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Latin America: Between populist forces and rainbows

Last year, Argentina became the first major country in Latin America to legalize abortion. This was made possible by the presidency of Alberto Fernández. Not only is he a supporter of legalized abortion, he is also a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, and furthermore the father of a well-known transgender drag queen. However, the developments in Argentina illustrates just one of several conflicting tendencies in Latin America - a region that is becoming increasingly polarized with regards to gender equality and the rights of sexual minorities.


By Benedicte Bull, Professor at the Centre for Development and Environment, UiO (translated by Reinert Skumsnes).

This text was first published in 2020, and has been updated in 2021.

Read more about The hope of continuing to achieve rights in Argentina and Out son of new Argentinian president represents with Pride Flag at father’s inauguration.

Developments in the traditionally progressive and democratic country of Costa Rica demonstrate the polarization. On the 25th of May last year, Costa Rica became the sixth country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay were the first to lagalize same-sex marriage in 2013, while Ecuador established similar laws in 2019. In Mexico, it is possible to enter into same-sex marriage in a number of states and cities, and it is recognized throughout the country. In Colombia, too, diversity is becoming more and more apparent on the political agenda. For instance, the popular Mayor Claudia López Hernández, who governs the capital Bogota, has been an open lesbian throughout her political career. Colombia is also among the countries that have the most liberal legislation. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Colombia since 2016. 

The law does not reflect the whole reality

But as in many cases in Latin America, the law does not reflect the whole reality. Courts have in many cases ruled against political trends, for instance to ensure that laws are in line with the Constitutions, which often guarantees equal rights to all.

The growth of ultra-conservative political and religious movements are one of these trends that lead to a fierce fight against sexual diversity. The movement that secured Brazil's President, Jair Bolsonaro, victory in 2018 is perhaps one of the strongest. Among his core voters are charismatic Protestants and conservatives who want Brazil to return to military dictatorship. They stand together in the fight against what they refer to as gender ideology, what we may refer to as gender equality.

The fight against gender ideology

The fight against gender ideology has been going on in Brazil at least since 2011, when the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex marriage. It was when the Minister of Education wanted to conduct a campaign against the widespread violence against gays in school, that he was accused of seeking to implement a gay package aiming to convert schoolchildren into homosexuality. One of those who stood behind the accusations was former congressman Jair Bolsonaro. The killing of high-profile lesbian, colored activist and local politician, Marielle Franco, in March 2018, showed clearly how necessary a campaign against the widespread violence was. But only a few months after the killing, Bolsonaro was elected president, and he has tried to ban all forms of support and demands for justice after Franco's killing. In the aftermath, however, the investigation has linked Bolsonaros sons and close associates directly to the murder.

Increasing polarization

Today's Brazil is in many ways an extreme example of the increasing polarization between those who claim to defend family values and fight against gender ideology on the one hand, and those who fight for equal rights between genders and different minorities on the other. This is a polarization we see in many countries. Latin American societies are in a time of transition where traditional institutions, including the Catholic Church, are receding, but where more open, democratic societies have failed to meet people's expectations, both when it comes to prosperity and security. In such a situation, various populist forces take advantage of people seeking strong leaders who promise to bring society back to some sort of order. One of the most gruesome examples of this is a wave of killings on LGBTQ + people, but also sexually motivated killings on women.

But fortunately, there are also positive signs. New movements are constantly emerging, and everything indicates that the new generation of Latin Americans are heading towards the rainbow, refusing to believe the narrative that sexual liberation is the cause of societal dissolution and chaos.

Listen to Las Tesis feminist protest song of Chile goes global. Read also How a Chilean Chant Became the World's Most Powerful Feminist Anthem.

Throughout Latin America, in addition to the legal changes that dissolve old conservative laws and protect the rights of minorities described above, we have seen the emergence of strong and innovative feminist movements. In the midst of protests against inequality and abuse of power in Chile in the fall of 2019, for example, the collective Las Tesis created a global movement - a so-called feminist flash mob - who through singing and dancing emphasize how oppression and male domination permeate state apparatus and society. In March 2020, Mexican women went on a general strike against new waves of killings and violence, and they followed up with further protests in 2021. The #NiUnaMenos movement, originating in Argentina, has for several years brought together women of different ages, sexual orientation and social belonging in the fight against violence and oppression, and for sexual rights.

Read more about #NiUnaMenos.

Published June 11, 2020 10:57 AM - Last modified June 9, 2021 11:03 AM