The evolution of the rights of trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersexual people (TLGBI)is a recent emergence if we compare it with other social movements,such as the Afro-descendants and feminism. For this reason, this text explores the advances in terms of rights at the international level, pointing out the main milestones that are part of this process of recognition of LGBTQI+ people as holders of rights. In a second stage, the main judgments of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) are presented, establishing the basis for state action in relation to the rights of these individuals. We will also approach the change of paradigms regarding the activism of people outside the cis-heteronormativity pattern. And finally, we will address the situation in Paraguay.
The objective of this text is to provide theoretical content as a reflection on how LGBT rights have developed, to be a catalyst for deepening topics of interest for activists, to best inform a line of research and action within communities.
The content is presented in chronological order, firstly, to understand how the demands are met, and secondly, to the present guidelines and discourses that can be of help within the activism and militancy carried out.
In this sense, it is proposed to "think globally in order to act locally". This involves looking at the global and, at the same time, seeing how this affects and helps us to act locally. What is Glocal (Auyero, 2001:33) must be understood as a mixture of elements of the hegemonic history of the North and the peculiar local histories of our environment. For this, it is essential to identify the position society has developed to - a society in which a single and unidirectional dynamic has formed.
Thinking glocally will help us to reinforce our socio-political identity and own aesthetic, enriched by the teachings and failures of the hegemonic history that intertwines us. By hegemonic history we will understand "that history" told with greater regularity by "the others" and which generally does not include us in its main narrative, but rather as something accessory or secondary.
The questions that inspired this text are: When did the LGBTQI+ rights movement begin? Did this movement present the same characteristics over time? What milestones, turning points, occurred throughout history in Western societies that marked the course of the demands for the rights of LGBTQI+ people? And in Paraguay, how did this movement develop and where do we stand?
First wave of the movement in Europe
In the late 1800s, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee was founded in Berlin, Germany, in May 1897 to launch a campaign for the social recognition of homosexual and transgender men and women, and to fight against the prosecution of Article 175 of the German penal code, which criminalized homosexuality (Lauritsen, 1974:9). This was the first homosexual rights organization in history.
In the cultural sphere, an activist climate was reflected in this period. The freedom of the press that developed during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) facilitated the emergence of many publications on homosexuality. During the interwar period, publications aimed at homosexuals appeared in large parts of Europe. This climate of tolerance was completely quelled with the rise of the Nazi and other fascist regimes.
Post World War II to the 1950s
After the end of the World Wars, and with the coming of the Cold War, the persecution of dissident sexualities became widespread. For example, in Russia there were the Gulag or concentration camps for political dissidents where homosexuals were also sent (Mogutin, 2016:13. Likewise, on the other side of the world, in the United States of America, there was the well-known Lavender Scare which refers to the fear of homosexuals and their persecution in the 1950s. In 1954, Franco's regime (Spain) modified the Law of vagrants and thugs, thus persecuting homosexuals and transgender people. As with other sexual policy issues, such as pornography, attitudes towards sexual minorities tend to differ between authoritarian and libertarian regimes, rather than between the right-wing and the left-wing (Weeks, 1989).
One of the first voices to be heard against this issue was Frank Kameny, who after being fired from his position as an astronomer in the U.S. Army, took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he was being treated as a second-class citizen, and not as a U.S. citizen. He argued that discrimination against homosexuals was no less illegal and no less invidious than discrimination based on religious or racial grounds.
Regarding the form of organization of sexual dissidence, in this period we find mainly homophilic groups that sought assimilation into society, projecting a normalized and healthy image of homosexual people (Mérida, 2009:193).
This entire period was enriched and influenced by the scientific production (medical and legal) developed in that context; thus, medicine, with its emerging development of Psychiatry, contributed new elements to the discourse in defense of non-heterosexual people. Likewise, the contributions of psychoanalysis were fundamental for the new arguments on sexuality.
Beginnings of the Gay Liberation or second wave movement
The Compton's Cafeteria Riot occurred in August 1966 in San Francisco, was the first recorded transgender riot in U.S. history, pre-dating the famous Stonewall Riots by three years (Stryker, 2020:52).
In 1967, Nuestro Mundo, the first homosexual organization in Latin America, was secretly founded in Argentina. This group sent pamphlets and reports on gay liberation to the main newspapers of Buenos Aires for two years. The actions of this group led to the formation of the Homosexual Liberation Front (Fuente de Liberación Homosexual or FLH in Spanish) of that country in 1971 (Romero, 2019:69).
On June 28, 1969, in New York, the well-known Stonewall riots took place, giving rise to the organization of the gay pride march in commemoration of the first anniversary of this revolt, first in New York and later in many cities in Europe and Latin America. Such an event is considered transcendental in the history of the gay movement. Although it was not the first time that homosexuals violently opposed the abuses of the authorities, the response of the gay community was different.
The most significant results of this riot came later and peacefully. This event was the catalyst that got LGBTQI+ people organized across the board to demand their rights and fight against discrimination and abuses perpetrated by public authorities.
For this to be possible, a series of events had to take place, such as the May 68 insurrection in France, the opposition to the Vietnam War in the United States, the feminist demands and the civil rights of African Americans. This resulted in the emergence in the Western world of several militant gay liberation organizations. Many of these organizations were rooted in left-wing radicalism, rather than in the established homophile groups of the time.
At this stage the gay movement resumed the historical and anthropological research initiated by the first wave, shedding light on the persecution of homosexuals over the centuries and on the historical origin of anti-gay conviction. This conviction, almost invariably, is promoted by the ideology that gives priority to the bourgeois, heterosexual, nuclear family as natural and desirable.
