Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gays in Latin America: Is the Closet Half Empty?

via Foreign Policy, by Javier Corrales
Special thanks to our Bogota connection, Sr. Merrell, for forwarding this to IRMA.

Most analysts haven't noticed, but a major social revolution is taking place in Latin America. The region is becoming gayer. It's not that there are more gays and lesbians living in Latin America (we would never know). Rather, the region is becoming more gay-friendly. A generation ago, Latin America was the land of the closet and the home of the macho. Today, movements fighting for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights are taking advantage of the region's more globalized, open regimes. They are promoting their cause through smart, mainstream political and economic alliances. So, though closets and machos are still ubiquitous, Latin America is now the site of some of the most pro-gay legislation in the developing world.

Gay rights expanded in democratic Western Europe starting in the late 1960s, and in the United States more gradually since the 1970s. Despite being democratic and kind-of-Western, Latin America lagged behind. Then, in the late 1990s, legislation started to change. In 1998, Ecuador's new constitution introduced protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 1999, Chile decriminalized same-sex intercourse. Rio de Janeiro's state legislature banned sexual-orientation discrimination in public and private establishments in 2000. In 2002, Buenos Aires guaranteed all couples, regardless of gender, the right to register civil unions.

The policy changes just kept coming. In 2003, Mexico passed a federal antidiscrimination law that included sexual orientation. A year later, the government of Brazil initiated "Brasil sem homofobia" (Brazil without homophobia), a program with nongovernmental organizations to change social attitudes toward sexuality. In 2006, Mexico City approved the Societal Cohabitation Law, granting same-sex couples marital rights identical to those for common-law relationships between a man and a woman. Uruguay passed a 2007 law granting access to health benefits, inheritance, parenting, and pension rights to all couples who have cohabited for at least five years. In 2008, Nicaragua reformed its penal code to decriminalize same-sex relations. Even Cuba's authoritarian new president, Raúl Castro, has allowed free sex-change operations for qualifying citizens.

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