AP Explains: The rocky rise of LGBT rights in Latin America

In this July 14, 2010 file photo, demonstrators wave a gay pride flag outside Congress in support of a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in Buenos Aires. Argentina was the first country in Latin America to approve gay unions and in 2019 has some of the most progressive LGBT policies in the world. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Despite a dark past, today many LGBT citizens in Latin America are enjoying the right to marry, choose their gender identity and adopt children. But while laws in several of the region’s biggest countries are changing that doesn’t necessarily translate into a broader societal shift toward acceptance.

Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court ruled Thursday that sexual orientation and gender identity should be included in the nation’s anti-discrimination law, providing a new layer of protection for LGBT people.

The decision comes at a sensitive moment in Brazil’s history: Leading the country is a president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has openly expressed his disdain for same-sex couples, going so far as to say he’d prefer to have a dead son than a gay one. Studies of homicide reports indicate Brazil is the most dangerous place in the world to be transgender.

Experts say Latin America needs to address long-standing cultural biases, racial and income inequality in order to make the region safer for LGBT people. Here’s a look at how far Latin America has advanced in protecting gay and transgender rights and what gaps in equality remain.



Decades ago, several Latin American governments were ruled by iron-fisted governments that considered homosexuality a scourge to the silenced.

In Argentina, a far-right military dictatorship disappeared tens of thousands of suspected leftist dissidents. Advocates have long contended that gay activists suffered disproportionately, though their cases have received far less attention.

In this June 4, 2019 file photo, Ecuadorian gay couple Javier Benalcazar, left, and Efrain Soria arrive to the Constitutional Court to hear the final decision on same sex marriage, before the decision was rescheduled by the court for a future date, in Quito, Ecuador. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

In the late 1970s during Brazil’s military regime, a nascent LGBT community was similarly muted by a government with strict censorship laws that pushed gay publications and demonstrators to quit or go underground.

Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas penned an anguishing account of the harassment and confinement he endured as a gay man in post-revolutionary Cuba, where homosexuality was seen as a remnant of the detested bourgeoisie.

Today most Latin American nations no longer consider homosexuality a crime, but in the Caribbean that is not the case. In former British colonies like Jamaica, a law declaring the “abominable crime of buggery” punishable with up to 10 years in jail remains on the books.

Activists have presented several legal challenges and are optimistic such laws will soon be obsolete.

“In all those countries organizing is happening,” said Mauro Cabral Grinspan, executive director of the Global Action for Trans Equality advocacy group. “And I really believe that we are going to see change in the next five years.”

Source: AP Explains: The rocky rise of LGBT rights in Latin America

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