Artwork by Joaquín Temés
ON PAPER, OFF THE RECORDS
Listen to the audio version of this story here.
Argentina's new non-binary ID cards unrecognized by state systems.
Essential public services are inaccessible to people in Argentina with new non-binary national ID cards (DNI in Spanish) — which feature an “X” instead of “male” or “female.”
A DNI, the small plastic card with a person’s photo, unique identification number and details, is a constant in Argentine daily life. Opening bank accounts, voting, hospital appointments, accessing welfare, using a credit card, any bureaucratic procedure — the DNI is consistently requested and assessed.
The new “X” category was announced via presidential decree, which gave government agencies until November 18th to update their systems — for example, agency logins that require users to fill out their gender marker according to what their DNI says. However, the only available options are still “male” or “female,” meaning anyone with a new DNI is locked out.
Since the "X" on the newly-minted cards isn’t supported by the software, neither are the people holding them.
“We need an ID because it's the key to access a lot of our human rights. Well, ‘here's your key, but this doesn't open any doors’,” said Valentine Luy Machado, a non-binary activist from the Todes con DNI campaign group. “There's a lot to fix before we get an ID, just like that.”
“We need an ID because
it's the key to access
a lot of our human rights.
Well, ‘here's your key,
but this doesn't
open any doors.'”
Valentine Luy Machado
Photo by María Bessone
"Closer to the ideal"
The inclusion of a third gender category made Argentina the first country in the region and one of a select number — including Canada, New Zealand and Australia — to legally recognise non-binary identities.
Machado was among the first to receive the new DNIs on July 22nd at a ceremony announcing presidential decree N°476/21. The event was live streamed, with President Alberto Fernández, Minister of the Interior Eduardo ‘Wado’ De Pedro and Minister of Women, Gender and Diversity Elizabeth Alcorta giving speeches to an audience of LGBTQIA organizations.
Since Machado had requested an "X" on their birth certificate, a prerequisite to changing a DNI, they had been chosen to sit in one of the chairs, waiting to go onstage. But that didn’t mean that they agreed with the decree.
“Between what is ideal and what is possible, let’s go with what is possible because every day we are closer to the ideal,” Fernández said. “We have to open our minds. There are other identities besides men and women that have always existed, but before they hid them.”
Valentine stepped up to get their DNI when their name was called. As the president and ministers posed for a picture, they unzipped their black jacket to reveal a poster that read “We Are Not "X" — open field for everyone.”
Another Todes con DNI member also interrupted proceedings to make the demand clear: they were protesting the decision of using an "X" as a catch-all category to denote all identities that aren’t “male” or “female.” The demand for an optional open field for someone to express themself explicitly (like “non-binary” or “transgender”) is a historic one based on the 2012 Gender Identity Law (N°26.743), which guarantees national documents that fully reflect a citizen's gender identity.
Watch the moment when Valentine Luy Machado received — and protested —
the new non-binary DNI with an "X" as another activist from Todes con DNI
interrupted proceeding, carrying a large print
of the poster on Machado's shirt.
Courtesy of Todo Noticias YouTube channel
Days after the ceremony, Machado was unable to reschedule their second dose of the covid-19 vaccine because they had received the first with their old DNI. When they attempted to log in to change the appointment, they couldn’t use their new DNI — there was no “X” box to tick — and their old one didn’t work, either.
“Anything that requires me to log in with my ID number and my ‘sex,’ I can't access anymore,” Machado said. “Even the National Registry of People (RENAPER) that carried out this measure — they issued a third gender on the ID. And yet, in order to log into their website, you have to choose one of the two binary sexes.”
Since getting their new DNI, Machado can’t access their health insurance, the AFIP tax agency or AFIP social security agency websites or public mobile applications like Cuid.Ar, a contact-tracing app that generates quarantine permits, meaning that they wouldn’t be able to legally leave their house during a covid-19 lockdown.
It’s not just the binary options on forms; the new DNI’s QR code and issuance number — which have been more frequently requested since the start of the pandemic and the migration of public services to online platforms — aren’t recognized either.
Since there isn’t one single, centralized database that would fix the lack of an “X” across all systems, every agency needs to do their own update. However, the vast majority still do not include the it, meaning that those with the non-binary DNI either have to use their old one, if it still works, or go without government services.
