Tag Archives: same sex marriage

State of Queer: being gay in Latin America

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IGUALES: an organisation promoting a wider inclusion of minorities into the society

Many countries in Latin America have been quick to adopt legislation towards the greater inclusion of LGBT individuals in society, but the struggle is far from over. México, Chile and Guatemala illustrate some of the differences, and the challenges looking forward. For a bigger picture, have a look at this map.

Edgar Sosa Meyemberg was an openly gay man and an active member of Ave de México, an organization that promotes awareness of HIV – a problem that is even greater among the homosexual community in México. He was last seen 24 February 2014, only to be found dead a month later. Ave de México, where Sosa served as director of development, demanded a prompt investigation of the case, but it ran into institutional and societal indifference. Though the authorities are not exclusively negligent in cases that involve members of the LGBT community, impunity being the norm for most Latin American countries, but they are quick to dismiss crimes like these on the grounds that they are usually crimes of passion. Both the attorney of the Texcoco and Nezahualcoyotl municipalities declared the crime to be so, after a photograph of Edgar with a rainbow flag surfaced in the investigation.

This sort of stereotype, says Carlos García de León, a fellow activist and friend of Sosa, is not rare in Mexican society. “Cases like these bring to light the sheer ignorance of the reality and dynamics of homosexual individuals by the authorities, as it is guided by stereotypes and indifference”, he claims. He also cites the death of another Ave de Mexico team member that was never investigated, Francisco Estrada Valle, who died in 1992, and the more recent killing of a 24 year old gay activist, Christian Iván Sánchez, in July 2011. Sánchez was involved with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who is friendlier among Mexican political parties when it comes to LGBT issues. General violence and hate crimes, based on the victims’ sexual orientation, is a grave issue in Latin America. Between 1995 and 2005, around 400 victims lost their lives to violence due to their sexual orientation in México, whereas 312 were killed in Brazil during 2013. There is hope, however, as a wave of legislative changes have mobilised the region towards greater acceptance of LGBT individuals as part of society and will continue to do so in the following years.

A silver lining

A crime, in fact, can be a trigger for change, as the case of Daniel Zamudio in Chile illustrates. Zamudio was a 24 year old man who was attacked and tortured in 2012 when his attackers learned about his homosexuality. He was severely injured and died three weeks later, but the media attention and the prompt response by local activist organisations sped up public discussion and legislation against discrimination. Then President Sebastián Piñera urged the Chilean parliament to speed up the adoption of a law against discrimination, which banned discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, appearance and disability. Also under Piñera, a project to regulate civil unions for non-married couples, heterosexual and same-sex alike, was introduced for discussion partly through the pressure of civil society and activist organizations. It is now known as the AVP, as the Spanish acronym for life partnership accord. Political momentum was not enough, as the discussion of the project has been delayed for about 4 years and is only now in the final stages of approval.

Luis Larraín, knows that the project is only a step in the direction of greater acceptance for the rights of LGBT individuals, which is the long-term goal of the organisation he presides over; Fundación Iguales. In fact, the AVP has been disputed both by hard-line activists, who don’t want civil unions to overcrowd the diversity agenda thereby pushing other topics off the table, as by conservatives, who perceive it as a threat to the institution of family. But Larraín and his co-founder, writer Pablo Simonetti, and the team at Iguales all agree on the necessity for gradual change. Civil unions are just one more milestone in a longer path: “Though the discussion has amplified from the AVP to equal marriage, the legal project has been pending approval for 4 years, and is coming close to finally being sanctioned. Introducing a new project right now would take at least a few months to get approval”, stated Larraín. “The time that passes translates into lives of people whose relationships and rights are not duly recognised”, he clarifies.

In fact, the delay has been put to good use, as public debates have engaged Chilean citizens in an honest discussion about the inclusion of all citizens to democratic processes – a wave that also encompasses changes in education and tax reform, as well as better treatment of women, migrants and indigenous peoples. “Next steps include the gender identity law, which would allow trans individuals to adjust their identity documents, which we hope will be approved next year. We’re also proposing adoption by same-sex couples, though not yet at the legislative level, and are socialising a proposal for equal marriage. Hopefully, it will be granted its proper importance and will be voted as part of [current President Michelle] Bachelet’s term”, Larraín explains.

