How Latin America accepted gays

An interesting article discusses how homosexuality become normal in Latin America, “From the early 1970s through the late 1980s, no place in the world was more unfriendly, dangerous, and potentially lethal for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people than Latin America”.

This is of course a sweeping statement. Swathes of Asia were, and still are openly hostile to gay people to say nothing of Africa and the Middle East.

He goes on that those in Latin America, “Viewing homosexuality as the ultimate sign of bourgeois decadence, Communist Cuba imprisoned and tortured gays by the truckloads, a horror captured in novelist Reynaldo Arenas’ gripping memoir, Before Night Falls. Argentina’s right-wing military regime targeted gays through the so-called Proceso Nacional, a dirty war waged between 1976 and 1983 to rid the country of political dissidents and so-called social undesirables. By the late 1980s, the scale of deadly violence against homosexuals in Brazil was so vast that it prompted gay rights activists to declare a “homocaust” and instigated a 1995 Amnesty International report, Breaking the Silence, about worldwide violence against LGBT people. This marked the first time that a major human rights organization had shined a spotlight on gay issues”.

He writes that “Today, however, Latin America stands, alongside Western Europe and the United States, among the most progressive regions on LGBT rights. All Latin American nations have decriminalized homosexuality, with Panama being the last country to abolish an anti-sodomy law, in 2008; and all of them have laws in the books protecting gays and lesbians against discrimination. Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and in several Mexican states and the Federal District of Mexico City. Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador allow same-sex civil unions that offer same-sex couples all the benefits of marriage save for the name”.

The writer notes that asks how attitudes changed in Latin America, “External influence has certainly played a big role in Latin America’s “gay rights revolution.” For starters, for several decades now, the region has been engulfed in a tidal wave of “global queering,” a term that refers to the worldwide spread of homosexual identities and cultural practices launched by the gay liberation movement born with the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Widely known as the launch pad for the contemporary gay rights movement, Stonewall inspired a generation of Latin American gay activists to import the gospel of gay liberation to the region. They were led by the Frente de Liberación Homosexual (FLH), Latin America’s first viable gay rights organization. Founded in Buenos Aires in 1971, the FLH promoted sexual nonconformity, pride in being gay, and repeal of the infamous edictos policiales, federal ordinances that made homosexuality a crime in practice although not in law. (Argentina, like most of Latin America, decriminalized homosexuality in the nineteenth century, influenced by France’s Napoleonic Civil Code). Although the FLH was viciously crushed by the military in 1976, after the return of democracy to Argentina in 1983, its legacy inspired a new generation of gay activists to pick up the cause”.

He adds that “Pressure and shaming from international human rights organizations has also facilitated gay rights by aiding in the “socialization” of Latin American governments into human rights norms and practices. During the 1980s, gay activists at the Inter-American Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission created a splash by pushing the United States and Canada into granting political asylum to a number of Latin Americans who claimed that their lives were endangered by the fact that they were homosexual. The most famous of these cases was that of Marcelo Tenorio, a gay male from Brazil, the first person to be granted asylum in the United States on the grounds of his sexual orientation. Tenorio told U.S. immigration officials that he fled Brazil in 1990 after he was stabbed outside of a gay bar in Rio de Janeiro in 1989 and that he feared for his life if forced to go home. In coming to his rescue, activists were aiming as much to save gay lives as to embarrass the Brazilian government for its horrid treatment of gays and lesbians. International pressure has also encouraged Latin American nations to enact policies and legislation specifically intended to advance gay civil rights. In 1991, after denying legal recognition to the Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (CHA), Argentine President Carlos Menem was treated to a shaming campaign while traveling in the United States. It was waged by ACT-UP Americas, an offshoot of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), the New York-based organization famous for its attention-grabbing activism. Menem was accosted virtually everywhere he went, including at the Argentine consulate in New York”.

He then mentions that “the timely intervention by several individual foreign nations, most notably Spain. After 2005, when Spain became the first Roman Catholic nation to legalize same-sex marriage, the Socialist administration of José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero made LGBT rights a priority in its diplomatic relations with Latin America. This intervention, ably aided by a host of Spanish NGOs, such as Fundación Triángulo and the Federación Estatal LGBT, is credited with spurring gay rights policies throughout Latin America, especially same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage. No other Latin American country was more impacted by this “diffusion” effect than Argentina, a country that is predominantly populated by people of European descent, has high levels of social and economic development, and possesses Latin America’s richest history of organized activism around the issue of homosexuality”.

He then argues that since the “homegrown” factors also helped such as the rise of democracy on the continent and “the growing secularisation of the public, as can be seen in the rise of so-called lapsed Catholics, also known as “cultural Catholics.” These are self-professed Catholics who do not see themselves as beholden to the Church’s teachings. In countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, about two-thirds of all Catholics fall into this category. These religious trends, which have undoubtedly have been accelerated by the Church’s loss of moral authority ensuing from its support of bloodthirsty dictatorships and sex abuse scandals, have made the public more accepting of homosexuality and more supportive of gay rights”.

He ends “Latin America’s gay rights successes cannot be fully understood without accounting for the smart advocacy by gay rights activists. What Latin American gay activists have lacked in the way of organizational resources relative to their counterparts in the United States and Western Europe—such as large membership bases and political connections—they have more than compensated for by crafting some of savviest gay rights campaigns around. Most notably, whereas gay activists in the United States have waged a “civil rights struggle” to advance gay rights, including same-sex marriage, in much of Latin America gay activists have waged a “human rights crusade.” The former seeks to legitimize gay rights through national law while the latter finds the legitimacy of gay rights in the universality of human rights. The framing of the struggle for gay rights as a human rights crusade was most expertly realized in Argentina. After the transition to democracy, in 1983, Argentine gay activists folded their aspiration for ending antigay discriminatory policies and for extending civil rights protections into the large and influential Argentine human rights community born from the political excesses of the Dirty War. To drive home the point that gay rights are human rights, activists adopted the slogan “the freedom of sexuality is a basic human right.” That slogan foreshadowed the popular idea that “gay rights are human rights” in European and American gay politics”.

 

 

 

 

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