An Era of Containment: Latin America’s Top 10 LGBTQ Stories of 2023

The era of net gains for the LGBTQ community seems to have been replaced by an era of containment.


Source: Nelson Antoine/AP.

The golden era of LGBTQ rights in Latin America, which started in the mid-2000s, seems to have ended. It has been replaced by an era of containment, focused on preventing rights deteriorations rather than achieving rights expansions.

The golden era was no doubt a historic period. Improvements for the LGBTQ community materialized over a broad terrain, including awareness of the ills of homophobia, greater social acceptance of LGBTQ people, enhancement of legal protections, and expansion of pro-LGBTQ public policies. In most countries, gains for the LGBTQ community surpassed setbacks.

Today’s political climate is different. Conservative politicians have become more socially conservative. They have sharpened their attacks on LGBTQ activists, solidified alliances with extremist religious groups, and mobilized previously non-mobilized groups. In almost every country, conservative politicians, not just religious leaders, are promoting a new form of homo- and transphobia: the idea that LGBTQ groups have gone too far. LGBTQ groups are being painted, unjustifiably, as dominant elites pushing an ideological agenda on vulnerable heterosexual families.

It seems we have entered a period of victimization reversal. The Latin American patriarchy, of all forces, is claiming victimhood. It complains about political displacement and blames the LGBTQ community for suffocating it.

In response to this hostile climate, LGBTQ groups have had to change strategies. Where extremist socially conservative politicians, some of which on the left, have made it to the presidency—as has happened in Venezuela (Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro), Brazil (Jair Bolsonaro), Paraguay (Santiago Peña, Abdo Benítez, Horacio Cartes), Peru (Pedro Castillo, Dina Boluarte), and Guatemala (Alejandro Giammattei, Jimmy Morales)—activist groups have had to turn defensive.  This means focusing more on strategies to block hostile policies, counter homo- and transphobic discourse, and keep potential damage at bay rather than develop creative ways to secure new rights and inclusion.

In short, the era of net gains for the LGBTQ community seems to have been replaced by an era of containment. This is the context for this year’s list of top LGBTQ stories in the region. The list has an important message: the gains in terms of LGBTQ rights were fewer and more modest than in the recent past. The setbacks were serious. Policies advanced by anti-LGBTQ groups will be hard to undo. It’s a gloomy list, for sure.

But there are some important victories, less so in new rights obtained and more in the form of pro-LGBTQ groups containing the push-back efforts of socially conservative politicians.

With this background, here’s the list of the top LGBTQ stories of 2023.


10. The Killing of Jesús Ociel Baena. Baena was the first openly non-binary magistrate in Latin America and a prominent pro-LGBTQ advocate in Mexico. They were found dead at their home with their partner Dorian Herrera in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Authorities ruled the incident a murder-suicide by Herrera, but local LGBTQ leaders dispute the rushed conclusion. The event rekindled awareness of the sad fact that violence toward the LGBTQ community, as well as police neglect and disdain, remain serious problems in Mexico.

9. Venezuelan Police Raid the Avalon Club. In a scene reminiscent of Latin America during the homophobic dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s, members of the Venezuelan National Police raided a popular gay spa and bar, the Avalon Club, in the city of Valencia. With no search warrant, the police arrested 33 men, including the club’s owner. The men were outed. Their phones were taken. The content of their phones, including pictures, text messages, and data, was shared on social media as a form of social mockery.

8. Latin America Hosts Gay Games for the First Time. The 11th Gay Games were co-hosted by Guadalajara, Mexico, and Hong Kong, China, after a year-long delay. While the number of athletes was high, at nearly 5,000 athletes from 45 countries, attendance was lower than average for the Gay Games. The event was nonetheless historic because this was the first time that a Latin American (or Asian) city hosted the games.

7. “Las Locas Del 73” Documents Chile’s Longstanding Pro-LGBTQ Movement. A new documentary, “Las Locas Del 73,” features Chile’s first gay rights march in Santiago, Chile. The march occurred in 1973, months before the coup by General Augusto Pinochet that toppled left-wing President Salvador Allende. This march had been lost to history until this documentary. Filmmakers were able to provide solid evidence that this march did indeed take place in Chile, suggesting that the country’s pro-LGBTQ movement is much older than previously thought.

