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Beyond Machismo

How Latin America Came to Embrace Gay Rights

Mexican cowboys participate in the gay pride parade in Mexico City, June 29, 2013. Claudia Daut / Reuters

From the early 1970s through the late 1980s, no place in the world was more unfriendly, dangerous, and potentially lethal for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people than Latin America. Viewing homosexuality as the ultimate sign of bourgeois decadence, Communist Cuba imprisoned and tortured gays by the truckloads, a horror captured in novelist Reynaldo Arenas’ gripping memoir, Before Night Falls. Argentina’s right-wing military regime targeted gays through the so-called Proceso Nacional, a dirty war waged between 1976 and 1983 to rid the country of political dissidents and so-called social undesirables. By the late 1980s, the scale of deadly violence against homosexuals in Brazil was so vast that it prompted gay rights activists to declare a “homocaust” and instigated a 1995 Amnesty International report, Breaking the Silence, about worldwide violence against LGBT people. This marked the first time that a major human rights organization had shined a spotlight on gay issues.

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