clik Like the case of Melody, many trans women have been victims of hate crimes in Argentina. Unfortunately, the cases are increasing. According to the semi-annual report of the LGBT Hate Crimes Observatory during the first six months of 2020,69 hate crimes were registered, where 78% of the victims were trans women (transvestites, transsexuals, and transgenders). Almost half of the cases (34) correspond to injuries to the right to life (murders, suicides, and deaths due to the absence and/or state abandonment), in which 29 cases were against trans women. These shocking figures

[1] Federación Argentina LGBT, et al. Informe Semestral 2020, Observatorio de crímenes de odio LGBT, 2020, pp. 2-3.




show how violence is addressed mostly against the trans community, on whom it manifests with special hatred and viciousness.
Flavia Massenzio, president of the Argentine LGBT Federation, and coordinator of the LGBT Ombudsman of Buenos Aires expressed:

“What keeps alarming me are the facts. There is a crime that continues to bother me a lot. It was the case of Marcela Chocobar, in the south of the province of Patagonia. The murder cut off her head, tore her scalp, the only thing that was found was the head of Marcela.

Cutting of the head, pulling out long hair, has to do with the cruelty to that identity construction.”

The report highlights the method used to carry out hate crimes, which includes strokes, stabbing, illegitimate deprivation of liberty, sexual abuse, shootings, cuts, and strangulation. However, there is a huge sub-registry of cases as victims do not want to report for fear or normalization of discriminatory situations.  

For Ana Clara Piechestein, the Director of the Directorate for the comprehensive approach to cases of femicide, transvesticide, transfemicide, and crimes against sexual integrity:

“In Argentina, as in Latin America there is a problem of sub-registry of hate crimes, even many violent deaths never appear in the news. Most of the registries are from organizations and observatories.

There is a lack of state intervention in considering the trans community needs.”

Unfortunately, the scarcity of records these deaths leaves behind makes the scale of the killings intangible. There are no exact figures of hate crimes against the trans community, most of the cases survive in the memory of the survivors, and the community, but there is no social awareness of the situation’s dimension.

Historical context in Argentina

In 1983 Argentina was emerging from a military dictatorship, the country was devastated. The State at that time did not recognize the ties of the trans community, nor their identities, and the police were the only tool offered to them. Argentina had contraventional codes, which included offenses that expressly criminalized homosexuality and transvestism. By doing so, belonging to the trans community was a crime.

Nancy Sena, 50 years old, transvestite women, the first worker in the country in a registered job, Director of Diversity in the Municipality of Moreno, expressed:

“The federal police harassed us all the time.If they realized that you were a trans woman, they asked for your documents, and if you had a male name the arrested you for contravention and force you to pay

(…) They had us locked up for a day or two in a police station where we were victims of abuse and rape, which they later denied, and we did not report for fear of retaliation.”

In the ’90s after the dictatorship, with more than 30.000 disappeared, of which approximately 400 were disappeared for reasons of sexual orientation and gender identity, the first transvestites started making visible their needs.

On 2 July 1992, the first gay-lesbian trans pride march was held in Argentina with the main goal to make visible the claims, achievements, and pride for the choice of each sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. Leading by Lohana Berkins, Diana Sacayan, and Marlene Wayar, the trans community raised their voice against violence and fought for the recognition of their rights Also, the entire human rights movement was led by the mothers from Plaza de Mayo, and the trans community joined, defending the free exercise of sexuality is also a human right.

Argentina is the tenth country in the world with equal marriage and the first in the region. Thanks to social movements, it achieved the equal marriage law, the gender identity law, the medically assisted reproduction law, and reforms to the civil and commercial code, which includes the word diversity. Although there was a movement to bring to light the trans community rights, the community has always been thrown into prostitution, in which several hate crimes take place.

When an individual discovers his gender identity and is expelled from the most important institutions, which are the family and the school, prostitution becomes the only way out.

At 18.00 the trans women are getting up, putting on makeup to start working. They leave home and do not know if they will return because they are exposed to criminals, drugs, haters, who presents themselves as a client and end up killing them”Nancy Sena

Prostitution increases risk situations, the trans community is condemned to this environment, in which the worst abuses occur. There are always many stab wounds, or many shotsand these facts increase daily.

The current scenario in Argentina

  • Argentina achieved what today can be called a block of legal equality. International human rights treaties are incorporated into the constitution, and therefore constitute suitable instruments to fight against hate crimes. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is part of this legal block; the American Convention on Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and its Optional Protocol; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
  • Argentina at the domestic level, with cultural processes, legal actions, and a lot of parliamentary work, intended to amend Article 80, paragraph 4 of the Criminal Code. This reform can be understood as the most significant measure regarding the State’s role in condemning hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.

“We see that despite these equality processes that we have been winning in legislative matters, in social matters we were not achieving it on daily basis. There is a very large gap between the legal equality and the real equality that we need.

To narrow this gap, public policies must be created, which implies generating evidence, data, etc.”-Flavia Massenzio

Currently, there are many actions tended to rebuild social and political structures, as well as reverse inequality gaps, including the establishment of public policies. Through the Directorate for the comprehensive approach to cases of femicide, transvesticide, transfemicide, and crimes against sexual integrity of the National Ministry of Women, Genders, and Diversity, progress has been made in the creation of public policies with a gender perspective.

The Directorate is in charge of prevention, assistance, strengthening, access to justice, and reparation task. The Directorate responds to emergencies of human rights violations, mostly against the integrity and sexual freedom, as well as try to address the spectrum that these violations touch. In hate crimes, the Ministry has a more articulating, communicating, and monitoring role, within its structure is the Federal Council of Women, which has representatives to all the federal states of Argentina and in this framework is where the policies that are going to be brought to the territory are reflected or discussed.

On 6 July 2020, the program of urgent support and immediate comprehensive assistance launched for people close to victims of femicides, transvesticides, and transfemicides. The support consists of an economic contribution to the families as well as a psychological accompaniment of a specialized comprehensive team, which addresses problems that families would have.

This program is allowing us to reach all cases because we have a guideline from the Minister through, we have to approach situations and families, and also organizations because in these cases they are key actors.”- Ana Clara Piechestein

Argentina is still having a long way to go before it completely meets with human rights obligations. Public policies must be worked on, a legislative change is necessary to address discrimination and violence. It can not be ignored that hate crimes configure social and structural discrimination deeply rooted in the state’s foundation. It is necessary to build new structures embracing gender perspective and intervene through the state’s institutions and civil society to bring about a change.

In this research article we have used various academic and media resources as well as interviews with theTransgenders and ferderdations working for Transgender people’s rights in Argentina. The interviews were conducted and recorded after taking consent from the interviewees in this research report. You can also watch the full news story here: