Defending LGBTIQ Rights in Latin America: Obstacles and Advancements in Law and Culture

Irene Estefania Gonzalez / Inter-American Dialogue

On December 4, the Inter-American Dialogue convened a panel of experts to discuss the challenges facing LGBT groups and advocates in Latin America, both on the ground and before the courts. The discussion was moderated by Michael Camilleri, Director of the Peter D. Bell Rule of Law program at the Inter-American Dialogue and featured panelists Iván Chanis Barahona, president of Fundación Iguales; Abraham Banegas Molina, technical official of Cozumel Trans; Fanny Gomez, senior director for advocacy and human rights at Synergia; and Carlos Quesada, executive director and founder of the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights.

Each panelist brought a different perspective on the gap between international law and domestic norms in terms of LGBT rights in Central America. There was general agreement on the need for a cultural transformation to create tolerance for the LGBT community under an inclusive legislative framework. Gomez explained how in many countries of the region LGBT rights are being upheld. However, she noted that the slight advances are developing in response to unfortunate scandals. Consequently, the day to day life of the LGBT community is threatened by violence. Quesada continued by recognizing that structural racism, poverty, and a lack of gender and racial diversity exacerbates this violence. Moreover, Quesada acknowledged the fact that the Inter-American Convention against Intolerance and Discrimination has not yet been ratified by Latin American countries. According to the panelists, this is a representation of the retrograde stance being upheld by many countries throughout the continent. Afro descendent and LGBT communities played a critical role in the development of conventions like this one; however, they are not benefiting from them. Quesada argued that conventions as such ought to be used as instruments to uphold rights for minorities throughout the continent.

Molina shared his experiences living as a member of the LGBT community in Honduras, a country where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender are common practices. According to him, the state of Honduras is systematically blocking the rights of LGBT individuals in order to keep them from advancing in society. Molina attributed this to rampant religious fundamentalism which acts as the main rival of the LGBT movement in Honduras. These religious groups carry hate rhetoric against the cause and greatly influence society. In his remarks, Molina denounced several crimes that have been perpetuated against the LGBT community in Honduras and stressed the state of helplessness that this community feels due to the lack of support from the state.

Barahona stressed the importance of professionalizing activism and forming alliances with experts in matters of communication and legislative practices that will help place the LGBT cause as a prominent issue in the region. For example, in Panama a multisectoral movement driven by civil society allowed the LGBT community to position itself as a political actor. The movement succeeded in bringing important issues to the agenda for politicians leading into the elections in 2019.

The event concluded with a Q&A session. Two audience members inquired about ways in which advocacy groups can aid teenage LGBT groups in educating communities considering the threats coming from anti-rights movements. Molina and Chanis Barahona agreed that the legislative framework in certain countries of the region are the main barriers keeping groups from being able to help young individuals. Both panelists concluded that it is important to exert pressure on the government in order to bring about more fair and equitable laws. Chanis Barahona also mentioned groups known as “gen equal”, which are developing a project of political education to target a younger audience. The panelists agreed that a curriculum consisting of an integral sexual education is key to reducing discrimination at a young age.

Watch the full event recording here: