On March 11, 2021, 21-year-old Tehuel de la Torre left home for a supposed job interview in Alejandro Korn, Greater Buenos Aires.
He was in dire financial straits and facing reiterated rejections for being trans: his girlfriend said that he had been previously denied employment at a shop because “he would regret being trans and get pregnant.”
Then, he heard from Luis Alberto Ramos, a man who had previously offered him a job and a plot of land in Alejandro Korn. This time, Ramos was offering him work as a waiter, so Tehuel went to his house.
He hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
Two years later, the travesti-trans community is voicing their anger and pain that Tehuel hasn’t been found — and underscoring that this could have happened to many in the community.
Days after Tehuel went missing, Ramos’ house was searched — police found Tehuel’s burnt clothes, destroyed cell phone and blood on one of the walls. A friend of Ramos, Oscar Montes, was also arrested after a photo of Tehuel with the two men was found on his phone. Taken at around 8:30 p.m, it’s the last evidence of Tehuel alive.
While activists continued to raise awareness about the case, police conducted unsuccessful ground searches around Alejandro Korn in March and June. In 2022 they also combed the area around San Vicente, where he lived, but found no trace of him.
Initially, the suspects were charged with false testimony — they had claimed they hadn’t seen Tehuel and later said he had gone home safely after seeing them. In November 2021, prosecutor Karina Guyot changed the charges to “aggravated homicide due to hatred of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Following large gatherings around the country on the first anniversary of Tehuel’s disappearance, Guyot announced that the case would go to trial on March 13, 2022.
With two silent suspects, no fixed trial date and no leads, the question still stands: where is Tehuel?
Negligent state, absent feminism movement
In the humid 42-degree heat of Buenos Aires, a small group of people with large banners gathered around the Buenos Aires provincial government office on Callao Avenue at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 11, the second anniversary of Tehuel’s disappearance.
The march was established by Autoconvocadxs por Tehuel (Self-organized people for Tehuel), an open group that includes members of the travesti-trans community, allies, and left-wing organizations.
At an open microphone, speakers painted a landscape of state failure and societal violence, especially regarding Tehuel’s difficult economic circumstances which led him to go to that fateful “interview.”
“They always say ‘if you had the skills we would hire you’ but that’s a lie,” said Alejandro Jedrzejewski, a sociology student and artist. “We could have all the knowledge in the world but they wouldn’t hire us anyway because it bothers them that we’re visibly trans.”
The “Diana Sacayán-Lohana Berkins” Travesti-Transgender Job Quota Law mandates that one percent of public sector jobs should be held by travestis and transgender people. Initially established as a presidential decree in September 2020, Congress passed the law in June 2021, but its implementation has been far from uniform. The vast majority of the 574 public sector jobs held by the community are concentrated in the executive branch and the number is far from the mandated 1%.
“I have friends who got jobs under the quota and they weren’t paid for months. Months of hunger and not being able to pay rent. And others who got into the private sector and were given nothing to do, no training,” Jedrzejewski said. “What happened to Tehuel could happen to all of us but we also have to think about why they don’t want us in the labor force at all.”
Many contended that Tehuel’s disappearance shows the country’s Integral Sexual Education (ESI) Law isn’t being implemented since it is designed to raise awareness of diverse gender identities from an early age, which would be vital to combating trans discrimination on a societal level.
Others pointed out how few people had shown up to the march and the glaring absence of mainstream feminist organizations.
“I don’t see a lot of feminists here. I see very few people,” said Ambar Moreno García, a travesti activist and head of TravaLenguasDigitales, a social organization that runs free digital literacy workshops. The name is a word play blending trabalenguas, tongue twisters, with trava (travesti) lenguas (tongues).
“We are the only ones here because the only people who care about diversidades [diverse gender identities] are ourselves,” she said, holding a crumpled banner from last year’s march.
Unlike its direct English translation, travesti in Argentina is a gender identity with deep political roots that is worn with pride.
“Start turning stones”
Marlene Wayar, renowned author and pillar of the travesti-trans community in Argentina, told the Herald that the crux of the issue is that gender policies do not come from the community because there is no real political interest in helping a minority.
“We are a subsidiary policy of programs designed for women and the family unit,” she said, carrying a blue fan from the trans-inclusive high school Mocha Celis in one hand and a large banner with a cartoon rendering of Tehuel’s face in the other. “So we get a little quota here, a little quota there for a photo but they’re not designed exclusively for us nor do they count with our presence.”
“We don’t need alms, we need for them to stop killing us.”
Wayar contended that the Gender Identity Law — seminal legislation that defines gender identity as self-perceived, among other things — was the last gender policy that came from the community and therefore addressed the issues at hand appropriately. It was passed in 2012.
When asked what she would say to politicians about what to do next, Wayar was visibly emotional.
“Start turning stones,” she said tearfully. “Start turning stones until his bones, his body, anything, turns up. If it doesn’t, then we cannot rest because a life is missing here.”
She questioned why, in a country marked by the enforced disappearances of 30,000 people during the last dictatorship, society appeared so indifferent to the disappearance of Tehuel.
“We’re talking about a human being and we said ‘never again.’ So why?”
Grief and “artivism”
Around 200 travesti and trans people marched down Callao to settle in the square in front of the Congress building, “artivism” —activism through art— began, with queer musicians and artists weaving their craft with the question “Where is Tehuel?”
Drag king Armando A. Bruno hosted the event and performed to Luis Miguel’s “Soy lo prohibido” (“I am what is forbidden”), culminating in him slowly pulling out a trans flag from their shirt.
“What is forbidden and taboo can’t be discussed, named, shown — it must disappear. For the social norm, that is what’s expected to happen,” Bruno said.
Two trans men danced, laughing and bare-chested, as night fell and singer Javiera Luna played guitar. They stopped suddenly to embrace and one started crying, with the banner bearing Tehuel’s face behind them. A steady stream of people stood up and joined them in a group embrace, breaking off with cries of “Where is Tehuel? Where is Tehuel?”
“What we have in community with Tehuel is that we’re all Tehuel,” said Bruno. “We disappear and nobody comes looking for us.”