Our hemisphere is quickly becoming one of the most gay-friendly territories in the world. It has far and beyond the most people living with access to marriage equality, not to mention the largest pride celebration on Earth. Many countries in the Americas are expanding their safeguards against discrimination and boast some of the world's most vibrant LGBT movements.
But not everything is advancing in a positive direction. Almost a third of the 35 countries in the Americas criminalize homosexual relations. Violence and bullying against LGBT persons remain both too common and largely unpunished, even in those countries with otherwise progressive legal environments.
This is our pick for the top LGBT stories - both positive and negative - from the Americas in 2013. Separating the two lists should not give the impression that nothing good ever comes out of adversity. That is far from true. Some of these setbacks may very well become important catalysts of positive, corrective action. But it is also important to recognize that being LGBT in the Americas is not getting easier for everyone.
10 - In media we trust - Innovative media strategies to raise LGBT awareness continued to emerge 2013. In January, activists launched "We are Jamaicans," a video series claiming that queer issues are part of the island's national identity. Some of Peru's most famous straight celebrities from sports, TV and politics posed as same-sex couples for billboards captioned "Love is not a crime." The government of Buenos Aires unveiled an interactive site called #ChauTabú (Ciao Taboo), geared towards young people, focusing on sexual health through videos and offering online doctor consultations. The Venezuelan film Pelo Malo (Bad Hair), a film about a mother's homophobic reaction to her son's hairstyle, won the highest prize of the San Sebastián International Film Festival and gave much to talk about in Venezuela.
9 - An UN-deterred ally - The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), a research unit with 44 member states, approved the Montevideo Consensus on Populations and Development. The document asserts that "the promotion and protection of sexual rights and reproductive rights are essential for the achievement of social justice." A month later, Brazil and Argentina participated in the UN's first-ever ministerial meeting on LGBT issues.
8 - Gay dollars welcome - Mexico's Secretary of Tourism launched a campaign called #MéxicoFriendly aimed at encouraging gay tourism. In addition, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo were all finalists for the travel site Gay Cities' "Best of 2013" contest in categories like best honeymoon, pride celebration, dating and "gay mecca."
7 - Second time a charm? - As a presidential candidate in 2013, Chile's former president Michelle Bachelet announced her personal support for marriage equality and vowed to hold a congressional debate on the subject if reelected. She declined, however, to endorse adoption rights for same-sex couples, saying instead that the country should proceed "step by step."
6 - A needed watchdog - In November, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights created a special LGBT Rapporteurship. The body, which starts functioning early next year, will bring increased visibility to violations of the community's human rights.
5 - NOH8 a la mexicana... y a la chilena - The Mexican Supreme Court ruled that two common epithets that essentially translate to "faggot" - puñal and maricón - are not protected under the constitution. The case involved a journalist's column that called the director of another newspaper a "faggot" who only employed other "faggots." While the ruling invites important questions regarding free expression, it bodes well that the Court has taken a stand against hate speech. In Chile, the four men who brutally killed a gay youth named Daniel Zamudio in 2012 were found guilty for murder in October. Zamudio's death, and the sadistic tortured he endured, prompted the country to adopt an anti-discrimination law last year.
4 - Hope for the Pope - During an unscripted press conference in July, the Argentine-born Pope Francis - the first pontiff from Latin America - said that, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" A few months later, he asserted that the Catholic Church focuses too much on issues like homosexuality. For many, the comments were an indication that the Church is preparing to soften its opposition to LGBT equality. For others, the Pope was rehashing the old "love the sinner, hate the sin" line, and any rhetoric without doctrinal change is empty.
3 - Redemption song - High courts in both Jamaica and Belize heard challenges to their "buggery laws," legal bans criminalizing male homosexual relations. Despite being rarely-enforced colonial vestiges, these statutes represent serious legal barriers to gay rights throughout the Anglophone Caribbean, home to some of the most homophobic laws and attitudes in the Americas.
2 - Win some; lose some - Benjamín Medrano of Mexico and Claudio Arriagada of Chile became their countries' first openly gay mayor and federal congressman, respectively. Less successful were Diane Rodríguez of Ecuador and Valentina Verbal of Chile, who still made history as their countries' first openly transgender candidates for congress. They would have been the first trans lawmakers in Latin America.
1 - Pop the champagne - Uruguay became the third country in the Western Hemisphere to fully legalize same-sex marriage in April, followed by a judicial decision that effectively did the same in Brazil. Same-sex unions have been allowed in six Mexican states (though universal access is still lacking in most). This year alone, the number of U.S. states with marriage equality expanded from 9 to 17, which the federal government now recognizes thanks to a Supreme Court decision this summer. In sum, the global population with access to marriage equality nearly doubled in 2013; largely thanks to progress in the Americas.
