global_homelessness
Homelessness is a problem waiting to be solved everywhere around the globe. The Institute of Global Homelessness was launched in 2014 to be a resource to solve this problem and believes that the cause is not hopeless. DePaul University and Depaul International partnered to establish the IGH.

It is located at DePaul University in Chicago and is the brainchild of Depaul International, a charity based in London. The university is the largest Catholic University in the U.S. The charity is the parent organization of a group of charities that supports the homeless and marginalized people around the world. Both organizations were founded by the Vincentians, a congregation of priests and brothers, who follow the values of St. Vincent de Paul, a 17th century French priest. Throughout his life, St. Vincent dedicated himself to serving the poor.

IGH focuses its efforts to solve global homelessness on research, leadership and responding to need. On June 1-2, 2015, less than a year after its opening, IGH hosted its first bi-annual research conference, Homelessness in a Global Landscape, at DePaul. Kat Johnson, the Director of IGH, has previously worked for nine years around the globe on issues related to housing and homelessness in various support and leadership roles.

What were the reasons for establishing the Institute of Global Homelessness at DePaul University?

The idea for IGH came from the realization that there was nothing operating at the international level that could act as a resource and consulting hub for leaders around the world who are working to end homelessness.

Mark McGreevy, group chief executive of Depaul International in the U.K., often fielded requests for advice and expertise about ending homelessness by policymakers, service providers and nonprofits and realized there was nowhere to refer them. McGreevy contacted DePaul University in Chicago knowing that aiding the poor is central to the university’s Vincentian mission. DePaul University’s belief in coordinated, effective public service informed the institute’s aim to provide research, leadership, consultancy and shared resources to those working to end homelessness.

Why is DePaul interested in global homelessness instead of focusing on homelessness in Chicago (since it is one of the top 25 cities in the country with a large homeless issue)?

The idea behind IGH is that by connecting effective practice and tenacious leaders across regions, we can accelerate an end to homelessness everywhere. It is DePaul University’s hope that the institute’s work will directly contribute to ending homelessness here in the city. In fact, the day following the conference, we worked with five Chicago-based homelessness organizations to host tours and exchanges with the international attendees.

Since assuming the director role for the institute, I’ve met many professors and students who work closely with the Steans Center for Community-Based Learning, University Ministry and academic programs at DePaul University that look at homelessness from various angles or volunteer with programs addressing homelessness around the city. The decision to lead the IGH has only strengthened DePaul’s drive to contribute to and support the efforts of Chicago’s homelessness advocacy organizations.

How did DePaul come to host the Homelessness in a Global Landscape Conference?

We wanted to gather the best and brightest minds working in the homelessness field in a room and to begin building a global movement to end homelessness. We also used the opportunity to get feedback on our global framework on homelessness, which attempts to set out a common vocabulary and broad definition of homelessness to enable collaboration.

What is your overall reaction to the conference?
The conference convinced me that a global movement to end homelessness is possible. Although we had a back-to-back schedule, people approached us between sessions with the desire to discuss concrete steps toward building a global movement. As a result of those informal conversations, we rearranged the second day’s agenda to include facilitated discussions.

It was one of the most heartening things I’ve seen—delegates from places as varied as India, Canada, Chile and Kenya raising their hands, saying, “I’m ready to see an end to this problem. What will we do to make sure that happens?”

Did the conference fulfill its purpose?

The conference was a success. We saw a robust exchange of ideas, knowledge and sharing of best practices among leaders from almost 30 countries. Our proposed definition and framework of homelessness was largely accepted by attendees, and a willingness to join a global movement emerged.

Could you give some examples of what homelessness means across the globe including an example from a developed country and a developing country?

