Eva Peron, better known as Evita (1919-1952) is one of the most important political figures from the 20th Century. This courageous leader, who still connotes rebellion because of her fight towards social justice, has inspired the LGBT+ community all over the world. However, this social phenomenon had not been taken into consideration by the Evita Museum until 2017, when a couple of innovations arose, such as the inclusion of images that show an LGBT+ re-signified Evita in the last room of the permanent exhibition. Therefore, the main objective of this article is to think over the social and management reasons behind the omission of the Evita’s queer iconicity in the past and the current tensions around the decisions of taking advantage from potential development opportunities. In other words, the aim is to show and explain the (slow) process that is transforming the Museum, leading it from naturalised discriminatory conceptions, intended as neutrality, to an institution involved in ending social injustice by collaborating with the integration of the LGBT+ community into society.
Argentina in terms of LGBT+ community
During the last decade, in Argentina, some laws towards the LGBT+ rights were created, such as Sexual education with gender perspective (2006), Same-sex marriage (2010), Passing gender identity (2012). The last one allows citizens to change their gender without barriers of surgery or hormone therapy.
Despite this legislation, which makes people with different sexual identities or orientations equal in a formal frame, those rights are not always warranted. Unfortunately, it is still common to hear about cases of groups beating gay men or discrimination to lesbian and gay people kissing in public areas. Despite the existence of public institutions that work to finish these unjust situations, the virtual denouncement made by the victims in social networks, turns out to be the most efficient way to protest and make discrimination visible.
Regarding the trans and transvestite population, the situation gets worse. According to the last research carried out by the Ministry of Human Development of Buenos Aires (2016), in Argentina the life expectancy of trans and transvestites is 35 years old. Another previous research (2012), delivered as results that the 70% of trans and transvestites are forced to end up in prostitution. This happens because, as trans people, employers do not hire them. Moreover, the 50% tried or thought about committing suicide.
On the contrary, it the market field, same-sex couples have turned out to be attractive because of the Dual Income-No kids that is supposed to characterize them. Therefore, there has been a great effort held by different Argentinean provinces, including Buenos Aires, in developing international LGBT+ tourism.
So, it could be affirmed that Buenos Aires museums design and implement strategies of development in an environment characterized by an avant-garde LGBT+ legislation that legally protects the collective and openness promotion policies and public-private investment in the LGBT+ segment of the tourism industry. But this positive scene is mixed up with social injustice, as it was previously illustrated.
Queer narratives in Museums of Buenos Aires
As it commonly happens, contemporary art institutions are the first to go into action and offer some serious content in terms of exhibits for denouncing discrimination or making visible hidden and forgotten stories of the LGBT+ collective. In Buenos Aires, there are two public institutions than have been working in this sense: the Centro Cultural Recoleta and the Centro Cultural Haroldo Conti. The first one inaugurated its 2019 summer program with a good variety of activities with LGBT+ content, such as queer poetry and cinema sessions or even parties with DJs. On the other hand, the Conti, as it is commonly known in the Argentinean capital city, inaugurated a collective exhibit entitled Para todes, tode (Everything for everybody. Note the use of inclusive language in Spanish) where cis women and queer artists were invited to present their works. Previously, in 2017, in the frame of the program Diversity and Gender: Politics bodies, this institution co-organised with the Archive of the Trans Memory a photograph exhibit called Esta se fue, a esta la mataron, esta muriò (This one left, the other was killed, this one died) in order to make visible the violence and injustice these people suffer daily. In this sense, as in many parts of the world, this non-profit institution was initially formed by a group of trans people: Claudia Pia Baudracco and Maria Belen Correa, who started to collect in an amateur way different photographs and documents reflecting some stories of Argentinean trans and transvestites.
There is also another experience of diffusion of trans memory in Argentina that is also held by an activist: Furia Travesti (Transvestite Fury). It is an itinerant photographic exhibit conceived and produced by Florencia Guimares Garcìa, whose main objective is to show trans people in their daily lives in order to break up with the prostitute stereotype commonly linked to the that collective.
