LGBTQ rights activists demonstrate outside of the Parliament Buildings in Bridgetown, Barbados. Source: Amnesty International.
Although it was not a busy year, it was a productive one for promoting LGBTQ rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. A number of important achievements in the fight for LGBTQ rights took place in the region in 2022, especially in countries with lagging records in this area. Overall, the trend toward greater LGBTQ rights continues, which is not the case in many other parts of the world. Discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people remains rampant, but—legally at least—protections and representation are expanding. In this era of democratic backsliding, it is comforting to know that, on LGBTQ rights at least, there is less backsliding than progress in the region. Below are the five most important stories of the year.
- Historic Apologies: Honduras and Peru
In May, the Honduran government admitted responsibility for the 2009 murder of Vicky Hernández, a trans woman activist and HIV-positive sex worker from San Pedro Sula. Authorities committed the murder when going after Hernández and others for violating a curfew imposed after the 2009 coup. Later in November, the Peruvian state also issued an official apology to Azul Rojas Marín, a trans woman who was searched, beaten, stripped, and raped by police officers in 2008. Both apologies were prompted by rulings from international bodies. In Honduras, the prompt came from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, while in Peru, it came from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. Both organs found the states liable. The rulings and the apologies are significant because Honduras and Peru are two states in Latin America that are lagging the most when it comes to LGBTQ rights. The apologies mark a departure from a general tendency toward state inertia in these countries when it comes to LGBTQ issues. In another positive story for Honduras, in 2022 Víctor Grajeda became the first openly gay congressman in the country.
- A Landmark Election: Brazil
A number of important LGBTQ candidates won in Brazil’s general elections. Eduardo Leite, the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul who was forced to come out publicly once in office, won re-election. He defeated Onyx Lorenzoni, former chief of staff of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, 57.1 to 42.8 percent. In addition, Erika Hilton (she/her) in São Paulo and Duda Salabert (she/her) in Minas Gerais won seats in the Brazilian Congress. They are the first trans people to be elected to the nation’s Congress. Overall, a record number of out-LGBTQ people ran for Congress this year in Brazil, perhaps as many as 300. LGBTQ representation in Congress increased from 9 to 18.
- A Landmark Defeat: Brazil
The Brazilian elections were noteworthy not just because of who won, but also who lost. The biggest loser was of course President Jair Bolsonaro, perhaps the most openly homo- and transphobic president of the last decade in Latin America. Bolsonaro lost his re-election bid to former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, whose support for LGBTQ rights seems to have solidified since his first term in office. However, some worry that Lula was forced to make some appeals to conservative Christians to win the election. Bolsonaro’s failed re-election campaign relied on a variety of scare tactics—such as accusing his opponent of satanic ties and planning to close churches—aggressive efforts to mobilize Evangelicals, the spreading of unfounded doubts about the fairness of electoral authorities, and the rallying of conservative business groups from the interior. Many urban voters who supported Bolsonaro in 2018 turned away this year, possibly repelled by Bolsonaro’s policy mishaps during the pandemic, extreme homophobia, and Trump-inspired far-right populism.
- Wrong mechanism; Disaster Averted: Cuba
In a country where citizens seldom get any political choice, Cubans were given the option this year to vote on a new family code allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt children. It is never a good idea to ask majorities to decide on the civil rights of minorities, but fortunately voters approved the proposed code 66.9 percent to 33.1 percent. Elections and referenda in Cuba usually produce victories in the 90-percent neighborhood, so the relatively high negative vote on the referendum is worth noting. It probably included a mix of conservative voters—led by Evangelical churches arguing against same-sex marriage—as well as political dissidents—arguing against participating in any referendum organized by the dictatorship.
- Small nations, Big Steps: the Anglo-Caribbean
Courts in three Anglo-Caribbean countries—Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Barbados—issued landmark rulings de-criminalizing homosexual acts. In taking this step, courts followed global trends of democracies declaring that the criminalization of same-sex relationships is unconstitutional and undemocratic. Anglo-Caribbean nations inherited a series of laws criminalizing homosexual acts from the British empire. Following the precedent set by Belize, these Caribbean court rulings effectively repeal these laws and may, in the process, prompt the remaining six Anglo-Caribbean nations that still criminalize homosexuality to follow suit. The Anglo-Caribbean is slowly but steadily leaving behind its reputation as an LGBTQ-unfriendly region in the Americas.
Javier Corrales is Professor of Political Science at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and a member of the Advisory Board of Global Americans. His book Autocracy Rising will be published in February 2023.