LGBT Rights in the Americas JAVIER CORRALES
LATIN AMERICA LEADS
It is important to look first at the positive. Some spec- tacular achievements in LGBT rights have occurred just in the past two years. Everybody who follows Latin American affairs is
probably familiar with the pathbreaking 2010 law in Argentina legalizing gay marriage and adoption. But many
people may not realize that, while only Argentina, Canada, Mexico City, and a few states in the United States
have approved gay marriage laws, LGBT rights are expanding almost everywhere.
For instance, in 2008, Brazil’s then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva inaugurated an international LGBT
congress. The same year, Ecuador approved the second
constitution in the world that bans discrimination on
the basis of “gender identity,” “sexual orientation” and
“HIV status” (although it still defines marriage as the
“union between man and woman,” Art. 68).
In 2009, Uruguay approved civil unions. In 2010, El
Salvador’s president, Mauricio Funes, issued a decree
banning discrimination in the public service based
on sexual orientation and gender identity. Costa Rica’s
Constitutional Court ordered the Supreme Elections
Tribunal to discontinue preparations for a referendum
petitioned by Observatorio de la Familia, a conservative
group seeking to block gay rights. The same year, Brazil’s Federal Supreme Tribunal voted 10-0 in favor of
In 2011, Lima Mayor Susana Villarán led the city’s small
gay pride parade. In Colombia, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that homosexual couples have the right
to “form a family” and gave the legislature two years to
legislate in favor of recognizing same-sex unions. Even
Fidel Castro, a person not known for admitting errors,
apologized publicly for his mistreatment of homosexuals in the 1960s.
The transformation of Latin America is not just an
As this process has unfolded, the region has emerged
as a global champion of LGBT rights. In 2007, for instance,
Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay promoted the United Nations launch of the Yogyakarta Principles, which specify how states must treat issues of sexual orientation
and gender identity.
In March 2011, on behalf of 85 signatory countries,
Colombia delivered a joint statement during the UN
General Debate that called on states to end violence
and establish criminal sanctions for human rights violations linked to sexual orientation and gender identity,
Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012
and urged the Human Rights Council to address these
important human rights issues.
Also that month, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil
discussed with President Barack Obama of the United
States the appointment of a special rapporteur on LGBT
rights within the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) at the Organization of American
States (OAS). Last November, partially in response, the
IACHR created a Unit on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons.
And yet, despite these advances, Latin America is still
home to some of the worst forms of discrimination and
mistreatment of LGBT folks.
The notion of hate crime does not exist in many coun-
tries. Surveys show that the majorities tend to have little
political tolerance for LGBT rights every where except in
Argentina and Uruguay. Churches, schools, neighbors,
and households routinely demonize LGBT people, forc-
ing them to leave their places of residence or to stay in
the closet. Politicians still express apprehension. The
governor of Jalisco state in Mexico was typical in his
remark that gay marriage “still disgusts me.”
The Catholic and Protestant Churches play a compli-
cated role. On the one hand, Catholic charities tend to
offer assistance to AIDS patients and victims of domes-
tic abuse—groups that often include members of the
LGBT community. On the other hand, factions within
the clergy are today the most unabashed exponents
of anti-LGBT speech. Chile’s Cardinal Jorge Medina is
a good example, openly proclaiming that “if a person
has a homosexual tendency it is a defect, like missing
an eye, a hand, a foot [...] but when it enters the practice
of sexual life between people it’s still not acceptable.”
Few prodemocracy movements in the past 30 years
have had to face such a complicated dilemma: fighting
a moral authority in order to make a democratic point.
With certain religious leaders deciding to become un-
abashedly outspoken against homosexuality, the LGBT
movement finds itself battling a widely esteemed insti-
tution in its campaign to win rights.
Even when homophobia is quiet, it is still potent.
Few Latin American employers have proactive prodi-versity policies, and LGBT employees are often encouraged not to flaunt their sexuality. Marriage continues
to be defined, constitutionally in some cases, as unions
reserved for straight couples (or fake straight couples).
Neither the police nor school teachers receive training on how best to respond to LGBT issues. Transsexuals, many of whom rely on sex work to make a living,