It’s perhaps no surprise that Brazil, a nation known for the opulent, flamboyant parades of Carnival, is also home to the largest gay pride parades in the world. In 2006, the pride parade in Sao Paulo broke world records for the largest gay pride event ever, and since then, attendance has remained strong, regularly reaching into the millions. But, despite the vibrant gay rights movement in Brazil, the nation is also the home to one of the highest rates of anti-gay violence in the world, accounting for over forty percent of all homophobia-related murders. Such contrasting extremes are indicative of the paradoxes that characterize attitudes toward gay rights throughout much of Latin America, a region where some of the world’s most progressive pro-LGBT legislation exists alongside some of the staunchest opposition.
Without a doubt, many Latin American territories have made impressive gains on the LGBT rights front. In 2010, Argentina became the first nation in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. Recently, Uruguay followed suit, enacting a single set of laws to govern marriage between partners of any gender or sexual orientation. The laws also grant gay couples the same rights to adoption and in vitro fertilization as straight couples. Gay marriage is also legal in some Mexican states, a number of Brazilian states, and civil unions are recognized in Ecuador and Colombia. And Latin America is home to some of the world’s most progressive advances regarding transgender rights. In Argentina, transgender individuals can receive “hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery” free of charge and may change their names on legal documents without first receiving a “psychiatric diagnosis or surgery.” In 2012, Brazil hosted its first transgender beauty pageant (providing hope that beauty pageants could be a force for good after all), and the same year, Adela Hernández made headlines when she became “the first known trans person to hold public office” in Cuba.
Unfortunately, the increased prominence of activists and supporters has also had the adverse effect of making LGBT individuals “visible targets.” In a region once referred to as “land of the closet, home of the macho,” men and women who openly challenge accepted gender roles are the most likely to be victims of hostility, discrimination, and outright violence. Brazil may lead the world in rates of homophobic crimes, but Chile, Peru, Mexico, and other nations in the region also have startlingly high incidences of such violence. Matters are further complicated by strong opposition to gay rights from the Catholic Church and the evangelical community, as well as the prevalence of machismo in Latin American politics. Not only can politicians get by with openly homophobic remarks, but such remarks sometimes translate into political gains. In Venezuela’s recent presidential election, Nicolas Maduro helped bolster his campaign by insinuating that his opponent, Henrique Capriles, was gay. Paraguay’s newly elected president, Horacio Cartes, made similarly bigoted remarks during his campaign, deriding gay marriage as something “monkeys swinging from trees” do.
Latin America has much to be proud of when it comes to gay rights. But, the fact that such impressive advances exist simultaneously with such widespread opposition to gay rights should serve as a reminder that, while legal change is important, changing hearts and minds is just as if not more important when it comes to achieving real equality.
By Charlotte Lewis, Staff Contributor