The 2020 Top Ten LGBT Stories from Latin America and the Caribbean

The LGBT community in Latin America and the Caribbean has been impacted disproportionately hard this year, but LGBT advocates were able to achieve victories, even in countries with a poor track-record of openness to LGBT rights.


Photo Credit: Jonathan Jiménez / The Tico Times

Pandemic, lockdowns, and unemployment dominated life almost everywhere in 2020. The LGBT community in Latin America and the Caribbean has been impacted by these crises disproportionately. And yet, LGBT advocates were able to achieve victories, even in countries with a poor track-record of openness to LGBT rights.

10. Wedding anniversary

In March, Mexico City celebrated the 10th anniversary of marriage equality with a group wedding for 140 same-sex couples. The city also celebrated the 5th anniversary of its gender identity law, which allows individuals to change their gender designation in official documents. In July, the city became the first jurisdiction in Mexico to formally ban conversion therapies (a comparable nationwide ban under discussion in the national congress was postponed due to the pandemic).

9. Barbados compromise

Governor General Sandra Mason said the Barbadian government would move forward with civil unions, while also stating that same-sex marriage would be put to a public vote. LGBT advocates welcomed the former, but not the latter. In a country that still has laws in the books banning same-sex sexual activity, albeit hardly enforced, advocating civil unions is ground breaking. But a large majority of the electorate in this 286,000-inhabitant island-nation are very conservative, which could mean that a referendum may result in an easy defeat for marriage rights. In justifying her decision to move forward with civil unions, Mason referred to the country being internationally “blacklisted” for its conservatism on LGBT issues. Here’s an example of international pressure doing some good.

8. The Right to Learn

In two separate rulings between April and May, the Brazilian Supreme Court unanimously struck down laws in the states of Goáis and Paraná that banned the use in public schools of education material containing information on gender ideology. Gender ideology is a term used by conservatives, including Catholic and Evangelical clergies, to label any type of idea, theory, or research celebrating non-heteronormative sexuality, gender identity, and even feminism. The courts found that the bans in question violated freedom of expression. In the Paraná ruling in particular, the Court also said the ban violated “the right to learn.”

7. Chile’s Constitutional Court walks backward

In a 5-to-4 vote Chile’s Constitutional Court denied a request by a lesbian couple married in Spain to have their marriage recognized in Chile. The couple involves a Chilean and a Spanish national. The court argued that if accepting marriage rights from other countries became the norm it could lead to acceptance of “intolerable extremes” such as polygamy (as happens in Muslim countries), marriage with minors (as happens in Africa), or arranged marriages (as happens in Japan). The Court made the convoluted argument that a homosexual person does not have their marriage rights violated in Chile because “they can still get married if they do it with a person of the opposite sex.” The June ruling hardly mentioned or completely ignored other rulings in Chile and from the Inter-American Human Rights Courts in relation to Chile demanding greater LGBT rights. Aware that Chile’s court remains one of the most conservative in South America, LGBT advocates are now pinning their hopes for greater equality and redefinition of marriage on the Constituent Assembly scheduled to convene next year.

6. Electoral payback in Brazil

Mônica Benicio, the widow of a Rio de Janeiro councilwoman, Marielle Franco, who was murdered in 2018 under politically dubious circumstances, was elected to the city’s council during Brazil’s midterm election. Benicio celebrated with this tweet: “The City Council will have an openly lesbian councilwoman! I am very grateful to the more than 22,000 people who voted for a future feminist and anti-fascist mandate for the Rio City Council!” Cariocas also voted out of office their mayor, Marcelo Crivella, an anti-gay, anti-Carnival, neo-Pentecostal bishop who was a strong ally of homophobic president Jair Bolsonaro. Crivella lost in every one of the city’s 49 constituencies in a run-off.

