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Defending sexual diversity in South America

On 30 July 2010, in Argentina, actor Ernesto Larrese and his partner, agent Alejandro Vannelli, became the first same-sex Latin American couple to marry. Argentina is the first country in South America and the tenth in the world to approve gay marriage.

On Human Rights Day 2010 the focus is on human rights defenders © Jennifer Ross OHCHR Regional Office for South AmericaCésar Cigliutti, President of the Argentinian Homosexual Community, says the precedent established by Argentina makes it more likely that the other Latin American countries will also take the initiative. “Nobody wants to be first,” Cigliutti says. “[but]Once Latin America has one [law], the rest come easier.”

However, as Rolando Jiménez, President of the Movement for Homosexual Liberation and Integration, in Chile, explains, many South American States continue to lag behind in legislation banning discriminatory practices and homosexual marriage laws.

“A great cultural change in Chilean society has been accomplished on this issue, but this change hasn’t necessarily translated into laws,” he says.

“Here we have a big delay,” Jiménez says. “Chile is one of the countries that lags furthest behind, together with Peru and Bolivia, in regard to official recognition and legal equality before the law.”

In Venezuela, César Sequera, Minister of the Caracas Metropolitan Community Church, says “many people are expelled from their jobs and are not allowed in essential public places such as clinics. There is also discrimination against homosexuals at health units, where if they come to give blood, openly exposing their sexual orientation, they are automatically prevented from donating.”

Violence against the homosexual population persists too, in both rural areas and big cities, despite the decriminalization of homosexuality in the Spanish and Portuguese -speaking countries of South America. In a case led by Susel Paredes, a lesbian lawyer in Peru, a transvestite in Tarapoto was attacked and denigrated in public by a neighbourhood association. “She was attacked, they cut all her hair, and exhibited her all over town to show that this kind of behaviour is not allowed,” explains Paredes.

Paredes says people are still afraid to publicly acknowledging they are part of the LGTB community. She says because of “the stigma and the discrimination in Peruvian society, there are people who feel that they do not have rights, that they are second-class citizens.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in an editorial recently published by many media outlets all over the world, appealed to those who can help end discrimination. “Here again, we all have roles to play, particularly those in positions of authority and influence, such as politicians, community leaders, teachers and journalists,” she said.

“It is up to all of us” Pillay wrote, “to demand equality for all our fellow human beings, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

On Human Rights Day 10 December 2010 the focus is on human rights defenders who act to end discrimination.

9 December 2010