Soon, we will be sharing widely the final framework, which captures variations of what homelessness can mean. We break homelessness into categories and sub-categories. Any given country will see some of these categories as homeless and others not. Our first category identifies people without accommodation. If you went to Delhi you might hear people talking about “pavement dwellers,” who stay on the pavement in a consistent location. In the U.S., you would more likely hear the term “street homelessness” or “unsheltered homelessness” to describe pavement dwellers. In a third category, there is considerable variation across countries for people defined as living in severely inadequate housing. Some places might consider someone staying on a relative’s couch homeless, others not. I was recently in Pretoria, South Africa, where we saw an informal settlement with structures that consisted of a few boards of wood as walls and a piece of corrugated metal along the top. The structure provided very little protection from weather and no sanitation services. Some people you ask would absolutely consider that homelessness; others would say it isn’t.

When we set out to write a framework of homelessness that would resonate globally, it was important for us to capture all the complexities in naming and defining homelessness in order to offer common language to discuss the various circumstances that can be described as homelessness. So it’s not that any one country would consider everything in our framework as homelessness, and we aren’t pushing anyone to do that. But for the first time, we have a menu with language that will make it possible to compare apples to apples.

Finally, I’d like to note that within this broader set of categories, IGH drew a very clear line around our own focus populations, which are people without accommodation as well as some forms of people living in crisis or temporary accommodation (for example, homelessness shelters or women and children living in refuges for those fleeing domestic violence).

Did you come any closer to a universal definition of homelessness?

We presented our proposal for a global framework of homelessness and received feedback during and following the conference. We are now in the process of refining the definition and expect to publish the final version soon.

Measuring homelessness was a goal of the conference. Is homelessness measured by the reasons people are homeless? Is there any way to tell the numbers of homeless based on the reason for homelessness, such as extreme poverty, natural disasters, runaway youth or LGBT issues?

We begin by looking at a person’s living situation. For example, “people sleeping in the streets or LBGT in other open spaces” will measure exactly that. In most of the world this basic level of measurement is not happening; getting those basic numbers will be paramount at a high level in assessing trends and determining how policy affects the issue. But, of course, to solve the problem we need to know why people experience homelessness and, ideally, also know the individual people experiencing homelessness in a particular place by name and housing need. We see basic measurement as necessary but not sufficient to end homelessness outright. So we will be working on causes—and even more importantly, solutions—alongside the measurement work.

What are your plans for future conferences?

We plan to hold a conference every other year, so look for the next one in 2017. We anticipate narrowing the focus to a specific topic within homelessness. Of course, between now and the next conference, we will continue to run small convenings to support and connect regional networks and gather people.

Janet Quinn

Sources: Institute of Global Homelessness, DePaul University
Photo: DePaul University

LBGT_poverty
The United States has recently seen progress for the LGBT communnity with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage. Despite the plethora of barriers still standing for the LGBT community in America, there are even more for the community abroad. Moreover, there are many global connections between LGBT communities and poverty.

The amount of LGBT people in underdeveloped and developing countries may often be overlooked or under-considered. With such focus on food and clothing, helping people in these nations with social issues, which often become economic issues, is commonly unacknowledged. It is thus difficult to place a number on how many people in these impoverished areas are LGBT, because of restricting laws that discourage coming out.

There are currently 81 countries that have repressive laws against same-sex actions and/or propaganda. Many of these countries are in North Africa and the Middle East, where poverty is widespread. Eight of those countries currently have a death penalty for homosexual behavior, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. These laws, death penalty or not, place further dangers on individuals in these areas.

Before the legal restrictions are even placed upon them, LGBT people experience hardships that come from social interactions and perceptions. Legal and economic securities become nearly nonexistent in nations with laws restricting any same-sex actions. It makes any type of health, economic or social security unattainable.

On top of that, rates of being wrongfully criminalized increase. Stigmas cause being shunned and excluded from daily activities or needs. The Williams Institute found that as many as 68% of LGBT people report experiencing discrimination, especially in regards to employment.

These limitations would be challenging enough for people residing in developed countries. In places where basic needs are hardly being met to start with, anti-LGBT laws can make access to food and water, education or healthcare seemingly unattainable.