The main success for the cause of LGBT peoples in Latin America, however, has come from sharing a message that appeals even to non-LGBT peoples. Andrés Zúñiga, programmes manager at Iguales, sums it up: “Besides being gay, you’re also a student, a brother, a son, a poor or rich, right-wing or left-wing person. People are recognising that increasingly”. Both also noticed that the issue is closely related to the prevalence of homosexuality having a more prominent spot on the public agenda, but other gender identities have started to gain track in recent years. “It’s more than just about homosexuality; it’s about diversity”, adds Zúñiga, who is also a psychology student.

 An Unequal Transition

Chile has had a steady, though slow, progress toward greater inclusion. So has Argentina, the first country in the region where gay marriage was legal since 2010, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico. The middle to high-level income in those countries may be a one reason why social movements towards greater inclusion have been successful. In fact, inequality is a problem even domestically, as Zúñiga points out that “Lower-income constituencies are more at risk than their middle and high income counterparts. The underlying reason is their lack of access to education, and the corresponding influence conservative or religious leaders may have with them”.

But as Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst University points out, social movements are also strong in Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru, and their struggle to institutionalise change cannot be explained with recourse to education and income alone. “What seems to make a difference is … whether they forge strong ties with national-level political parties”, he writes  in the New York Times.

Worryingly, there are a few countries where the voices for LGBT activism are not nearly as organised. Such is the case in Guatemala. As the host country for the 43rd General Assembly for the Association of American States (OAS), held in early June 2013, the president Otto Pérez Molina was forced to take a stance on abortion and gay marriage, topics that were intensely discussed as part of the summit’s agenda. He promptly and almost candidly affirmed that “Guatemala is a conservative country, and is therefore against abortion and marriage between homosexuals”. A few dozen people had been protesting outside the meeting, calling for the defense of “life, family and marriage”. They later sent him a letter thanking him for his “resistance to pressures”, signed by 150 people. Jorge Lopez Sologaistoa, president of OASIS Guatemala, presented a public denunciation against the President and other government officials at the Office of the Human Rights Procurator. “That type of comments incite discrimination, and violates the universal human rights. You cannot recognise them in one place and not in other”, López explained , but the demand went mostly under the radar.

Sadly, people in most countries of Latin America still face enormous social pressure to conform to expectations about masculinity and femininity that are based in culture or religion, some of them live in countries without the institutions that might help provide a better council, or support. Then, most gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, queer and bisexual individuals are bound to negotiate their rights at a great disadvantage, even if it doesn’t translate into actual violence. Luckily, a high level of engagement and the work of courageous individuals point to higher grounds.

By Luis Eduardo Barrueto

Picture: Paola Ossandón

‘Against’ Homosexuality: The political battle across France


FRANCE HAS A long tradition of social movements. Strikes and demonstrations are such a common thing that French protesting generally does not bring surprise to the world. On October 7, 2014, huge demonstrations were held in Paris and Bordeaux with unconventional participants. Contra the typical ‘fight for your rights’ motivation of most protests, participants marched against guaranteed rights for homosexual couples, legislated in May 2013.

From Mariage pour tous to Manif’ pour tous

Small historical reminder: In May 2012 and in France, the socialist candidate Francois Hollande becomes the new President of the Republic. Among his promises, the legalisation of the wedding for homosexual people (it is the ‘mariage pour tous’ marriage for all) as well as the possibility for homosexual couples to adopt. One legal option was previously available for them: PACS (Civil Pact of Solidarity), a contract which creates mutual rights and obligations for couples but does not give a legal security as strong as the marriage, especially in areas concerning family and inheritance.

