JAVIER CORRALES LGBT Rights in the Americas
Violence remains a problem. In Honduras, Mexico, Colombia,
and Brazil, prominent gay leaders have been murdered.
face the worst forms of physical and mental abuse, and
sometimes lethal violence, by the very same people
who purchase their services. In several English-speak-ing Caribbean nations, homosexuality remains illegal.
Consequently, there is an air of inhospitality even
when the legal environment is hospitable.
Mexico City is a good example. A year after the city approved in late 2006 a cohabitation law granting same-sex
couples marital rights identical to those established for
common-law relationships between men and women,
only 302 couples applied for this right. In contrast, in
Massachusetts, with a smaller population (of 6. 5 million
versus 8. 9 million in Mexico City), eight months after gay
marriage was approved, 6,000 couples filed for this right.
Violence remains a problem. In Honduras, Mexico,
Colombia, and Brazil, prominent gay leaders have been
murdered. Latin American LGBT groups are finding that,
as Omar Encarnación has argued, gay rights in the books
“will mean nothing” as long as discrimination and violence remain rampant.
The dichotomy of status of LGBT rights can also be gauged quantitatively. Mario Pecheny and I have been working on two possible measures of LGBT rights and status. One looks at the legal environment, the other at LGBT-friendly organizations in a given country.
The Legal Environment
Drawing from various sources, we have identified seven
legislative categories that affect LGBT rights: legality of
same-sex sexual activity, legality of same-sex relationships, legality of same-sex marriage, legality of same-sex
adoption, legality of LGBT military service, existence of
anti-discrimination laws, and laws protecting expression of gender identity.
Each country was given a score from - 1 to 2 for each
of the categories, depending on whether there is full,
partial, or no pro-LGBT legislation in the country for
that particular category. The scores from each category
were summed up, with a country’s overall scores ranging from - 1 to 14. If a country provided no information,
it received a 0 score for that category, based on the assumption that if no information was listed, it was highly
unlikely that legislation existed.
The Organizational Environment
Since we know that laws are not always enforced, it is
important to find ways to measure the quality of life
for LGBT people. This is difficult, almost impossible,
to achieve for all countries and regions. Some surveys
of degrees of discrimination have been conducted, but
they are sporadic and unavailable everywhere.
As a less-than-perfect solution, Pecheny, Mari Crook
and I came up with what we call an index of gay-friend-liness of cities. This index measures the number of gay-owned or gay-friendly organizations and businesses in
the top three most populated cities in 117 countries. The
information was gathered from the 2007 issue of Spartacus, a directory of gay services worldwide.
Three preliminary organization scores were given:
average number of businesses across the three most
populated cities, the number of businesses in the most
populated city and the number of businesses per capita in the most populated city. While this index has a
number of methodological problems, it offers the only
measure of urban life from the point of view of the
LGBT community. The index provides an estimate of
the number of gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses
per 100,000 inhabitants, in each country’s three largest urban centers.
Both indices confirm the same story. Latin America
has become a leader in LGBT rights and urban living
conditions. In terms of the legal environment, the average score for Latin America is 5. 53. In terms of organizational density, the average for Latin America is 2.01
(meaning that there are 2.01 gay-friendly organizations
per 100,000 inhabitants). Both scores are the highest
for any region of the world outside the North Atlantic.
But the darker side of the story is also evident from
the data. First, the score for Latin America in Figure 1
Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012