July 10, 2015
A revolutionary. A reformer. The most progressive Catholic leader in history. All have been used to describe Pope Francis, the Argentine pontiff who has shown a willingness to embrace change in the Catholic Church and reenergize his flock in places like Latin America, where the share of adults identifying as Catholic has fallen precipitously over the last 50 years.
But are Latin America’s Catholics ready for a progressive leader? And will Francis be willing to extend his more liberal discourse on economics and the environment into contentious social issues like gay rights and abortion? The outcome of his trips to Bolivia and Ecuador, earlier this week, and a visit to Paraguay, now underway, may help answer those questions.
The region’s renewed enthusiasm for the pope is certainly beyond debate. At least 550,000 people attended a mass on Monday in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil. On Tuesday, a reported one million people packed a park in Quito, the capital, to hear the pope speak. In Bolivia, news outlets have compared Francis to a rock star.
So far, the pope’s messages during the trip have focused on poverty, inequality and environmental protection—popular themes for audiences whose presidents identify as socialists and have codified respect for the environment in national constitutions. On Wednesday, Francis met with President Evo Morales—historically a critic of the Church—and lauded Bolivia’s efforts at economic inclusion and wealth redistribution.
But on Saturday, he is scheduled to participate in a civil society roundtable that will include Simón Cazal, a gay activist and executive director of SomosGay, a Paraguayan LGBT rights group. Cazal hopes Francis will take the opportunity to advocate for the civil rights of gay people in Paraguay. This is a less comfortable topic in the region, especially in Paraguay: the country is one of Latin America’s least gay-friendly countries, tying for second to last for LGBT rights in Americas Quarterly’s 2014 Social Inclusion Index. Eighty percent of the country’s citizens oppose gay marriage.
Meanwhile, Paraguay’s national police reportedly banned signs referencing same-sex marriage and abortion while Francis is in the country, a signal that authorities don’t exactly want social issues in the spotlight. An abortion case in Paraguay made international headlines this year when doctors denied the procedure to a 10-year-old rape survivor because it wasn’t deemed necessary to save her life—the only case in which abortion is legal in Paraguay. Reproductive rights advocates will be listening to hear whether Francis addresses the topic during his visit.
In focusing on economic justice and environmental conservation, Francis is on solid ground with Latin American audiences. How much he is willing to engage Catholics in the region on more contentious social issues may determine whether or not the honeymoon continues.
June 9, 2015
Ten transgender Colombians will today be the first people to take advantage of new rules that simplify the process by which individuals can legally change their gender. The decree, which was signed by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior and went into effect last Friday, eliminates the need for psychiatric or physical examinations to prove an individual’s gender identity.
Under the new rules, individuals need only submit a copy of their civil registry form, a copy of the identification card and a sworn declaration expressing their wish to change their gender identity in the civil registry to a notary public. The notary public has five business days to complete the procedure. Any subsequent change to one’s legal gender identity can only be made after ten years, and an individual can only change his or her gender identity twice.
According to a statement released by the Ministry of Justice yesterday, the rules will have “positive consequences for [Colombia’s] trans population, which, until now, has been subjected to tedious judicial procedures.”
The ministers of justice and the interior, Yesid Reyes and Juan Fernando Cristo, along with representatives from various transgender rights organizations, will attend proceedings today at a notary public in Bogotá to publicly present the decree.
“Judges used to order bodily inspections to determine if people had physically changed their sex, or demanded a psychiatric exam to know if the applicant had gender dysphoria,” Reyes said. “Both exams were profoundly invasive of privacy rights and were rooted in unacceptable prejudice. The construction of sexual and gender identity is an issue that doesn’t depend on biology.”
Monday Memo: Marches in Venezuela—Guatemalan Protests—Chilean Education Law—Transgender Inmates in Rio—Colombian Murder Trial
June 1, 2015
Thousands Amass in Venezuela for Anti-Government Protest: Nearly 3,000 Venezuelan demonstrators clothed in white marched in Caracas on Saturday in the largest protest since last year’s surge of anti-government demonstrations. In a video filmed from his jail cell prior to the protests, former opposition Mayor Leopoldo López encouraged supporters to protest peacefully to demand the release of political prisoners, an end to censorship and a date for the nearing legislative elections. López and former Mayor Daniel Ceballos were both imprisoned in 2014 for mobilizing protests in 2014 that resulted in 43 deaths, and both men went on hunger strikes last week to protest their imprisonment. Protestors in Caracas spoke out against inflation, violent crimes and shortages, and smaller protests occurred in other cities across the country.
