In a year dominated by widespread protests in Chile, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Haiti and Puerto Rico; presidential elections with shocking results in Bolivia, Uruguay, and Guatemala; refugee crises in Venezuela and Central America; a change of presidents in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador, and Bolivia—and even two presidents in power in the case of Venezuela; uncontrollable wildfires in the Amazon region; and continued repression in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, it was easy to overlook the evolution of LGBT struggles in the region.
Once again, 2019 proved to be another year where both pro and anti-LGBT pressure groups made important strides. As is tradition, here’s my list of the top 10 stories affecting the LGBT community in Latin America and the Caribbean:
10. Bye, bye, bye. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo (Ricky) Rosselló was forced to resign amid protests surrounding “RickyLeaks.” The scandal involved revelations that the governor and close associates were sharing unethical, derogatory, misogynistic and often homophobic remarks in private chats. San Juan mayor’s Carmen Yulín Cruz and performer Ricky Martin were some of the individuals mentioned in the disparaging chats. One comment written by high-ranking official Christian Sobrino Vega said “Ricky Martin is such a male chauvinist that he f***s men because women don’t measure up. Pure patriarchy.”
9. Don’t leave me this way. Jean Wyllys, a very popular, openly gay Brazilian lawmaker resigned his seat in the country’s congress, citing death threats made against him. Wyllys, who was set to begin his third congressional term in February, revealed that he had been living under police protection. With his resignation, Wyllys drew attention not just to the rise in homophobia at the national level, especially since the rise of openly homophobic President Jair Bolsonaro, but also the continued insecurity Brazilian LGBT individuals experience on a routine basis.
8. President of Hate. Latin America’s most prominent homophobic president, Jair Bolsonaro, began his anti-LGBT crackdown. In August, Bolsonaro announced that he would discontinue funding for movies with LGBT themes, arguing that such funding (approximately US$17.4 million) was like “throwing money away.” And in December, Bolsonaro decided not to renew the license for TV Escola, a public-funded TV channel, for promoting leftist ideas and gender ideology. Ideology of gender is an umbrella term used by conservatives to describe ideas of feminism, gender diversity, and acceptance of non-heteronormative sexualities.
7. With friends like this. Latin America’s most prominent LGBT champion, Mariela Castro, became the anti-champion. Castro is the daughter and niece of former presidents Raúl and Fidel Castro, and the director of CENESEX, a government-funded organization dedicated to gender and sexuality. For many years, Mariela Castro has claimed to be an ardent supporter of LGBT rights. But in 2019, she backed the Cuban government’s decision to remove a marriage-equality clause from the country’s new constitution. She also defended the government’s decision to ban a gay pride event to prevent the potential protest against the government’s backtracking on gay marriage.
6. Champion rising. Estanislao Fernández, the son of Argentina’s new president Alberto Fernández, attended his father’s inauguration wearing a pride symbol. Estanislao has performed as a drag queen and identifies as a queer ally. He could potentially become the queer ally closest to any president in Latin America.
5. I (don’t) want my Queer TV. The soap opera “Little Victory,” which portrays fictional trans women, including a groundbreaking love scene between a transgender woman and man, became widely popular in Argentina. The show, which has been widely celebrated by the LGBT community, was watched by more than a million people on its finale. In contrast, a Rio-based production company that sponsored a Christmas special in which Jesus is depicted as gay, bringing home a boyfriend to meet his family, was subject to a fire-bomb attack. More than 2.3 million people have signed an online petition to the production group, Porta dos Fundos, to remove the film from Netflix.
4. In Courts We Trust. Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court banned homophobic and transphobic acts, classifying it as similar to racism, to the ire of President Jair Bolsonaro. Lawsuits against colonial-era anti-sodomy laws were filed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, and Dominica. Legal efforts to overturn sodomy laws in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are pending.
3. Gay marriage down. In March, Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ordered the government to redefine marriage as the union between two people, rather than between a man and a woman, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage. Smellie’s ruling produced instant repudiation by the government, many legislators, and religious leaders. In an appeal filed by the government, the Court overturned Smellie’s ruling in November, saying that instead the law needs to be changed to create some legal recognition for same-sex couple other than marriage.
2. Gay marriage up. Ecuador’s Constitutional Court legalized same-sex marriage in June. Ecuador is now part of the 30 nations worldwide and six in Latin America to recognize marriage equality. It’s also one of the poorest to do so. LGBT rights need not wait until the right economic conditions are present.
1. Colombia’s three Ls: López, Lozano, Lesbians. For the first time ever, Latin Americans elected an openly-gay politician to an important office. Former Senator and vice presidential candidate Claudia López was elected mayor of Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. Following the election, López married her long-time partner, Senator Angélica Lozano. López and Lozano have been important defenders of human rights, peace agreements, environmental rights, and of course, LGBT rights.