Gay rights are changing Latin America

GSN explores who's bucking trends and making waves to elevate the profile of LGBT communities in Mexico, the Carribean, Central and South America 

Gay rights are changing Latin America
28 May 2012

It’s not Facebook’s fault. Don’t blame the drag queens.

But Latin America is becoming gayer.

Gay, bi and trans communities in Latin America have always existed, albeit quietly. With gay rights issues gaining prominence around the world, LGBT communities in Latin America are making themselves known to their neighbors, politicians and the world.

‘It’s not that there are more gays and lesbians living in Latin America,’ wrote Javier Corrales, political science professor at Amherst College and editor of the book The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America.

‘Rather, the region is becoming more gay-friendly.’ 

The region has been historically gay-unfriendly partly because of the inherent macho culture, deep-rooted Catholic beliefs, taboos surrounding HIV and AIDS, and anti-gay policies from conservative politicians.

The violent acts of homophobia that continue to make international headlines even in Latin American countries where laws are created to protect gay, bi and trans individuals show that there is still much work to be done.

On 3 March 2012 a group of self-professed neo-Nazis tortured 24-year-old Chilean man Daniel Zamudio in a park. He died weeks later from his injuries. Two months later the Chilean government passed a hate-crimes law in response to the global outcry of Zamudio’s death. In the same month three Chilean soldiers were accused of gay-bashing a man leaving a nightclub.

Discrimination and human rights violations are causing Latin American LGBT activists and organizations to fight for their right to protection, and their governments seem to be listening.

Throughout Latin America gay rights ranging from same-sex marriage protections to adoption of children by same-sex partners are transforming the political landscape. Yet the region’s history of dicatators and conservative politicians make heading for gay-friendly governments simultaneously difficult and impressive.

Corrales believes that some regime changes and globalization are helping Latin America’s expansion of gay civil rights. Since the countries of Latin America were born out of rebellion against Spanish government, Corrales suggests social movements and revolutions are an innate part of the area’s social identity.

‘It helps that the region is solidly urbanized and that Latin American cities are becoming more globalized and richer; gay life thrives in wealthy, cosmopolitan cities,’ wrote Corrales.

‘It also helps that the region is not Muslim or predominantly Protestant, because countries where these religions dominate – for example Arab or Anglo-Caribbean countries – tend to have the least gay-friendly legislation.’

Until recently, the influx of foreigners and their foreign ideals into Latin America did little to bolster the gay civil rights movements. However, the revolution in LGBT rights is gaining momentum in the local and global consciousness.

Despite awareness raised thanks to communication technology, Corrales points out that globalization has hindered LGBT movements in Latin America as much as it has helped.

Where many movements have succeeded in using tourism and social media as tools to raise awareness of their campaigns, the gay community’s embrace of globalization could also be a reason why many Latin American political parties do not embrace them.

Be it machismo, conservatism, anti-Western sentiment or homophobia, the ongoing battle for gay equality, particularly outside the popular urban hubs of the region, is still going hot.

Any progress made by Latin American countries in favor of gay rights will still struggle for complete equality.

The difference between civil unions and marriage and the debate between couple’s benefits and adoption rights are just a few of the benchmarks Latin America, and the rest of the world, will continue to contend with for years to come.

A timeline of the gay rights revolution in Latin America can provide more insight into the struggles met and the journey ahead. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a look into the activists, organizations and politicians that are helping transform Latin America’s treatment of the gay, bi and trans communities.



  • Brazil’s Supreme Court of Justice rules that two women can be legally married and legalizes civil unions for same-sex couples.
  • Sebastian Piñera, Chile’s president, introduces a civil union bill.


  • Argentina becomes the first Latin American country to fully legalize same-sex marriages.
  • Mexico makes same-sex marriages constitutional, and allows same-sex couples entering marriage to adopt children.


  • Argentina conducts the first same-sex marriage in Latin America.
  • Argentina allows gays to serve in the military.
  • Colombia’s Constitutional Court rules that same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples.
  • Ecuador performs its first civil union.


  • Cuba includes free sex-change surgeries under universal healthcare.
  • Nicaragua decriminalizes same-sex intercourse.
  • Ecuador legalizes civil unions for same-sex couples.


  • Uruguay passed a law granting access to health benefits, inheritance, parenting, and pension rights to all couples who have cohabited for at least five years.


  • Mexico City approved the Societal Cohabitation Law, granting same-sex couples marital rights identical to those for common-law relationships between a man and a woman.


  • Buenos Aires guaranteed all couples, regardless of gender, the right to register for civil unions.


  • Chile decriminalized same-sex intercourse.


  • Ecuador introduces protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. 


  • Brazil and Peru legalize same-sex sexual activity.  



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