Aging And LGBT In Argentina: Survivors Of Deeply Homophobic Past

Older LGBT people have lived to see dramatic improvements in how society treats sexual minorities. But scars remain.

LGBT flag in Buenos Aires, Argentina
LGBT flag in Buenos Aires, Argentina


BUENOS AIRES — For elderly members of Argentina's LGBT community, things used to be so so different. They're the surviving witnesses of a time when sexual orientations that don't fit the establish mold were considered sickness, sins or even crimes.

Terms like "homosexual," "lesbian," or "transvestite" were avoided or used disparagingly. LGBT people didn't have any of the rights they now enjoy, and for many that meant a certain amount hiding. People led "double lives." They had to, for the sake of survival.

The concealment affected their closest relationships and acquaintances, from family to friends and even themselves. Because if their true inclinations were revealed, they might be thrown out of their homes or work, and mocked. Some even chose to hide from themselves.

Condemnation of homosexuals was prevalent in so many spaces, from the Church to dictatorial governments, democracies, medicine, psychology, police.

Condemnation of homosexuals was prevalent in so many spaces, from the Church to dictatorial governments, democracies, medicine, psychology, police. The discrimination even had its place in socialist revolution, as the author Leonardo Padura aptly wrote. It was so entrenched — and marked LGBT people so profoundly — that many can't help being a bit skeptical about the changes now taking place. They worry that it might just be a fad, one that could eventually pass and thus re-expose the country's latent, hidden intolerance.

Generational experiences, or those instilled in us early on, can shape our conceptions of the "ever-debatable" reality. This is not just about beliefs but also daily practices that affirm and reinforce our identity, and the many ways in which we relate to others. Prejudices generated by homophobia or transphobia can be internalized by their targets — meaning he or she will absorb and finally accept them as natural beliefs.

In contrast with other groups, where the weight of hostility can be mitigated earlier by parents, this happens later with LGBT people, through peer groups. Because of this, people with nontraditional sexual orientations or gender identities can suffer chronic stress due to the different forms of violence they experience. Concealment, fear, and a weak position in society can raise stress levels and cause mental and even physical illnesses.

Looking after the elderly in Argentina — Photo: Infobae

Thus, people who suffer accumulated stress because they are given labels such as "sick," "immoral," or "criminal" carry the durable and generalized weight of social pressures. A common symptom illustrating this is the greater prevalence of depression among the older generations of LGBT people.

Fearing exposure

And yet, turning to healthcare professionals can become another source of concern for LGBT people, who worry often about how they'll be viewed and received. People have reported discrimination by medical professionals who treat gay patients differently, even before knowing their sexual orientation. Many, therefore, opt for services at home. The same goes for psychological attention, with patients reporting that they are asked certain prying questions that heterosexuals would not face.

The aging experience is also different for sexual minorities. Compared to heterosexuals, LGBT seniors are less often in couples, in part because of lingering shame and fear of being exposed, especially to family members. Being single, in turn, tends to reinforce the patterns of concealment. Some older LGBT people say that it was only after their parents died that they could finally start coming out to other family members.

It's still difficult to be visible — particularly for the elderly.

Concealment affected work relationships as well. Fearing that they'd be exposed, or knowing that they just wouldn't feel at ease, many older LGBT people shied away from seeing colleagues on the weekends or on holidays, or from socializing after work.

In those times of blatant discrimination, communities of LGBT friends were especially important as a space in which people could be themselves beyond stigmas, and build ties based on recognition, affection and appreciation. For this reason, those who managed to construct such ties, whether through friendship, community or activism, strengthened themselves and improved their levels of welfare, finding channels of resilience that positively contribute to their aging.

Lastly, when older LGBT people need services like retirement homes, again they find themselves facing the oppressive choice of either continuing to live outside the closet or going back in. Canadian and U.S. studies show that 80% of elderly LGBT don't feel safe in such environments and so choose to conceal their identities. They fear discrimination from other residents or staff, either in the form of mistreatment or insufficient care.

In Argentina we should bear in mind that while the country has made advances in legal and social terms, on an individual level, LGBT people can still have very difficult experiences. In many circumstances, it's still difficult to be visible — particularly for the elderly. We need to remember that, and consider the specific needs of older LGBT people. Above all, we need to recognize the harmful effects of prejudices and discrimination they endured.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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