Guatemalans Call for President Resignation: Nearly 20,000 protestors from across Guatemala gathered in the capital on Saturday to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina over charges of corruption. Protestors converged in the Plaza de la Constitución for the sixth consecutive weekend after scandals in the government have prompted several government officials, including former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, to resign. While Pérez Molina has not been accused of any crimes, his administration has been troubled by allegations of pervasive corruption. Presidential elections are set for September, and the president has vowed not to step down before completing his term.
Monday Memo: Guatemalan Protests—Costa Rican Discrimination—Chinese Investment—Guyana Election—Technology in Honduras
May 18, 2015
Demonstrators Call for Pérez Molina’s Resignation: Thousands of protestors marched across 13 cities in Guatemala on Saturday to call for President Otto Pérez Molina’s resignation. The protests came as a response to a customs tax fraud scandal uncovered by the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) in April that led to the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti earlier this month, though she denies involvement in the scheme. The protests were organized via social media, without any clear leadership. While Pérez Molina had originally announced his intent to let CICIG’s mandate expire, the scandal later prompted the president to announce that he will request a two-year extension.
Costa Rica orders Executive Action against LGBT Discrimination: In honor of International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17, Costa Rican Vice President Ana Helena Chacón announced new legislation that will punish public workers found discriminating against others on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. While the decree does not outline what the sanctions for discrimination will be or how they will be issued, the decree does mandate training on equal access for employees of public organizations, as well as the redefining of a couple or partner to include same-sex partners for all institutions under the executive branch. Chacón, who has long been a supporter of LGBT rights, announced the decree on Friday at Costa Rica’s Casa Presidencial. Despite the new measure, same-sex marriages and civil unions are currently not recognized in Costa Rica.
April 14, 2015
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed a law on Monday allowing same-sex civil unions. The law, known as the Acuerdo de Unión Civil (Civil Union Accord—AUC), falls short of recognizing same-sex marriage, but establishes “civil cohabitation” as an officially recognized marital status that affords many of the same rights as marriage, such as visitation, inheritance and pension rights.
Same-sex marriages established abroad will be recognized as civil unions in Chile. “We are taking a fundamental step forward in rights, justice and respect for individual freedom,” Bachelet said at a ceremony at the presidential palace.
Monday’s signing ceremony marks the end of the law’s four-year-long political odyssey, and fulfils a promise Bachelet made as a candidate to support the law, which was originally introduced under a different name by her predecessor, Sebastián Piñera. “We are truly excited, because as of next October, couples will be able to legally enter into a bond that, years ago, was a dream, even a taboo,” said Rolando Jiménez, the director of the Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Homosexual Liberation and Integration Movement—Movilh), an LGBT rights organization.
The government now has six months to draft the regulations that will guide the law’s implementation. The Civil Registry, which will be responsible for registering the new unions, is undertaking a training program for its employees to avoid discrimination. Because the law establishes a new marital status—rather than extending an existing status to LGBT couples—the registry is also developing new software in preparation for the law’s implementation. It is estimated that over 2 million Chileans may be eligible to contract civil unions once the law goes into effect.
October 7, 2014
The United States Supreme Court yesterday refused to review a series of appeals court decisions that overturned same-sex marriage bans in five states. The decision effectively legalizes same-sex marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin, bringing the total number of U.S. states where same-sex marriage are legal to 24. That number could soon rise to 30, given that the same appeals courts whose decisions the Supreme Court declined to review have jurisdiction over another six states with same-sex marriage bans.
While the high court’s action was lauded by LGBT rights advocates, the decision to put off a review of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans leave the country without a coherent, national policy on the issue. “[…T]he court’s delay in affirming the freedom to marry nationwide prolongs the patchwork of state-to-state discrimination and the harms and indignity that the denial of marriage still inflicts on too many couples in too many places,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, a marriage equality advocacy organization.
According to a report by the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project, the only other country to share such a patchwork approach to same-sex marriage legalization is Mexico. In the Americas, four countries have legalized same-sex marriage at the national level—Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Uruguay. With the exception of Canada—which is not included in the report—these countries all scored higher than the U.S. on LGBT rights in the latest AQ Social Inclusion Index, published in the Summer 2014 issue.
August 18, 2014
LGBT cyber-activists took to the web last week to publically denounce Mexico City’s 3rd International Lesbian Festival. Through a communiqué posted on Facebook, nearly 20 LGBT organizations and collectives and around 50 individual signatories condemned the festival as a vehicle for perpetuating misogyny and machismo. They also criticized a number of authorities for vouching for the festival and participating in its organization, including Mexico City Labor Secretary Patricia Mercado and Jacqueline L. Hoist Tapia, who is the president of the Consejo para Prevenir y Eliminar la Discriminación (Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination in Mexico City —COPRED).
