Where the Rainbow Tide Won’t Flow: Violence and LGBT Rights in Latin America

Matthew T. Klick
Content Type
Working Paper
Center on Human Rights Education, University of Denver
In recent months, the experience of Latin America’s LGBT community has come under renewed focus by myriad outlets. Perhaps somewhat surprising, much of the attention is positive – lauding new legislation or advancements in LGBT rights and policy across the region. But the achievements of some countries obscure a darker reality – an ongoing popular intolerance, evidence by hate crimes across the region. Indeed, the region has seen a wave – the so-called “rainbow tide” in fact – of progressive policies, lending an outward sense of LGBT tolerance, and even hemispheric leadership. Argentina, under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, legalized same-sex marriage (2010), and more progressively yet, passed legislation that allowed individuals to change their names and gender identity on official documents without seeking court approval first. Chile has since approved its Agreement for Civil Union law, which grants same-sex partners identical rights regarding property, finances and health care as heterosexual couples. Progressive laws and policy have similarly swept Uruguay (the world’s most gay-friendly country according to some), Costa Rica, Colombia and Mexico. These advances take place despite the ongoing influence of the Catholic Church, and increasingly, an ardently conservative Evangelical movement throughout the region. Such gains should not be dismissed lightly. Unfortunately, however, the above gains have been matched by a spike in hate crimes, and attacks on prominent LGBT leaders. Six of the top eight countries in murders of transgender people are in Latin America (India and the U.S. are the others). In per capita terms, Honduras dominates all comers, but again the region as a whole is disproportionately represented, appearing in 12 of the top 13 spots. In Argentina, which has arguably been most lauded for its progressiveness, vocal trans activist Diana Sacayán was violently murdered. In a stunning turn, her death was the third transgender killing in Argentina that month, following the stabbings of Marcela Chocobar and Coty Olmos. Sao Paolo Police, meanwhile, brazenly, and viciously, beat Veronica Bolina beyond recognition, while she was in custody. These events, though gruesome and tragic, do not necessarily represent a systemic backlash by society. In other countries of the region, however, it is yet more dangerous still to openly identify as LGBT.
Human Rights, Discrimination, Violence, LGBT+, Sexuality
Political Geography
Latin America, North America