Christiane Taubira, Minister of Justice, is asked with preparing this bill to be discussed in The Parliament. Even if this promise was in the official program of the socialist candidate – that allowed him to be elected-, a certain part of the population does not agree with it and is getting ready to make some noise. A collective of 37 associations, mostly Christians but some also targeting the defence of child’s rights and families or political, called for massive demonstrations across France from November 2012. This movement, now named « Manif’ pour tous » (Demonstration for All) – to remind, if we need it, why they are fighting for- claims to had managed to gather around 500 000 to 1 million participants from the beginning of their actions according to the movement to shout that they do not want neither gay marriage couples neither its associated rights of adoption. Encouraging citizens to protest loudly and organizing journeys from all the French cities to join them in Paris by chartered buses or train deals.

Logo_La_Manif_pour_tous

Over the course of 2013, several large demonstrations succeeded in France, interrupted of scandals and criticism. In March 2013, Beatrice Bourges, one of the figures of the movement is excluded from Manif’ pour Tous when a part of demonstrators broke prefectural rules to protest onto Champs Elysées to face policemen. This mark the official separation of the Manif’ pour Tous with another movement called French Spring, with reference to the Arabic Spring.

It’s soon the turn of Frigide Barjot, a leading media spokeswoman for the Movement who is then pushed out following claims that she is not in line anymore with the movement’s positions- too lenient with the law that had just been promulgated. Plus, happened some homophobic skids that occurred during the demonstrations, without forgetting some violent talks of the catholic association CIVITAS – often considered as fundamentalist- which joined the demonstrations, but had finally been excluded by the collective.

Manif ‘pour Tous has also been criticized for the involment of children during the protests, not only bringing them to demonstrate but also placing them at the front of the group, looking similar as a shield against the police. Some mark the irony of an organization fighting to prevent the children’s rights by same-sex parents instrumentalizing their own in such a way.

Finally, some politics have accused the Manif’ pour Tous to legitimate homophobic speeches and acts.

And after the promulgation…

What does the law say?

The law allows same-sex couples to get married, and adopt. Marriage creates mutual obligations but also advantages and security for each married. It does not say a word about surrogacy, still forbidden in France for any couple. This law leads to equal rights for both homosexual and heterosexual couples. Since the law is passed in May 2013 and accepted by the Constitutional Council, the Manif’ pour Tous has not weakened as noticed with the recent demonstration in October 2014, with a number of participants estimated between 500 000 according to the movement and 70 000 for the Police. A victory for the participants who not only want to pressure François Hollande and his team, but also send a signal for the next political elections in France. They want to be heard. And still the same message: the French family is in danger.

On what do they based their claim? Sacrilege of the wedding, of “natural”conception and of children’s rights that would be in danger – in other words to preserve the ‘traditional family.’

They won’t give up, and they are encouraged by their successful demonstrations. This time, it’s for two things, according to the official website of the movement. First, the abrogation of the Taubira Law – which would create insecurity for the 7000 couples already married in 2013. Second, to manifest their aversion to the surrogacy of whom government has already said that the legalisation is not discussed in France, and the Assisted Reproductive Technology for homosexual couples- which is not allowed as well.

A few widespread factors explain Manif’ pour Tous’ success in France: a certain Christian heritage, conservative mind-set, a tradition of going down in the streets to protest, and a rejection of the socialist policy of Francois Hollande.If you make a detour by their website, you will notice that they do not only denounce Taubira’s law but interfere now with the politics in general- as you can see with their article against the end of the universal amount of family allowance (the government wants to reduce the amount for the richest families). Thus, It is becoming a real political movement with opinions on political French affairs and laws, trying to gain head on the moral issues of the time, based on the defence of traditional Family and conservative values.

These demonstrations have revealed a split between the French population, and a stron conservative mind still existing in the French society. This law may be a new start for future generations to not be questioned anymore about it. At the dawn of 2015, the battle for equal rights for homosexual couples in France is not over yet and Manif’ pour Tous leads as the symbol of a movement that does not accept a changing France.

Written by Pauline Sani
Image credits: wikipedia and huffington post (creative commons)