Tolerating difference

In Paraguay and Nicaragua, life remains challenging for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Socially conservative Latin America, despite notable advances both in mindset and legislation, remains one of the world’s less tolerant regions when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community. Certainly, advances have been made; in 2002 Argentina approved the right of gay couples to adopt and since 2008, gender reassignment surgery is available by way of Brazil’s universal healthcare system and since 2007, Colombia has recognised the right to marriage for same-sex couples.  

An LGBTQIA+ activist and lawyer based in Paraguay explained, “In Paraguay what we see is the double-faced nature of the current government which refuses to acknowledge the discrimination faced by our [LGBTQIA+] community and, consequently, but also cruelly, refuses to act against LGBTQ hate speech and aggressions.”

“In Paraguay … the current government refuses to acknowledge the discrimination faced by our LGBTQIA+ community and, consequently, but also cruelly, refuses to act against LGBTQ hate speech and aggressions.”

An LGBTQ activist and lawyer, Paraguay

Many of the community’s members across the region are faced with hostility from increasingly strident Pentecostal and evangelical churches. Those institutions in turn are often supported and nurtured by hard-line social conservatives. Sexual diversity and gender identity are rarely discussed at home or at schools. This can make it hard to get the conversation going.  

Indeed, in a report published last year by the UN on “Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity During the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic,” Latin America was identified as the region where the LGBTQIA+ community was worst affected by the more pernicious socio-economic effects of lockdowns.  

Political overtures, influenced by, or designed to court Christian evangelicals – have not helped the plight of the LGBTQIA+ community. Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is a prime example. Throughout his 28-year stint as a member of congress, he made numerous prejudicial statements about the community even remarking that he would disown his son if he were gay. The defence of “family values” is often invoked by the president that has given carte blanche to more socially radical sectors of Brazilian society to perpetuate intolerance towards the LGBTQIA+ community, Brazil has recorded record levels of violence against its members over the last two years.  

In Paraguay, there are ten trans activists legally challenging the state in court to change their name and, thus, identity. They started the “Mi nombre debe ser legal”, a movement which has attracted support from Amnesty International.  The first claim was filed more than five years ago, and applicants are still pending a resolution to the case. Meanwhile, the average life expectancy for trans people in Paraguay is 40. Makes me want to cry.  

A Mexican anthropologist and gay rights activist explained, “What happens is that in all countries there are very conservative or ultraconservative enclaves that, together with religious connections, especially the catholic church, make the goal difficult. Or else, the issue goes beyond political geometries because Venezuela and Cuba, more than progressive governments, are authoritarian and profoundly conservative on the issue.”

“What happens is that in all countries there are very conservative or ultraconservative enclaves that, together with religious connections, especially the catholic church, make the goal difficult.”

Anthropologist and gay rights activist, Mexico 

What the catholic church says naturally has profound influence in the region. That Pope Francis no less has said that the gay lesbian community are also children of God and that he is nobody to judge them is significant.  

Needing to survive against the onslaught of hard-line evangelical blocs, Catholicism knows that by opening up this issue its future will be assured in the Latin American region with the most Catholics in the world. The church today is not just about morals and teaching, it has also become survival of the fittest. In a region where social attitudes are changing, albeit slowly, a more tolerant and open-armed church could be a strategic move.  

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