From Evangelicals on the political rise in Chile and Mexico, to marriage equality in Bermuda (kind of), to a vote in favor of adoption equality, it’s been a mixed year for LGBTI rights. Here are the top 10 stories of the past year.
10. Ecuador and Colombia: Horror documented. In Ecuador, Lesbian photographer Paola Paredes went undercover inside a gay conversion facility. Based on her interviews, Paredes reported that these clinics subject LGBT people to inhumane conditions. Women are forced to wear make-up; some report being victims of “corrective rape.” In Colombia, the country’s first ever survey of LGBT high school students revealed rampant insecurity: 67.0 percent of respondents reported “feeling insecure” at school due to their sexual orientation; 54.8 percent due to their gender expression, and 36 percent avoid using school bathrooms in fear for their security.
9. Chile: Right-wingers and Evangelicals unite. An increasing number of Latin American politicians from the right are openly courting the Evangelical vote. The latest example was former president Sebastián Piñera, who won Chile’s 2017 presidential elections in part by forming an alliance with more conservative forces, including Evangelicals. Evangelicals stand strongly against abortion, same-sex marriage, and adoptions by LGBT adults. During his first presidency, Piñera was famous for supporting a few pro-LGBT measures. This year, in contrast, he ran on a more socially conservative platform.
8. Mexico: Left-wingers too. It’s not just the right, but also populist leftist Latin Americans who are gravitating toward conservative Evangelicals. Two-time runner up for president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, shocked many of his leftist constituency when he formally announced an alliance with the Evangelical party, Social Encounter Party (PES) to run in the July 2018 presidential elections. Prior to the announcement, López Obrador was leading the polls.
7. El Salvador: Love Federation. In the context of growing discrimination, rising violence, and increasing difficulties to migrate to the United States for the LGBT community, a total of 16 LGBT-oriented organizations came together to form the Asociación Federada LGBTI. The Federation’s main objective is to lobby the government for more legal protections, and to monitor hate crimes in the region. El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world, often targeting the LGBT community.
6. Uruguay, Ecuador, and Argentina: Young, powerful trans-formations. Trans are becoming not just more visible in Latin America, but also more powerful. Michelle Suárez, 34, became the first trans Senator in Uruguay. Diane Rodríguez, 35, became the first trans legislator in Ecuador. Analía Pasantino, 49, became the first trans Chief of Police in Argentina, the first Latin American trans ever to hold such a post. These achievements are all the more impressive in a region where very few politicians are publicly out.
5. Anglo Caribbean: The sun doesn’t always shine on sunny Caribbean. In February, 289 prominent conservative Christian clergy from the Caribbean sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to end what they call Obama’s “LGBT agenda” in the Caribbean. In their letter, they describe this agenda as using “coercion…against our countries to force us to fall in line with the entire same-sex agenda.” There are nonetheless signs of Christian dissent. In July, Bishop Howard Gregory, head of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, expressed opposition to Jamaica’s laws penalizing same-sex relations, the so-called buggery laws.
4. Chile, Costa Rica, and maybe Panama: One step closer. In August, President Michelle Bachelet sent a marriage-equality bill to congress. The bill would modify the civil code to define marriage as a union between two people, rather than a man and a woman. References to husband and wife will be changed in favor of gender-neutral spouses (cónyuges). Opponents argue that the existing law of civil unions is enough. In Costa Rica, at an international meeting on behalf of same-sex marriage, the country’s Vice-president Ana Helena Chacón publicly supported marriage equality. Currently, Costa Rica confers only civil union rights to same-sex couples. Supporters of same sex marriage in Central America also include Panamanian First Lady Lorena Castillo and Panamanian Vice President Isabel de Saint Malo.
3. Bermuda: One step forward, one step back. In May, Bermuda’s Supreme Court issued a ruling legalizing marriage equality, remarkable for English-speaking islands in the Americas, which tend to have strict anti-sodomy laws. In opposition, the Parliament in this British territory approved instead a Domestic Partnership Act, which seeks to avoid marriage equality by offering domestic partnership instead. The Act awaits signature by the governor. Critics say the Act strips Bermudians of rights already gained.
2. Colombia, Mexico and Chile: A “Liberty Bus” tours the region with a message against gender liberty. With support from the conservative group CitizenGo/Hazteoir.org, a bus with transphobic signs went on tour through various cities in Colombia, México, and Chile, prompting protests along the way. The so-called Liberty Bus carried the billboard: “Boys have penises; girls have vulvas; don’t let anyone fool you; if you are born a man, you are a man; if you are woman, you will always be a woman.” In Chile, the controversy surrounding the bus took an unexpected turn following revelations that a daughter of one of the bus‘s local promoters was trans, generating debates among pro-LGBT groups about the appropriateness of outing.
1. Colombia: New milestones. Already famous for legalizing marriage equality and signing in 2016 the world’s first peace agreement recognizing LGBT victims of war, Colombia achieved new LGBT milestones in 2017. Congress defeated a popular homophobic bill that sought to call a referendum on adoptions by non-straight parents. In a historic public event, the Colombian state officially apologized to a former inmate, Marta Álvarez Giraldo, for having denied her rights to intimate visits by her partner during the time that Álvarez’s was incarcerated. (Álvarez won her case with the help of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.) And finally, Colombia celebrated the first official three-person wedding in Latin America. While technically the union does not constitute a marriage, which is still defined in Colombia as involving only two people, the story helped advance debates about polyamorous relations and the future of multi-parenting.
Javier Corrales is Dwight W. Morrow 1895 Professor of Political Science at Amherst College.