The barriers placed upon the LBGT community are too great to be ignored when discussing poverty. As Colin Stewart from 76Crimes put it, “If LGBT poverty is not addressed, the goals [of alleviating extreme poverty] are mere aspirations and dreams.”

One of the most startling and disturbing occurrences of this mistreatment comes in the form of aid being provided to regions in need. There are two fronts to this issue. The first is that people providing aid often experience the same prejudice and harm that there is against same-sex individuals and supporters. In areas such as Uganda, Cameroon and Zambia, LGBT persecution has increased, as “HIV workers were more harassed, imprisoned and even killed” by anti-same sex groups and organizations.

There has been much criticism over the fact these troubling issues have not been properly investigated and that support to these anti-same sex and/or religious groups has continued despite such abuse.

The second issue international aid is facing is the blatant refusal of some organizations to serve and care for LGBT people in need. Sadly, too many donors and organizations turn a blind eye to the discrimination in front of them. Such behavior is allowing personal opinions to interfere with the livelihood and well-being of people truly in need. Increasing awareness of such discrimination is the first way to ensure equal treatment to individuals that are receiving aid from organizations and donors.

Human rights are making improvements around the world, but the fight is far from over.

– Katherine Wyant

Sources: International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, OpEdNews, Erasing 76 Crimes
Photo: Li Politics

brazilian artist
Brazilian artist, Carol Rossetti, began her project with the hopes of simply helping a few women in the world. What she got was much greater-international recognition and respect from men and women all around the world. Rossetti is a Brazilian graphic designer who takes on the responsibility of addressing the highly oppressive gender conventions heavily experienced in traditional Latin American culture.

The exceptional project remains unnamed, as it racks up over 83,000 Facebook likes, and counting. What was meant to be a local project has grown into an international movement, offering voices and calming support to women.

An example of the project is the simple image of a woman clutching her knees with the caption “Ana was raped.” It reads “Ana, you are not alone. It’s not your fault. This experience is not what defines you as a human being. You are so much more than this.” The powerful, yet simple, statement offers support to victims without focusing on the traumatic event. This is the most popular image on her site, along with many others in the same vein of topic.

When asked to describe her images, Rossetti tells CNN, “I think the point of my illustrations is to show, in a gentle and non-aggressive way, that there is still a lot of oppressive control over women’s personal choices and identities, and expose a problem of representation toward women, people of color, people with disabilities, (LGBT concerns) and so on.” Her poignant description allows any viewer to understand the concept without obviously stating the issues seen in modern society.

What started as a feminist project has, with the input of viewers, inspired Rossetti to become the voice for many social stigmas. Rossetti hopes to address racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and the like. Rossetti has expressed her frustration with “the world attempts to control women’s bodies, behavior and identities” and hopes that these images will inspire not just women, but all humans to reconsider their conceptions of society, and the realities within.

In many countries, women are generally accepted as the lesser gender, with restricted rights and restricted access to privileges. Rossetti’s images have spread to the far corners of the world,  inspiring women in India, for example, to question and rebel against the role given to them.

Today, women fight in every nation to receive the level of respect and acceptance given to men. Rossetti perfectly captures this internal dialogue experienced by every woman and gives them a way to portray it. Her simple designs allow the words to speak for themselves. Her message cannot be skewed by criticism if it inspires, at the very least, one viewer.

-Elena Lopez

Sources: ABS-CBN News, Bustle, CNN
Photo: CNN

LGBT Rights
Senator Edward Markey (D – Mass.) has introduced a new bill, known as the International Human Rights Defense Act, to the Senate that would commit the U.S. to protecting the rights of members of the LGBT community all around the world.

Markey, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, has brought this bill to the floor due to the fact that there are many countries around the world that condemn homosexuality to some degree. This includes more than 80 countries that criminalize homosexuality and the support of LGBT rights, as well as seven countries that punish homosexuality with the death penalty. The vast majority of these countries are located in poorer parts of the world, such as Africa and South Asia.