6. Argentina Inaugurates Socially Conservative Government. Argentina elected its first right-wing libertarian president, Javier Milei, whose stance on LGBTQ rights during the campaign was ambiguous. On the one hand, he professed respect for freedom for all to marry and keeping the state out of people’s bedrooms. On the other hand, he promised to shutter government agencies that work on behalf of women and low-income populations and expressed disapproval of abortions, which are legal in Argentina. Critics also worry about socially conservative figures in his government, such as his vice president, Victoria Villarruel. While not known for homo- and trans-phobic discourse, Villarruel is openly proud of her religious conservatism and has often challenged the need for the state to support abortions, promote sexual diversity, and protect gender rights. Critics contend that this may become the most socially conservative administration in Argentina since the approval of same-sex marriage in 2010.

5. Peru’s LGBT Movement Fractures Over Castillo. In a rare example of steep divisions surrounding a left-wing president, LGBTQ organizations in Peru split politically over the unraveling of Pedro Castillo’s leftist administration at the end of 2022. Though a leftist, ruralist politician, Castillo was also socially conservative and openly critical of LGBTQ rights. He attempted a self-coup when faced with impeachment at the end of 2022. The self-coup unraveled, Castillo was arrested, and an interim government was installed, leading to protests that lasted until early 2023. While most LGBTQ groups condemned the loss of life during the protests, they split over the Castillo affair. Some LGBTQ groups sided with Castillo’s supporters, arguing that conservative groups simply wanted to get rid of a progressive president. Other groups argued that there was nothing progressive or democratic about Castillo and thus welcomed his removal. In a country where LGBTQ rights have not advanced much, political splits in the LGBTQ community are unlikely to help the movement achieve success in expanding rights further.

4. Chile Rejects Conservativism (After Rejecting Progressivism). In what is perhaps one of the region’s most important examples of victory in the politics of containment, Chileans rejected a proposed new constitution that would have restricted LGBTQ rights. The 2023 proposed constitution was the second attempt to change it in two years. The proposal reflected many of the views of Chile’s new ultra-conservative, populist party—a sharp contrast from the previous draft from 2022, which reflected the views from more progressive sectors of society—and moved the pendulum to the right with language that could have been used to constitutionally ban abortions and protect religious-based discrimination against LGBTQ people. It was rejected with 55.6 percent of the vote.

3. Bolsonarismo Lingers in Brazil, Especially in Congress. Jair Bolsonaro, the most publicly homophobic president in the history of Brazil’s democracy, was defeated in his 2022 re-election bid and banned from office until 2030, but his supporters increased their presence in Congress. Brazil’s 57th Congress opened in February 2023, with Bolsonaristas occupying 99 seats in the House (up from 77) and 13 seats in the Senate (up from 2). LGBTQ advocates fear this may be the most socially conservative Congress in Brazil in decades.

2. Brazilian Court Criminalizes Homophobia. In a 9-1 decision, Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court ruled that homophobia is now a punishable offence meriting up to five years in prison, equal to the punishment for racism in the country. The court had already criminalized homo- and transphobia in 2019. The ruling reaffirmed the progressive, pro-LGBTQ orientation of Brazil’s highest courts.

1. Panamanian and Jamaican Courts Halt LGBTQ Gains. Defying regional trends, both the Jamaican and Panamanian supreme courts struck down pro-LGBTQ lawsuits against the state. The Jamaican lawsuit was filed by Maurice Thomlison. The lawsuit claimed that Jamaica’s anti-sodomy laws violated the constitution’s right to privacy, among other rights. The Panamanian lawsuit was filed by same-sex couples who were married in other countries and wanted recognition in Panama. In Panama, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is not a human right and, therefore, does not need to be recognized by the state. These rulings represent two of the most serious setbacks to LGBTQ rights in Latin America and the Caribbean in years.


Moving forward, the good news is that, despite this new gloomy environment, LGBTQ groups in Latin America have never been stronger politically. They have allies across society, especially among the young and less religious sectors of the population. Most countries have also achieved stronger pro-LGBTQ legal codes and maybe even more progressive and independent courts than was the case a decade ago. These allies and institutional assets did not exist fifteen years ago as strongly as they are now. They are an important reason why the future for LGBTQ rights in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean may still be bright.


Javier Corrales is Dwight W. Morrow 1895 Professor of Political Science at Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts and a board member of Global Americans. His recent book is titled: Autocracy Rising: How Venezuela Transitioned to Authoritarianism (Brookings Institution Press, 2022). The author thanks Michael Mason for his research assistance.

Global Americans takes pride in serving as a platform that offers in-depth analyses on various political, economic, environmental, and foreign affairs issues in the Western Hemisphere. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Global Americans or anyone associated with it, and publication by Global Americans does not constitute an endorsement of all or any part of the views expressed. 

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