5. The Pope breaks the Internet, again.

In a documentary entitled Francesco, Pope Francis appears stating that homosexuals have the right to be in a family: “What we have to create is civil unions.” These statements went viral. Many interpreted them to mean that the Pope is willing to take a more assertive stand in favor of civil unions, a position he embraced as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, but which remains unpopular across parts of the clergy. In late December, Cardinal Carlos Aguiar, the highest prelate of the Catholic Church in Mexico—the country with the second largest Catholic population in the world after Brazil—stated that he was in close agreement with the Holy Father on this issue.

4. Transgentina

Argentina continues to make strides on behalf of the trans community. In September, president Alberto Fernández signed a decree establishing a 1-percent employment quota for trans people in the public sector. Only Uruguay has a comparable law. With approximately 95 percent of Argentina’s trans adults lacking employment in the formal sector, and thus, access to legal protections, health services, and pensions, the decree was widely welcomed by the LGBT community. In addition, Argentine soccer continues to shed some of its macho undertones. While soccer fans mourned the death of star-player Diego Maradona in 2020, they might not have noticed how this widely-beloved sport became more LGBT friendly by allowing Mara Gómez to become the first transgender woman to play pro soccer in Argentina. Last year, Nicolás Fernández became the first professional soccer player in Argentina to publicly identify as being gay.

3. A pandemic strikes again

While many Latin American LGBT communities are still struggling to confront the AIDS pandemic, the LGBT community has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Four of the populations most severely affected by the pandemic—informal workers, retail personnel, entertainment professionals, and people with pre-existing health conditions—include a disproportionate number of LGBT people. In addition, in Panama, Peru, and Colombia, authorities experimented with gender-based curfews (pico y género), which impacted trans people negatively. These gender curfews mandated men and women to be out on alternating days. This led to security guards and police targeting trans people for non-compliance, and even incidents of hate crimes. Trans activists were vocal in denouncing these lockdown measures and helping reverse them in Peru and Colombia.

2. Bolivian Annulment

In a year of enormous electoral turmoil, Bolivia’s Constitutional Court issued one of the most remarkable pro-LGBT rulings in the country’s history. The court ordered the annulment of an administrative resolution that denied marriage rights to a gay couple. The Bolivian Court made it clear that such a prohibition violated the Constitution’s principle of equality and non-discrimination. This decision is important because the Constitution (Article 63) recognizes marriage only “between a woman and a man.” For many analysts, this decision paves the way for universal same-sex marriage rights in the country.

1. Tico Pride

Costa Rica became the first Central American, and seventh Latin American, country to legalize same-sex marriage. In the 2010s, the Costa Rican government tried to advance marriage rights, only to face significant opposition from politicians, religious groups, and parts of the electorate. It eventually approached the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) for advice (and dare we say, political help) with two questions: what to do with civil unions and gender-identity rights. The IACHR ruled in 2018 that all signatories to the American Convention on Human Rights, which includes Costa Rica, were required to provide full rights, end of discussion. The IACHR gave Costa Rica 18 months to comply. Despite resistance, including a presidential candidate in 2018 who advocated dismissing the IACHR’s ruling and efforts by Congress leaders to delay action using the excuse of the pandemic, same-sex marriage became officially legal in Costa Rica. LGBT advocates in Costa Rica played a major role in pressuring the government not to backtrack. Both the IACHR ruling and the Costa Rican example played a major role in inspiring Bolivian courts. As Costa Ricans like to say, ¡suena bien, dele viaje!

Javier Corrales is Dwight W. Morrow 1895 professor and chair of Political Science at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts.  He obtained his Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University in 1996. Corrales’s research focuses on democratization, presidential powers, democratic backsliding, political economy of development, ruling parties, the incumbent’s advantage, foreign policies, and sexuality.  He has published extensively on Latin America and the Caribbean. His latest book, Fixing Democracy:  Why Constitutional Change Often Fails to Enhance Democracy in Latin America, was published by Oxford University Press in mid 2018.

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