Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Mexico’s Supreme Court Ruling a Step Toward Greater Tolerance

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If there is one thing Mexico’s men are famous for, it is the celebration of being macho. We see this everywhere: In telenovelas, the butch and handsome male protagonist becomes the hero only after he conquers the lovely señorita by wooing her with his macho chivalry. It is common to hear traditional male fathers telling their sons “real men don’t cry.”  

A number of consumer products also cater to this very innate part of the Mexican heterosexual male’s existence through marketing, which might be considered as sexist in other cultures. The macho element also permeates humor; viewed through the optics of U.S. culture it no doubt be deemed much more than politically incorrect. This is not a matter of right or wrong, but rather a plain and simple recognition of who we are as a culture today.

On March 6, however, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) took a decision that could lead to a shift in the way Mexican machos coexist with homosexuality, which today is regularly mocked. Mexican insults such as “maricón” or “puñal” (derogatory terms for “gay male”) are thrown around in colloquial talk with as much disdain as the word “pansy” in the English language. But the Supreme Court decided that such expressions are not protected by freedom of speech and can be subject to lawsuit on the basis of moral harm. 

The split 3-2 judicial decision is probably an accurate proportion of how Mexican society would view the subject. Some view this as a step toward inclusion and tolerance. Others see this as unnecessary ruling and censorship of what has traditionally been acceptable humor.The approved ruling states that “Homophobic expressions, that is, language consistent in inferring that homosexuality is not a valid option, but rather a condition of inferiority, constitute discriminatory manifestations. This includes the use of such terms in humorous use, given that through them, intolerance toward homosexuality is incited, promoted and justified.” The ruling goes on to acknowledge that these expressions are part of common use in Mexico’s culture by stating that, “while these expressions are strongly embedded in Mexican society’s language, practices by the majority of a population cannot validate violations to fundamental rights.”

As with most countries and cultures, gender diversity is slowly but surely (granted, more slowly than us progressive thinkers would like) moving forward.

The antigay sentiments and comments common in previous generations are less present with youth today, even if the male macho is still a predominant figure in our culture. But the SCJN’s ruling, if harnessed correctly, can be a powerful boost toward a more open and tolerant society. If really enforced, this ruling could create a huge shift in approved TV content for example, which is a powerful vehicle in our culture. Today, many humor programs make fun of LGBT individuals by portraying them as inferior and/or exaggerating stereotypical effeminate traits, thus teaching that these expressions are acceptable in society. With the ruling, this type of humor could hold TV companies liable and perhaps motivate them to change their content. In an ideal scenario, this would extend to TV companies that shield themselves from responsibility by stating, “we give people what they want to see.”

While enforceability of this ruling in everyday social interaction and situations proves complicated, the institutionalization of hate humor in printed media and television can be affected. This is, in a way, something similar to the shift made with regard to cultural acceptance of smoking. When did smoking stop being cool? Many would say it was when we stopped seeing it as acceptable in TV and later in social occasions. Even if it takes a couple of generations to accept, typifying homophobic slurs as hate speech is a celebratory step toward social inclusion and tolerance in Mexican culture.


Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Tags: homophobia, LGBT Rights, Mexico
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