To sum up, in Buenos Aires, there are a few exceptions of institutions that have taken into account the history of the LGBT+ collective in their programmes during the last years. But considering that there are more than fifty museums and cultural centres in the city, it seems a bit less. Hopefully, maybe different behind-the-scenes debates around the LGBT+ issue are taking place in many institutions, as it has happened at the Evita Museum, a public institution created in 2002.
The Evita Museum opportunity
“Being gay, poor or Eva Peron;
in this merciless country, is the same stuff”
(Paco Jamandreu, first Evita’s fashion designer)
Eva Peron (1919-1952), better known as Evita, never pronounced in favour of LGBT+ collective rights. What’s more, homosexuality was considered as a disease by the time she became the Argentinean First Lady, during the period of 1946 and 1952. However, as the years went by, she became an LGBT+ icon all over the world.
Different factors, classified into two groups, could explain this phenomenon. First of all, the analysis of historical facts, such as her subversion to the imposed gender roles of her time: while Argentinean women did not have the right to vote, she became the strong female leader of the Peronist Party. From that place she conquered the right to vote in 1951 and promoted massive female participation in politics. Moreover, she also rebelled to the social status-quo, while she achieved to transform temporary charity projects into permanent social rights, from the Social Aids Foundation she ran.
On the other hand, her beauty and feminine fashion style, shown during her past as an actress and executing her political leadership, must be taken into consideration as factors that have also attracted the attention of the LGBT+ collective.
Finally, it is not a surprise that her early death at the age of thirty-three years old had a massive cover by the international press, as the world got to know her thanks to the global tour she had made in 1947, baptized the Rainbow Tour by the Times magazine.
What is interesting about Evita, is that after her death, she also became a fictional character. Among the literacy productions that have her as the main the character, there are a few written in the 60’s and 70’s by Argentinean authors, Copi and Nestor Perlongher, that made of her a transvestite. Those were the first re-significances of Eva produced by the homosexual segment of the population. In addition, the musical Evita, written by Tim Rice had its debut in Broadway in 1979 and soon became a success. In 1996, the film Evita, starred by Madonna (herself a referent to the LGBT+ community) reinforced the idea of the dream life Evita had and contributed to the globalisation of the queering process of Evita’s figure, which continues till nowadays.
In this sense, there is plenty of evidence of Evita’s queer iconicity in Argentina and abroad: pieces of art, trans performing arts, gay parties or bars called Evita (Los Angeles and Tel Aviv). Daily objects such as t-shirts, rucksacks or even tattoos show customized images based on historical photos in order to express ideas in favour of LGBT+ collective rights and transfeminism.
Moreover, it is common to see trans Evitas in Pride Parades in different parts of the world, queer shows competitions such as Ru Paul’s Drag Race where there is often at least an Evita participating. In addition, last March, in the frame of the commemoration of the LGBT+ victims killed by the last Argentinean dictatorship, there was a street voguing performance-manifestation. At the front of the line, an actress as Evita.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, the original script of the permanent exhibition of the Evita’s Museum did not reflect Evita’s queer iconicity, but it did show the division occurred between her supporters and her detractors, which continues till nowadays. For the first group, she could be represented as a fairy godmother, a virgin or a saint. For the latter, she represented a tyrannical woman with the whip (Mann, 1952).
In 2017, the Museology Department decided to modify the exhibition, with the inauguration of one last room called, Immortal Evita, where different images of the re-significances of Evita’s figure are currently displayed, such as, Evita as a fictional character, Evita-union leader, Evita re-signified by the LGBT collective. In other words, the aim was to link Evita’s life to the post mortem popular phenomenon that has made of her an icon.