One country where being gay can land someone in jail is Nigeria. The northern part of the country is governed by strict Sharia law and prohibits homosexuality and anyone who supports it.

Although the government does not invoke the death sentence for this offense, local Islamic law often calls for the public stoning of anyone found guilty of homosexuality. Those who are turned in to officials for suspected homosexuality are often turned in by informants who secretly gather information. This activity is the result of the mindset in Nigeria and other countries that homosexuals and supporters of LGBT rights are a pestilence that society must be cleansed of.

The bill that hopes to change this focuses mainly on the discrimination and violence that LGBT men and women face, and imposes new strategies to counteract these, including the following:

· Making prevention and response to violence and discrimination against the LGBT community a priority

· Promoting LGBT rights via private sector, governments, multilateral organizations and local advocacy groups

· Creating a new position within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor that would be known as the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People. This envoy would be responsible for organizing all U.S. involvement with foreign LGBT affairs.

· The continuation of the LGBT rights sector of the annual State Department Report on Human Rights

The bill has already garnered 24 co-sponsors, including Markey’s fellow Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. In addition to congressional co-sponsors, the bill is also being endorsed by many LGBT rights groups, including MassEquality, which is the leading advocacy group in Massachusetts for LGBT rights.

Markey stated that “for the United States to hold true to our commitment to [defend] the human rights of all people around the world, we must stand with the LGBT community,” and if this bill were to pass, it would be a significant step toward equality around the world, as well as a more progressive American stance on LGBT rights.

— Taylor Lovett

Sources: LGBTQ Nation, MassEquality, Mass Live, NY Times
Photo: Frontiers LA

Anti-Homosexuality
In a Presidential memorandum from December 6, 2011, President Obama directed the federal government to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign aid promote and protect the human rights of the LGBT community abroad. Earlier this month the president made good on that promise by doling out a number of funding cuts to Uganda after the recent passage of their Anti-Homosexuality Act which criminalizes homosexuality.

Homosexuality has been a crime in Uganda since British rule, but this act criminalizes lesbianism for the first time. In the proposal stages the act originally contained a death penalty clause, but after international outcry, that provision was changed to life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” The law also targets those who aid members of the gay community, effectively ensnaring civil rights groups.

In response to the law the U.S. government has restricted entry into the U.S. by those it has implicated in the passage and enforcement of the law. The U.S. government has also ended its support of Uganda’s community policing program, fearing that it could potentially be utilized as an enforcement mechanism for anti-homosexuality sentiments in Uganda. That program included $2.4 million in aid. Additionally, funds intended for the Ministry of Health in Uganda have been shifted to NGOs within the country. This coincides with the movement of a planned National Public Health Institute to another African country along with the $3 million in funding which the U.S. would have provided. The Department of Defense also cancelled a joint military aviation exercise with Ugandan forces and the World Bank delayed a $90 million loan to Uganda directed toward improving its health services. Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have joined the U.S. in withholding significant aid to Uganda.

The international response by the western world to the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act has been decisive and swift. However, the Ugandan government, led by President Yoweri Museveni, remains resolute in its anti-gay position. Despite this, Uganda remains in a desperate state of need.

In the 2013 United Nations Development Programme Development Index, Uganda ranked 161 out of 186 countries. As of 2009, 24.5 percent of Uganda’s population was impoverished, down from a 31.1 percent rate in 2005 according to the World Bank. These improvements are significant but they run the risk of faltering without continued international support.

In a statement released in February shortly after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, President Obama called it “a step backward for all Ugandans.” With the imminent fallout from reduced foreign aid quickly approaching, this statement becomes clearer and clearer every day.