10 - Potty mouths - On the eve of being elected president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes likened gay people to "monkeys" and said that he would "shoot [himself] in the testicles" if he were to discover that his son was gay. In the Dominican Republic in July, Cardinal Nicolás López condemned the US ambassador-designate for being a "faggot." (The good news was that 60 percent of respondents to an ensuing poll disagreed with the comment.)
9 - Whoops - A judge closed an "accidental" loophole in Costa Rica that could have allowed same-sex unions. Without realizing what they were doing, conservative lawmakers had passed a measure allowing civil unions "without discrimination" and without gender requirements. Some considered this oversight enough to legalize, albeit inadvertently, same-sex unions in Costa Rica. The subsequent court ruling has closed this loophole, at least for now - appeals are still pending.
8 - The Lone Ranger - Carlos Bruce, Peru's most visible pro-gay legislator, failed to secure national LGBT protections, including anti-discrimination and civil union bills. In addition to resistance from most legislators, he also had to confront personal attacks from the head of the country's Catholic Church.
7 - Anti-gay crusade - Conservative activists from the Global North attempted to sabotage efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in the Caribbean. From Jamaica to Guyana, religious figures from the U.S. and the U.K. used multiple arenas to disseminate the idea that LGBT rights lead to moral degradation. In Belize, this crusade went as far as providing legal support to keep homosexuality a crime. As they lose the battle in the United States and Europe, organized transnational homophobia has diverted their energies abroad.
6 - Cruel and unusual punishment - Ecuadorans were shocked by the revelation that unlicensed clinics were physically torturing patients to "cure" same-sex attraction. According to the country's openly lesbian Health Minister, the problem is widespread and brutal. She estimated that 80 of Ecuador's 200 addiction treatment centers could be using "therapies" such as electric shocks, starvation, and even raping lesbian girls to reverse their sexuality. The victims are typically LGBT youth committed by their parents.
5 - Lord have mercy - The growing political clout of Brazil's conservative evangelicals was clear in 2013. The ruling party's legislative coalition approved pastor-congressman Marco Feliciano to head a congressional human rights commission in March. Feliciano proceeded to nearly legalize reparative therapy and is now seeking to reverse protections granted to same-sex couples. In June, prominent televangelist Silas Malafaia led a 40,000-strong protest against LGBT rights outside Congress, proclaiming that "gay activism [is] the fundamentalism of moral garbage."
4 - Isle of Disenchantment - Days before Puerto Rico's Supreme Court upheld a ban on adoption by same-sex parents, the island witnessed the largest anti-gay rally in its history, with over 200,000 people attending.
3 - Homophobe-in-chief - Hugo Chávez's successor, Nicolás Maduro, openly questioned opposition candidate Henrique Capriles' sexuality as a campaign tactic during the presidential election this spring. Accusations continued even after Maduro assumed office. Officials raided the offices of Capriles' chief of staff in August, discovering harmless photos of men in drag at a private party. Legislators from Maduro's party displayed the pictures on the floor of Congress as "proof" that the opposition was operating a "prostitution ring" - an accusation that Maduro went on to defend.
2 - A general bully - Colombia's Inspector General - an office intended to monitor public officials and that is currently headed by a religious conservative - successfully lobbied Congress to torpedo a marriage equality bill and has since pressured judges to deny petitions for gay marriage licenses. Colombia's top court decided in 2011 that same-sex unions should be recognized by the state, which at the time was heralded as a possible pro-gay turning point in Colombia.
1 - Killing fields - Some 300 LGBT people were killed in Brazil this year. In Haiti, nearly 50 gay men were beaten in a single week in July by mobs armed with machetes, sticks and cement blocks. In Jamaica, a "cross-dressing teen" and 40 year-old man were stabbed to death in separate incidents, while many more were beaten during an "unprecedented" level of violence this summer. Activists in Honduras marched on the Attorney General's office in October to bring attention to the 22 murders of LGBT people since January, five of which occurred in a single month. By August, New York City, one of the most tolerant places on Earth, was on track to double its number of hate crimes in 2013, including a homicide in Greenwich Village - the birth place of the modern gay rights movement in the United States.
Javier Corrales is Professor of Political Science at Amherst College, Amherst, MA. Cameron Combs is Program Assistant at the Inter-American Dialogue, Washington, DC.
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