The Fight For LGBT Rights In Latin America

For years now, human rights organizations have considered Honduras one of the most hostile and dangerous countries for human rights activists. On July 10th 2017, Osmin David Valle Castillo, an influential LGBT activist, answered the door at his home where he was beaten and chased by an unidentified man, according to TeleSUR. In June of last year, Rene Martinez, another local activist for LGBT rights, was found strangled to death after leaving his home. In April 2017, Sherlyn Montoya, a well-known drag queen and trans activist, was tortured and strangled to death in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This series of high profile killings and assassination attempts on local LGBT activists has raised international concern for the safety of the LGBT community in Honduras. Not only do LGBT people lack employment, education, and health care opportunities, they are also vulnerable to violence, abuse, and discrimination that is often turned a blind eye to out of fear of retribution. Some have even resorted to fleeing the country. It was just this month that 16 gay and transgender refugees from Central America, mostly from Honduras, arrived at the US-Mexico border seeking asylum.

Similar to the conditions in Honduras, there are a lot of Latin American countries that have no protective laws in place for LGBT people and therefore have become easy targets of hate crimes. Nearly 600 people have died across Latin America from anti-LGBT violence between January 2013 and March 2014 according to a report by IACHR. The IACHR report also shows that violence against LGBT individuals is becoming more extreme, including being stoned to death, tortured and raped. In Venezuela for example, same-sex couples have no protections or rights and transgender or transsexual individuals are unable to change their name and gender on their legal documents. Considering the political turmoil that currently grips the nation, the LGBT community in Venezuela has a difficult road ahead of them. According to a member of the LGBT organization Reflejos de Venezuela “Venezuela unfortunately is in the back of Latin America. The situation is very bad. We are always in limbo.”

One Latin American nation that also needs considerable attention is Peru, a country with a very conservative mindset and a current conservative political party dominating the parliament, making it difficult for the LGBT community to progress. According to the community organization in Peru called the Observatory of LGBT Rights and HIV/AIDS, there have been 174 homicides and 382 cases of violence against LGBT persons since 2005. In 2008, a 226-year-old gay Peruvian man, Marin, was arrested by the police on his way home, where he was detained for 6 hours, stripped and raped with a baton and verbally abused by police officers, according to CNN. Although Peruvian authorities claim to have conducted an extensive investigation, it was concluded that there was no indication of the acts described by Marin.

In 2016, things did seem to look brighter for LGBT Peruvians, for a new Penal Code was drafted that would include legislature for the protection of LGBT individuals against discrimination, persecution and incitement to hatred. After it was implemented in January, 2017, the congressional constitutional commission controlled by the Popular Force Party of Kieko Fujimori voted on April 4th, 2017 to remove Article of Decree 1323 of the new Penal Code which lists motives such as race, religion and sexual orientation as aggravating circumstances in a case of crime. Peru now joins Paraguay and Guyana as the only 3 South American countries with no laws prohibiting discrimination against its LGBT population. According to Erika Almenara, assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Arkansas and a native Peruvian, “The Fujimori party is old-fashioned and continues to consider those who self-identify with an alternative gender or sexuality as sick, perverse etc. As such, the party does not believe such individuals deserve protection.”

A contributing factor to the ongoing hatred and violence towards members and activists for the LGBT community is religion, specifically Catholicism and Evangelicalism. Religion plays a huge role in shaping the societal and political opinions in Latin American countries. LGBT people living in countries with a strong evangelical presence tend to have the hardest time according to CNN. Catholic and evangelical churches have similar views, however, there are distinguishing features such as while both churches oppose homosexuality, Catholic churches tend to be less opposed to anti-discrimination statutes than the evangelical churches. A member of MHOL, the Homosexual Movement of Lima, says that some evangelical priests in Peru have been preaching strongly against homosexuality, saying that it is a disease that needs to cured.

It is clear that the situation is dire in some countries within Latin America, however, the region is still very complex and extreme in the spectrum when it comes to the rights and treatment of LGBT individuals. The region has the highest rates of violence against LGBT people in the world according to CNN, and yet it has some of the most progressive laws for LGBT equality and protection. In fact, laws regarding same-sex marriage, adoption, changing the gender on national ID cards, and anti-discrimination all went into effect during the past decade, many even before the US legalized same-sex marriage. Today, same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia and in several Mexican states. In addition, there are 14 Latin American countries that have passed laws prohibiting any form of discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation in the workplace.

From South America to Central America, the views of the people and the government on rights for LGBT individuals vary dramatically. For countries such as Peru, Honduras, Bolivia and Paraguay, it is important for human rights activists to continue to let their voices be heard and not be intimidated by the hatred and violence that surrounds them. They are an integral part of the movement towards equality, for they can empower our youth and raise awareness world wide. Education and religious institutions will also play an important role in providing the next generation with the right messages and tools with regards to how we treat and respect each other. Neighboring countries that have implemented legislation protecting LGBT individuals, such as Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay, should also look to provide asylum for those vulnerable to violence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The US has been for decades the place of choice to seek asylum for LGBT people, however, under the new administration and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), it may not be the safest choice. There are many other nations in Latin America that are just as open minded, if not more, to LGBT community members.