— Taylor Dow

Sources: Whiteouse.gov 1, Whitehouse.gov 2, BBC, Reuters, World Bank, CNN
Photo: BBC

LGBT Rights
Hillary Clinton has reportedly gotten into “shouting matches” with top Russian officials regarding LGBT rights. Russia is home to a set of very controversial laws, for which being homosexual, attending pride events or spreading propaganda regarding homosexuality to minors, is punishable by law. Putin’s views regarding gender equality have proved controversial, too: just recently, Putin went on a sexist rant about Hillary Clinton, calling her “weak,” further explaining that it was easier to just “not argue” with women.

Clinton has put up a fight regarding her side of the story. While on tour for her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton recalled the increasing amount of LGBT backlash she came to see, leading her to push and become an ardent activist for the cause. “I began to vigorously protest with governments in many parts of the world,” Clinton said. “Like what Putin’s doing … it’s just a cynical political ploy.” Regardless, without a strong-standing platform, the LGBT movement could go mute.

While LGBT rights are improving in many areas of the world, they are worsening in others. Today, there are around 76 countries in which being gay is a crime; of these 76, there are at least 10 in which being gay is punishable by death. Laws aside, more LGBT hate crimes are continuing to occur throughout the world, where they are often overlooked by the police. In the past year, a study regarding LGBT hate crimes in Europe — a fairly tolerant country on the issue — proved horrific: 17 percent of LGBT citizens have been victimized by a hate crime, and of these victims, 75 percent did not report the incident to law enforcement. 

Clinton has been able to remain relatively tongue-in-cheek, yet vigilant, regarding Putin and the controversial laws he has strictly enforced. When asked if it was hard to maintain relationships for her position as United States Secretary of State, Clinton stated that, at times, it was. “I’m talking about you, Vladimir,” she coyly said. “But it doesn’t mean that you don’t keep trying. You do have to keep trying.”

— Nick Magnanti

Sources: Advocate, Huff Post, Global Eguality, 76 Crimes, Washington Post, Care2
Photo: Mashable

anti-homosexuality_act

LGBT rights seem to have a place in the politics of almost every nation in the world these days. The topic is one of the most polarizing as well. Some countries are spearheading the movement with full inclusiveness for LGBT citizens. Others, like the United States, seem to be floating somewhere in the middle. And then there are the countries pushing hard in the opposite direction, such as Russia.

However, when it comes to anti-gay legislation, the government of Uganda is in a league of its own. In February of this year, lawmakers in Uganda essentially made it illegal to be gay by passing the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The bill makes the promotion of homosexuality, in every general sense, punishable. The price to pay for the ultimate offense – actually being gay – is a life sentence.

The legislation also extends for interacting with LGBT people. Failure to report homosexual suspicion to the government will earn time behind bars. Even knowingly housing or renting an apartment to a gay person could warrant up to five years in prison.

In recent history, societies across the world have met very significant ethical milestones that make Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act seem absurd. Doesn’t the Ugandan government, or any government for that matter, have more pressing issues than bedroom behavior that need attention? Would the Ugandan government actually spend the time and energy to enforce the law?

Apparently so.

The Refugee Law Project, a Uganda-based nongovernmental organization, recently came under investigation by the government over allegations of “promoting homosexuality and lesbianism.” Whether or not the NGO actually violated the Anti-Homosexuality Act is still being disputed as the investigation takes place.

The RLP operates at the School of Law of Makerere University in Uganda. Its aim is to enhance the mental health and psychosocial well-being of refugees and displaced people. The organization also explicitly states its intention to enforce sexuality and gender rights for those in need, which may have been a cause for government scrutiny.

The Refugee Law Project has taken to social media to inform the public that its operations are still running despite some interference. The organization has halted its one-on-one work with refugees at the moment, however. Some say that this inherently threatens the Refugee Law Project’s ability to accomplish its mission.

The standing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda is debated on ethical grounds for human rights, but it has also been criticized as a scapegoat tool to target groups and individuals critical of President Yoweri Museveni’s regime. Regardless, the legislation takes significant time and energy to enact and reinforce – time and energy that could be better spent helping groups in need rather than ostracizing people further.

