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Progress, not perfection, for Latin American GLBTs

20 November 2009

Although the news of the gruesome murder of a Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, a cross-dressing Puerto Rican teenager — seen as a test of new hate-crimes laws in the United States — received extensive attention in both the Latino/a and gay media, the Latin American press gave more coverage to the upcoming nuptuals of José María De Bello and Alex Freyre, scheduled for the first of December in Buenos Aires.

De Bello and Freyre will be the first legally married same-sex couple in SOUTH America, although not in Latin America.  Coahuila state in northern Mexico has had same-sex marriages since Civil Registar Civil Registrar Alberto Villareal of Saltillo issued a marriage license to Karla López and Karina Almaguer on the first of Februrary, 2007.

It appears that marriages in Coahuila are legal anywhere in Mexico, making de facto same-sex marriages legal, and there haven’t been any problems or really any news about this since then.  If the Federal District — which had already passed a bill granting limited rights to same-gender couples (Sociedades de convivencia) came into effect the month after Coahuila’s marriage law — also, as expected, passes a full marriage law, there will probably be a push-back by the Federal legislature, as there has been in the Dominican Republic, which changed its constitution to read like that in some U.S. states, defining marriage as between “one man and one woman”.

The Dominican Republic, of course, has always taken its cues from the Colossus of the North, and Puerto Rico is under the United States flag.  Mexico’s was the first to change its constitution to specifically mention rights for sexual minorities, and as constitutions have been amended throughout Latin America, rights are slowly being given legal recognition.

An  article in the February 2009 Foreign Policy argues that Latin American gays — being in nations not traditionally Protestant (as is the United States) nor Islamic (Guyana, which is 12 percent Muslim, being the only place in the Americas where Islamic tradition plays any role in political discourse), are more likely to achieve social equality than elsewhere:

What explains the great Latin American awakening? Among the obvious answers is regime change: It helps that the region is no longer authoritarian, because gay rights rarely expand under such conditions. It also helps that the region is solidly urbanized and that Latin American cities are becoming more globalized and richer; gay life thrives in wealthy, cosmopolitan cities. It helps that the region is not Muslim or predominantly Protestant, because countries where these religions dominate — for example Arab or Anglo-Caribbean countries — tend to have the least gay-friendly legislation.

It also helps that gays and lesbians — being de facto outsiders — were prominent in human rights and democratic change movements in Latin America, and in the countries where there were recent organized struggles to achieve change — Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela — those now in control of government “dance with thems that brung ’em” as the late Molly Ivins would say.

What’s considered “gay culture” is largely an urban phenomenon, though of course, gays and lesbians are everywhere.  Still, urbanization and gay rights seem to go hand in hand, and the more urban the population, the more likely governments are to legally recognize gay rights.  Within Mexico, it’s the Federal District (Mexico City) where gays have the most political clout (the first openly lesbian deputy was Patricia Jimenez, a PRD suppliente, appointed to her seat basically as a gesture for the organized gay and lesbian support of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas’ campaign for District Governor in 1992), and PRD controlled states (except Coahuila) where equal rights legislation has advanced the furthest.

One oddball statistic used to measure the growing political and social clout (and tolerance) for gays and lesbians is a count of the number of businesses which openly solicit business from sexual minorities per thousand inhabitants.  By that measure, Quito and Montevideo are more “gay friendly” than New York City!

Though, “He’s a Montevideo Boy” just doesn’t scan right.

OK, so I’m showing my age… I still like Pet Shop Boys.

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