Machado also said that websites that do include the new gender option seemingly haven’t input their new DNI so it still doesn’t work. So Machado and others with the DNI have to go in person to every agency to ask for the change to be made — so far, they’ve been told that their DNI isn’t in the system and their marker can’t be changed to an “X” because it doesn’t exist.
“We wish it had been done the other way around, updating the systems first and then giving us the plastic card because I now have two essentially useless DNIs,” said Valentine. “It’s like we’re breaking the system, but they really broke it themselves.”
"We cannot obtain your information from the National Registry of People (RENAPER) at this time. Please wait a moment and try again. You may also generate or recover your fiscal code by requesting an appointment."
Screenshot courtesy of Valentine Luy Machado, showing the error message that appears when they try to access the AFIP website. When they went to the RENAPER, they were told their DNI is still not in the system.
A RENAPER spokespersons considered this an isolated incident and did not provide an interview.
On August 5, 2019, Tegan Mai Guanco went to their local RENAPER branch in Casilda, Santa Fe, and began the process of changing their birth certificate to say “non-binary.” Under the Gender Identity Law, he was given a new birth certificate that said “Sex: Self-perceived.” Guanco was one of several to successfully change their birth certificate before the decree. However, like today, government systems only included “male” or “female,” so those changes could not be translated into an official DNI.
They waited for two years.
“I wasn’t given a reason, I was just told that it would arrive. That it would take longer than the usual birth-certificate changes, but otherwise, nothing” said Guanco, a human rights activist and poet who uses he and they pronouns. “It’s been a long wait and a constant violation of my human rights. Our daily lives are a waiting room.”
Without the possibility of being formally recognised on government systems and with an old DNI that does not reflect their current gender expression, he has been undocumented for the past two years.
“When I showed up for appointments at the local public hospital or to collect payments, I was told ‘That DNI isn’t yours.’ It’s an old DNI issued before I began my transition, so obviously the photo doesn’t look at all like me now,” Guanco said. “It’s a real problem because it’s not only a violation of my human rights to my name, my identity and dignified treatment — I had to face justifying to others that that was, in fact, my DNI.”
Since their interview, Tegan has received a new DNI with an “X,” but said via WhatsApp that he considered it a mere formality because it doesn’t show up anywhere, in addition to feeling that the "X" is an imposition because it’s not what they had requested for their DNI. They wanted a DNI that said “non-binary.”
“I am not deciding what my gender identity is, the state is doing it for me,” Tegan said. “They’re state decisions that aren’t being thought through with us, they’re imposed. And that’s a problem.”
Following the November 18th deadline, the uncertainty continues for Machado, Guanco and others with the new DNI. Machado had an appointment with the ANSES — Argentina’s social security agency — on November 18th and was told that they were working on it, but that the deadline was actually 60 more days away.
“We would have to ask the ANSES directly, but national authorities can ask for extensions, in this case 60 days, especially since implementing the 'X' in bureaucratic terms isn’t easy,” said Emiliano Litardo, a lawyer and activist with Lawyers for Sexual Rights (ABOSEX) who co-authored the Gender Identity Law.
“The national administration should pay attention to this issue quickly because it’s a fundamental human right. However, the state is a huge bureaucratic machine and the time it takes to implement something new will likely not correspond to the needs and expectations of citizens.”
ANSES spokespersons did not follow up with a schedule for an interview with Director Fernanda Ravert, despite acknowledged requests. Following inquiries about the RENAPER’s press office, which is not publicly available, the Ministry of the Interior provided a spokesperson who denied that this was a widespread issue and did not respond to interview requests.
"A starting point"
Undersecretary of Gender Public Policy at the Women, Gender and Diversity Ministry Alba Rueda said that on entering public service in 2019, she learnt first hand that the processes of the state are very different — particularly when it comes to information systems for public policies about gender identity.
“The decree was a starting point, not the conclusion,” said Rueda, who is also a long-time transfeminist activist and uses she/they pronouns. “Changing the systems without the decree was impossible.”
Rueda referred to the 2012 Gender Identity Law and the 2020 Transgender Job Quota Law as legal pillars from which the new ministry began working on changing national information systems. They also cited UN International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards when establishing the "X" as the chosen route.
“There were nine years with a lack of public policy directed at transforming institutions to recognise gender identity as stipulated by the Gender Identity Law,” she said. “We are profoundly proud of our work.”
Rueda described the process prior to the issuing of the decree, with at least four or five meetings with community organizations following extensive work between the RENAPER and the Ministry of Women, Gender and Diversity.