 Edward Heinrich

Sources: Advocate, BBC, Refugee Law Project
Photo: Al Jazeera American

gay_rights_in_the_phillipines
LGBT groups continue to face discrimination in the Philippines, and gay rights are currently a hot topic in the country.

The Philippines is a predominately Catholic country, and even though there has been an attempt for gay rights in the past, sexual harassment is a major issue.

LGBT protection against workplace discrimination, or any other form of discrimination, is being discussed in the Philippines, with the goal of promoting an honest understanding of what these people face in terms of work, marriage, adoption and health care.

In the Philippines, same-sex marriage is illegal and therefore same-sex couples cannot adopt. Over the past few years new laws were extended to protect against discrimination, but the struggle for recognition of gay rights remains.

Hate crimes, particularly against transgender people, are still a large problem. Likewise, limited employment for people who identify as LGBT  remains a major issue. Many members of the LGBT community in the Philippines feel that their physical and mental development has been affected through discrimination while in the workplace.

Legislative laws are up for discussion to help prevent violent hate crimes against the transgender community.

Many members of the LGBT community also feel emotional abuse while attending school. Some younger members want to get through school without being noticed, in fear of being discriminated against or physically attacked.

Many transgender women experienced sexual violence and rape after coming out as transgender in school.

At times, law enforcement officers refuse to help members of the LGBT community, especially as many officers are not properly trained to handle these matters and thus the problems can go unresolved or reoccur.

LGBT members of the Philippines hope for a future with gay-friendly businesses so that there can be equal opportunity for all. Furthermore, they hope for more representation in politics, proper training for police officers and an end to hate crimes toward their community.

The fight against these issues must begin in the school systems and beyond. These LGBT groups are growing up in fear and being rejected from society, and the emotional and mental toll must be stopped.

– Rachel Cannon

Sources: IGLHRC, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Radio Australia

On December 11, 2013, Manoj Thorat embarked on a four-hour train ride from Pune to Mumbai, India. He was going to The Humsafar Trust headquarters, a community-based organization of Indian LGBT individuals, which is the largest of its kind in the country. On this day, the LGBT community across India would hear news of a pivotal Supreme Court decision – whether Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code would be deemed constitutional or not.

The Section rules against sexual intercourse “against the order of nature,” and was mainly used to target homosexual individuals.

Thorat wanted to be in Mumbai to celebrate what he thought would be a step forward for the entire Indian LGBT community, because he was almost positive that Section 377 would be deemed unconstitutional. His friend picked him up from the train station and they took a taxi to Humsafar, where live results of the decision were being broadcasted.

But, to Thorat’s immense disappointment, the decision was different from what he had predicted – the Supreme Court pronounced homosexuality illegal in India.

“The first reaction which I had is fear,” Thorat said. “I was really scared, as I am an open gay, that [the decision] made me a criminal suddenly. I was sad thinking about my future, community’s future, and moreover India’s future.”

As time went on, though, Thorat realized that life would go on much the same, and they must keep fighting. In the days following the decision, strikes and pride events rippled throughout the major cities in India and newspapers burst with information about the movement.

Thorat was not afraid to do his own part to speak out.

After the verdict, the LGBT community filed a review petition to the government, but it was rejected. Now, Thorat said the last legal option is a curative petition, which they filed and will have an open hearing sometime this July.

Thorat said he was nervous about the results of the prime minister election this year. He decided to give the majority party BJP under new Prime Minister Narendra Modi a chance to see if they will make changes for the LGBT community.

While BJP did not mention anything about the movement or Section 377 in their manifesto running for office, Thorat said that anything will be better than the current Congress’s approach to the issue.

Throughout the 60-year period that Congress was in power, Thorat said that nothing was done about gay rights.

“It is good that they got majority,” Thorat said of the BJP. “But, I think before making any decision, the party will have to consider that the world is watching them.”