In 2018, when the issue was put into the table again in the Marketing Department, many negative responses showed up. As if the British museologist Richard Sandell had been there, his writings perfectly describe the panorama “people developing LGBTQ themed projects have encountered resistance, discomfort or outright opposition from colleagues who feel such projects are inappropriate misguided or unnecessary” (Sandall, 2017). This stowed position was probably rooted in the fear of losing or receiving complaints from other loyal segments of the audience (mostly Catholics) who apparently would not be prepared to see that heterosexuality is not the whole reality we live in and probably think that queer people conform a second-class citizenship. But the Museum had to take position in this implicit-non-said struggle. As a consequence, this initial opposition meant wasting development audience opportunities, as it refused to consciously dialogue with the phenomenon that was having place outside the walls of the Museum and thanks to which it has received many visitors along the years. This audience management incongruence is even clear as international press trips whose target audience is the LGBT+ collective, normally request to visit the Museum.
Fortunately, as far as this area is concerned, some positive changes have taken place after long debates, such as the modification of the communication plan at the beginning of 2019, where it was decided to include the gender issue, including the LGBT collective. Part of this plan contemplates supporting the cause in social networks by making statements in important dates, as it happened the 14th February, with a video piece that showed the phrase Love makes us equal and the colours of the pride flag. From this Department also came out the initiative to implement a training on sexual diversity for the staff and it has also supported the disposition of gender-neutral toilettes for employees and visitors, currently functioning.
On the contrary, it is still to be seen if the Department would refuse the invitation to participate in the National Pride Parade, as it happened in 2018 or if the pressure from the low-level-staff members, that led to the positive changes, will succeed. Nevertheless, despite these negatives or doubts and considering the initial opposition, this recent openness must be noticed as great advancement.
Regarding the Museology Department, despite having implemented the first initiative in the representation of the queer community in the permanent exhibit, it might be necessary to rethink its policies because the current collection nearly reflects Eva as an icon: it is composed by Evita’s personal belongings, different testimony-objects from the Peronist presidencies and some of Evita’s first re-significances, but certainly not the ones that have taken place in the 21st century or the ones that concern the LGBT+ collective. So, this renovation of the collecting management policies is compelling if the Museum has the aim to be relevant to future generations, including the whole society.
Moreover, in some informal meetings of people from different departments, lots of ideas came up, such as designing a comprehensive social programme whose public target would be some trans and transvestite organisations, specifically the ones working with under-age transvestites, or working in a project that contemplates the memory and history of these forgotten groups. Also, the fact of making an alliance with the local government in the frame of their trans-work-integral-network programme, whose main goal is to offer trans people real job opportunities avoiding prostitution, was taken into consideration, too. If implemented, the Museum would become a place where trans people involved in the programme could develop their yield internships. In addition, one important event the Museum organises every year is the Peronist Book Fair, which despite the title, offers a good variety of books and conferences about gender and history of women. For the 2019 edition, it will be proposed to widen the thematic by including LGBT+ literacy or academic productions books and conferences.
As the first script showed, the Evita Museum is a biographical Museum which displays the life of a political figure, as many others in the world. But it presents a huge differential: the conversion of the leader into an icon, which means that individuals or collectives have, are, and will appropriate her figure, transforming and linking it with new significances, without the authorization of the History or Museology Academy. If not considering this unique characteristic of the person to which the Museum is dedicated to, it could be surprising that the first modification in terms of the inclusion of the LGBT+ collective had happened in the permanent exhibit, which is normally the last item changed in institutions that are suffering a process of queer openness. This inclusion could be seen as the kick-off for the innovations to emerge later and the ones potentially implemented within the years. Another fact to highlight is that the shy institutional commitment to the integration of LGBT+ community is commonly held by women and gay men in low positions of the staff; not free of discussions, contradictions or failures. Therefore, it is to be seen, in the frame of the world-wide queer activism if the Museum would take LGBT+ inclusion as an institutional long-term objective in order to contribute to build social equality, considering that achieving social justice was the main goal of Eva Peron.
Florencia Croizet was born in Buenos Aires, in 1993. As a museologist, she has worked in Argentinean public museums since 2014 (Yrurtia House Museum and Evita Museum). She has been selected twice to participate in French Museology Courses (Ecole du Louvre and the Ministry of Culture). Thanks to her current research on LGBT+ narratives in museums, in 2018, she was invited by the ICOM and the Chinese Museum Association as a lecturer in the International Forum of Young Museum Professionals