It sounds counterintuitive that LGBT groups would oppose an event that claims to support their cause and promote equal rights—and which could not even be hosted in more conservative cities in the country today. So why are these groups opposing the festival?
There are a number of reasons: for one, the festival’s promotional materials include highly sexualized images of women clad in lingerie, and the festival’s agenda includes an event called “The Bunny Party,” sparking comparisons to the men’s magazine Playboy. Also drawing criticism is the festival’s “coronation ceremony” and a workshop on applying makeup.
In their communiqué, groups opposing the festival write that “while it is fundamental to have cultural, artistic, political and leisure space for lesbians, we find it appalling that these spaces are provided under the basis of gender stereotypes that are misogynistic and machista. Instead of contributing to the empowerment and freedom of lesbian women from the roles that have oppressed us for ages […] the festival reproduces them with singular joy.” According to the communiqué, the festival’s publicity “only represents white, thin women […]showing women as objects the way male adult magazines would.”
June 27, 2014
June 28 is an important day for members of both the LGBTQ community and the Honduran working class. The first is the anniversary of the 1969 “Stonewall Riots” in New York City by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). And the second is the anniversary of the 2009 military-led coup d'état that ousted populist Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office and led to protests by the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (National Popular Resistance Front—FNRP).
Zelaya, who came into office as a member of the center-right Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) in 2006 but moved closer to the Left throughout his tenure, was arrested by the military and forcibly exiled to Costa Rica on June 28, 2009 after proposing a referendum that would enable voters to approve a constitutional assembly.
Though these events may appear unrelated—apart from their shared anniversary—they have produced one common result: a greater awareness of human rights violations and the mobilization of grassroots protest movements.
And while LGBTQ groups in the United States have made a number of legislative gains since 1969, Honduran activists—and LGBTQ activists in particular—have just begun their fight for political, social and economic justice.
November 27, 2013
In a groundbreaking announcement this week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) declared that it will create a Rapporteurship on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons. The news garnered little media attention, but its significance to millions of LGBTI people across the Americas and to the broader struggle for universal human rights is profound.
The development follows years of concerted efforts by activists, international human rights organizations and more recently, world leaders. (The idea to create a Rapporteurship came out of a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during a 2011 state visit to Brazil.) The abuses faced by LGBTI people in the Americas and across the globe are among the most systematic and pervasive human rights violations in the world, yet they have often been overlooked and subject to vast impunity.
The importance of this announcement should not be underestimated. It is worth remembering that just six months ago, many feared an end to the IACHR’s 50 years of groundbreaking work. Yet now, the Commission leads the international community once again in creating the world’s first-ever international human rights office dedicated exclusively to LGBTI rights. While other international bodies and governments have taken important steps toward addressing these issues, the IACHR is the first to create a permanent office.
Far more than a meaningless symbolic gesture (something, frankly, that the OAS is notorious for), the Rapporteurship will provide tremendous support to activists by installing a permanent expert to monitor and investigate human rights abuses against LGBTI people across the hemisphere.
September 5, 2013
The media across the world has a knack for framing narratives in a way that perpetuates the status quo. This is true whether the subject is the rich, the poor, gays, lesbians, Africans, Americans, or Muslims.
I was yet again reminded of the power of the media to influence public opinion as I flipped through the Evening Standard and Metro (two dailies published in the United Kingdom) and read headlines about bombings and other acts of terrorism. From these, it was clear that the Western media treats Muslims in a particular way—the very same way the Jamaican media treats people who are poor, from marginalized communities or are homosexual.
As a result of their portrayal in the media, Muslims, lesbians and gays are often defined by their wrongdoing. Headlines often read “Muslim Terrorist” or “Muslim Extremist” just as Jamaicans are used to reading headlines such as “Gay Miscreant” or “Gays Wreak Havoc.”
During a recent visit to Washington DC, I spoke with a Muslim friend who is distressed by the fear and hysteria on people’s faces when they see people thought to be Muslim. The Boston Marathon bombing in April heightened this fear. Although she does not wear a hijab, my friend is still frightened by these incidents and the treatment that follows them. What is ironic is that the same media that generates anti-Muslim sentiment then goes ahead and criticizes the media in places like Jamaica for similarly biased treatment toward gays and lesbians.
The result is a contradiction in what is permissible in the media. Christians, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their faith. Heterosexuals, whatever their wrongdoing, are rarely identified by their sexuality. The rich, whatever their crimes, are rarely identified by their socioeconomic status.
It is also a fact that people from the lowest income quintile struggle academically and that people of color are more likely to be unemployed. But that does not mean poor people and minorities lack interest in educating themselves.
We must begin to question our privileges and freedoms if we want to make our communities more hospitable. Be reminded that prejudice is interconnected and serves only one purpose: to maintain a status quo.
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