“There was a pronounced disparity between the engagements before the decree and afterwards,” Rueda said, referring to the Todes Con DNI protest. In addition, she pointed out that the controlling agency appointed by the decree was the RENAPER and the Ministry depends on people coming forward and its ties to social organizations.
“The decree was a starting point, not the conclusion. Changing the systems without the decree was impossible.”
Alba Rueda, Undersecretary of Gender Public Policy at the Women, Gender and Diversity Ministry
“Argentina is the second country in America that has achieved recognition for non-binary identities. It is truly a gigantic step forward,” Rueda said. “Maybe some will emphasize what’s missing — I am going to emphasize what was missing since 2012 until we arrived and also the enormous democratic step that we’re taking in implementing this recognition.”
Although they agree that the interpretation of the Gender Identity Law has been binary, the presidential decree and the "X" aren’t the answer for activists like Machado.
“Ideally, measures would be put in place so that the law on gender identity would actually be respected everywhere correctly, fully. You have a right to have your gender identity respected, regardless of what your documentation says,” said Machado, referring to Article 12 of the Gender Identity Law.
“It’s a national document. We have a national law that says that our gender identity is valid, and we have a right to it and to have it respected.”
"It's not enough"
For Litardo, the new decree wasn’t necessary to enforce the Gender Identity Law. The text is purposefully open and does not adhere to the gender binary — it does not explicitly name any gender identity like “trans man” or “trans woman,” defining it as personal, so non-binary identities were already accounted for.
“The concept of gender identity was left open to individual interpretation, but the state often operates with pretty restrictive determinations,” Litardo said. “Maybe the demands of non-binary organisations should have been listened to more, or at least addressed the difficulties by which the state considered that including the 'X' was necessary.”
More non-binary people are still getting the new ID cards, only to find out that they do not work.
“It’s great to have a non binary DNI but the process we have to go through in the meantime until institutions fix their systems wasn’t considered,” said Rocío Gómez, a secondary-school English teacher who identifies as agender. “People have no idea about the problem and it presents huge obstacles for us.”
Gómez watched the presidential ceremony in which Valentine got their non-binary DNI and went to the RENAPER the same week. However, they still haven’t actually used the new card — they have been delaying coming out at work for fear of not being able to receive their salary through the AFIP. They feel that their life is on pause until the systems are updated.
“I am very thankful for the possibility of having documentation that overall reflects my identity,” Gómez said. “But it’s not enough. They need to remember that we exist, that we resist, and that we need the state just the same as any other citizen. Although what they did was important, it’s just not enough.”
For Machado, whether or not the new DNI is worthwhile comes down to each person’s experiences and needs.
“There comes a time when you're so tired of institutional violence, of not getting respected, of not having an ID to back you up, that you compromise,” Machado said. “I can't tell anyone that I don't recommend getting it, I understand that need. But we have to be aware that it's a struggle, they didn't do the work. We have to open up that path by constantly complaining, and it's still up to us to guarantee that our rights are respected.”
This Spanish term for national identification document
(documento nacional de identidad) refers to small, plastic card
with a person's photo, unique identification number and details.
TODES CON DNI
A group of activists from across Argentina that identify outside
of the binary.They raise awareness about living without a DNI
that reflects one's gender identity and campaign for an optional
open field on DNIs. They have led criticisms against the "X"
being chosen for the new non-binary DNIs.
The National Registry of People (Registro Nacional de las
Personas), which operates under the Ministry of the Interior, is
the agency in charge of issuing and modifying DNIs. It
spearheaded the new non-binary DNIs alongside the Ministry of
Women, Gender and Diversity.
The National Social Security Administration (Administración
Nacional de la Seguridad Social) is a decentralized agency that
controls most social benefits and subsidies, from pensions to
monthly welfare payments for children of low-income families.
A government contact-tracing mobile app (based on self-
evaluation) that also generates permits for people to leave their
houses during covid-19 lockdowns.
Argentina's federal tax agency (Administración Federal de
Ingresos Públicos) through which legal invoices are also
GENDER IDENTITY LAW
Passed in 2012, the Argentine Gender Identity Law (No 26.743)
guarantees a DNI that fully reflects a citizen's gender — it has
been cited by the government as the basis for the "X" as well
by detractors who consider the decree to be limiting and
unnecessary. Article 12 of the law on dignified treatment states
that all gender identities must be respected, regardless of