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.
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.
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 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.
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