The LGBT community in India did get one victory this past April, when the Supreme Court created “third gender” status for transgenders, or hijras.

The court said that transgenders would be allowed admission to educational institutions and given employment as a member of the third gender category. Additionally, reservations would be made for the group in education and employment.

While a huge step for the LGBT community, they still have a lot to continue fighting for.

Thorat said his plan is to just wait and watch what happens next. As a gay man in Pune, he came out to his friends and the other people at his workplace, but has yet to come out to his parents.

He planned to come out to them if the Section 377 Supreme Court verdict was positive, but now hopes to reveal his secret to them in the next few months.

“We will have to be on the streets asking for our rights, creating more and more awareness, making an alliance with heterosexuals, and educating them about this,” Thorat said. “ The last news we got is that RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a big part of BJP’s decision-making team, is thinking to soften their views about homosexuality. So that’s a ray of hope.”

– Rachel Reed

Sources: Manoj S. Thorat, Times of India

Since 2007, when several South American nations led the push for a gay rights charter in the United Nations, a wave of change has been sweeping through the region concerning the rights of the LGBT community. A handful of Latin American leaders have been leading the charge against same-sex discrimination, staking out new territories of human rights as they go.

Costa Rica

President Luis Guillermo Solis of Costa Rica observed the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17 by raising the gay pride flag over the Presidential Palace. The ceremony marked the day in 1990 when the United Nations World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its official list of mental illnesses.

On May 16 President Solis declared via tweet that “we are going to fight vigorously against every form of discrimination. We will pursue without rest an inclusive and respectful society.” The post was accompanied by a picture of the rainbow banner flying alongside Costa Rica’s own national flag above the Casa Presidencial.

President Solis made the significant gesture in solidarity with the LGBT community not even a month after beginning his first term as President of the Central American state. At this point Costa Rica has not legalized same-sex marriage, but President Solis is seeking to eliminate barriers to medical benefits for same-sex couples.

Argentina

In April of 2014 Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner became the godmother of Umma Azul, the newborn daughter of a lesbian couple. Through this formality the new mothers wanted to thank President Fernandez de Kirchner for her progressive policies concerning same-sex unions — in 2010 the Kirchner administration passed a marriage equality law which legalized same-sex marriage and allowed gay and lesbian couples to legally adopt children.

Another Argentine in the world spotlight is Pope Francis. The new papacy’s “who am I to judge” demeanor, accompanied by messages of compassion and loving acceptance, have placed him in high esteem with many in the LGBT community, even landing him a spot on the cover of the gay interest magazine The Advocate.

Brazil

Brazil legalized same-sex marriage in 2011 under President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, has the world’s largest Catholic population and, as recently as December 2013, held the world’s largest communal gay wedding. A total of 130 gay and lesbian couples entered into legal unions at the event.

The city of Sao Paulo also boasts the largest gay pride parade in the world. Organizers of the event claimed that the May 2014 parade was enjoyed by 2.5 million people.

Chile

24-year-old Daniel Zamudio died on March 27, 2013, three weeks after being beaten by a group of anti-gay assailants in Santiago. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera successfully pushed lawmakers to pass an Anti-Discrimination Law following Zamudio’s death, which clearly defines and denounces all forms of discrimination.

Since 2012, several openly gay and transsexual politicians have been elected to office in Chile. Jaime Parada Hoyl was the first, elected as a councilman in Providencia after becoming well known for his gay rights activism following the Zamudio incident.

Other nations seeking to reduce discrimination in Latin America include Uruguay, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, and Mexico, where same-sex marriage has been legal in the capital city since 2010.

Amid seemingly endless news streams of natural disasters, political unrest and corruption scandals throughout Latin America, the fight for equal rights spreading through the region is a breath of fresh air. Less systemic discrimination in Latin America could mean less homophobic violence. Less violence means more productivity within communities. Strong communities, after all, are built on the respect shared among their members.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Freedom to Marry, Huffington Post, Twitter
Photo: Huffington Post