In the latest installment of a new Out Leadership series highlighting the struggles and progress of LGBTQ+ equality worldwide, Director of Equality Initiatives Fabrice Houdart spoke with Argentinian Trans Activist Calenna Garba about LGBTQ+ equality in Argentina.
Can you give us a background on your career and what it means for you to be both a successful composer and an out trans woman?
I think the goal of art is to deliver inspiring messages. It is a unique and universal language. I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1972. My mother is a writer and my father is a tango musician, both of whom are currently retired. I grew up with music in my ears and with stories at night that my mother told me. My artistic career makes sense when I look at the path traveled, when from each note I build bridges of interaction, inspiring myself in a diverse and equal society. It is amazing to see that together we can. You know, I am a transgender person, proud to be one, I am a composer, pianist and conductor, premiering symphonic music and moving is really incredible. I am the first transgender person to do it at least in United States and Argentina. It is undoubtedly thanks to everyone’s work, day after day, month by month, year by year. It is because of so many years of advocating for our rights.
In your opinion, what is the role of music to save humanity?
Art is witness to our history. This is a fact. Thanks to art we know our past. We know that human diversity was always thought of. It reminds us of who we are and what our mission is. Music has great power, and it certainly saves humanity. I cannot imagine the world without music. Music is part of art, when I see the emotion that music causes, how therapeutic it is, how free it makes us feel. My world is music, my soul is music. I mean, it’s a blessing to be able to count on her.
You just played at the UN and Argentina is the co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition, do you believe Argentina can play a role in global progress on LGBT+ issues?
The United Nations is an agency created to maintain peace, it is a tool to solve problems on a global scale that works for equal rights. I had a beautiful contact a few years ago, it is good to know the great work they do for the LGBT+ community. Working with the United Nations, as well as other Organizations that make the rights of LGBT+ people worldwide visible, is always an honor.
Argentina is an emerging country with many difficulties to solve, including the economy. Curiously, it is progressing very well in LGBT+ issues. It does not surprise me, activism has grown and become very strong since the 1980s and has not stopped until it has been able to force politics to definitively raise the debate. The Church and conservative groups vied for these laws not to be approved: the Equal Marriage Law, the Gender Identity Law. These advances are a point that divides the past from the future in Argentina, which undoubtedly came from diplomacy and its inspiring figures in art and civil life. They build active participation in issues of LGBT+ people.
Argentina is one of the most progressive countries when it comes to LGBT+ inclusion, yet attitudes can sometimes lag behind in a predominantly Catholic country. Do you see a backlash on LGBT+ rights in Argentina or Latin America like we observe in Brazil or the US?
I think there won’t be any delays. Argentina has been a country with Catholic DNA since its colonial era. Today the Pope is Argentine. The church publicly stated its rejection of important laws on LGBT+ communities, the Equal Marriage Law and the Gender Identity Law. They were highly questioned, but that position did not prevent the bills from finally becoming law. So strong is the Catholic predominance in Argentina that, paradoxically, abortion has not prospered in any bill. It is carefully observed that what the current president will do with this subject clearly contains religious influence. On the other hand, Latin America has very broad sociological components, impossible to condense. Not everything is the same where the church has had more presence, even its presence has been supplanted by new forms of Christianity; evangelism, for example Brazil, which is a strong country in territorial and economic extension, has its conflicts, and is very serious on the rights of LGBT+ people. I think the United States is a democracy that is going through an old unsolved situation, racism. Sooner or later societies resolve what they cannot from politics. The United States had its advances in the very important area of LGBT+ inclusion, long delayed. Last year, 50 years after the Stonewall police raid, it is sad to note that advances in the area of rights for LGBT+ people have been halted, even contracted severely. Without a doubt, the political alternation between Democrats and Republicans, should not harm inclusive advances.
Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the diversity efforts of Argentine companies?
It’s a very good question. I think that COVID hits the world and its economic platform. It is obvious that an emerging country like Argentina will be hurt and so will their companies. This can undoubtedly delay the results and the focus that companies may have on improving life for the LGBT+ community. Good LGBT+ inclusion practices are necessary in order to strengthen human resources within companies. Companies motivate the creation of bonds of belonging for people— who are their employees—and this is reflected in society. The balance of the year will be difficult. In any case, it is a very interesting topic in which we have to keep moving forward.
What will you focus on for the next 6 to 12 months?
Well … for artists it is a very difficult time. The context of the pandemic leaves us without the possibility of carrying out our work. You know, nobody imagines a concert today. In these months, focused on working on composition, in my role as a communicator I have been working on strategies to strengthen actions that improve the visibility of the LGBT+ community, with a special focus on the Transgender community, which is also marginalized within the community.
In the next 12 months, we will work to consolidate an important music event in New York that has LGBT+ people as protagonists. Art is a good motivating agent.
Calenna Garba is a Transgender person, she was born in Argentina; She is a pianist, composer, and orchestra conductor with a worldwide impact. Her compositions, full of changing and unexpected rhythms, with diverse and surprising climates, perfectly refer to the genre of the soundtrack, being a composer who stands out in light and contemporary classical music. Her music has been released around the world. For her tenacity and perseverance in fighting in defense of the rights of LGBT+ people, she has been awarded and distinguished by several international organizations, including the United Nations. Her personal and artistic experience was full of struggles, conflicts, challenges and uncertainties, giving rise to a strength and will that would help her achieve her dream of becoming a professional pianist and living a genuine life where the legacy for the next generations has become her engine of life. Calenna gave up a comfort in the corporate world and a life without a place in the world with the conviction to start a new chapter, where a piano would help her overcome her personal struggle. As her career took flight, the artist began composing pieces based on her experiences as a transgender person and giving hope to other emerging artists like her. The influences of 80s English and Argentine pop music, combined with the great references of cinema soundtracks, come together in each of their pieces with unique characters. The composer’s vision is to bring her music to every corner of the world. This music is also a tool to build social bridges of integration, of communication.