If the previous movement had a strong commitment to psychological research, this new movement fought against homosexual persecution perpetrated under the guise of psychiatric treatment and encouraged the formation of self-awareness groups.
In 1971 the Frente de Liberación Homosexual (Homosexual Liberation Front) was created in Buenos Aires (Argentina) and in Mexico the first LGBT collective in that country was also founded. In 1973 in Chile, a public demonstration for homosexual rights took place in the Plaza de Armas in Santiago.
In the same year, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. This depathologization encouraged gays and lesbians to move towards the fight for the recognition of civil rights, leaving behind the claims of trans people; and it would not be until 2018 that the WHO would no longer consider transsexuality as a mental illness.
The ACT UP, a group formed in this era, represents a rupture with the groups and organizations that sought integration through civil rights; and its policy is based on rage, the collective theft of medicines for the sick, as well as street interventions and the emergence of a radical discourse (Mérida, 2009:193).
The 1990s and Human Rights policy at the UN
The 1990s were marked by a strong advocacy of Human Rights and an NGO-ization of the fight as local and international lobbying through networks and federations of organizations.
On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses and in 1994 the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that homosexual relations are protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), an interpretation reached in light of the Toonen v. Australia ruling.
In 1991, Toonen complained to the Human Rights Committee that Tasmanian laws criminalized consensual sex between adult males in private. As a result of his complaint to the Committee, Mr. Toonen lost his job with the Tasmanian AIDS Council.
On March 31, 1994, the Committee determined that sexual practices between consenting adults in private were protected by the concept of "privacy" in Article 17 of the ICCPR, which prohibits arbitrary interference by the State with the privacy of individuals.
OAS and IACHR Rulings
Karen Atala and Daughters v. Chile
This is the name given to the lawsuit that Chilean judge Karen Atala filed against the State of Chile before the IACHR in 2004 when the Chilean S upreme Court decided to remove her from the guardianship of her daughters, based solely on her sexual orientation, which, according to the court, would put the girls in a state of vulnerability.
On December 18, 2009, the IACHR explained that sexual orientation and gender identity are considered protected categories under Article 1.1 of the Convention. This implies that any difference in treatment based on such criteria must be considered "suspect" and therefore presumed incompatible with the American Convention.
Duque v. Colombia
On February 26, 2016, the Court declared that the Republic of Colombia holds international responsibility for infringing the right to equality and non-discrimination before the law based on Ángel Duque’s sexual orientation. Mr. Duque was not allowed equal access to the survivor's pension established in Colombian law, after the death of his partner because they were a same-sex couple.
Vicky Hernández v. Honduras
The IACHR held Honduras responsible for the death of Vicky Hernández, a trans woman and human rights advocate who was extrajudicially executed on the night of June 28, 2009, amid a curfew. For the IACHR, the murder of Hernandez "was a case of violence based on prejudice against her gender identity and gender expression.” According to the IACHR, the Honduran State "did not conduct an adequate investigation about the facts of the case with due diligence and within a reasonable period of time, which has remained in impunity".
In 2008, the OAS General Assembly adopted the resolution on Human Rights Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. In November 2011, in the scope of the 143rd session, a special unit on this issue was created within the OAS Executive Secretariat.
Finally, in 2013, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of LGBTI Persons was created. The decision to create this Rapporteurship reflects the IACHR's commitment to strengthen and reinforce the protection, promotion and monitoring of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex persons in the region.
The Paraguayan case
On July 24, 1999, José Alberto Pérez Meza initiated a de facto partnership recognition with Jenaro Antonio Espínola Tami arguing the sentimental and de facto relationship that he had with the plaintiff from 1967 to 1987 without interruption. The IACHR considered the case inadmissible. This is the first local lawsuit taken to an international level based on the denial of rights on the grounds of sexual orientation
Another important incident at international level occurred in 2015 when a thematic hearing was held on allegations of acts of violence and impunity against transgender people in Paraguay. The lack of due diligence of the Paraguayan investigative bodies to respond to these transfemicides was noticeable.
Pride, rights and recovery of memories
Before the end of the 80's, non-heterosexual organizations only sought sexual liberation, they did not think in terms of rights. The main demands revolved around the decriminalization of sexual acts, the depathologization of homosexuals and trans people and the end of persecution by the State and society. In the 90's, the sexual liberation movement progressively absorbed the paradigm of Human Rights, until it became a rights-based movement.
We have to highlight that during the 2000's onwards a series of rights were conquered in several Latin American countries, such as gender identity laws, equal marriage, adoption, trans employment, among other legislative measures that favored the recognition of the rights of LGBTQI+ people.
In view of the above, we must point out that in Paraguay no legislative advances were achieved for the protection of LGBTQI+ people. This does not necessarily imply the stagnation of the sexual and gender dissidence movement. Rather, this led to another form of activism and demands from social organizations. Focusing on actions of taking over public spaces and a process of recovery of memories that are part of the background of the struggle in the country.
In this sense, it is worth mentioning the productions focused on the violations of the rights of homosexuals during the dictatorship (1954-1989). This generated an aesthetic based on emblematic figures such as the faces of Bernardo Aranda, Carla and Chana. As well as the establishment of commemorative dates such as the declaration of September 30 as the national day for the rights of LGBTQI+ people, as well as the creation of the day of lesbian visibility in Paraguay celebrated on September 16.
Finally, it is worth remembering that September is considered the month of 108 memories, a period of time in which a series of activities are carried out to commemorate and vindicate LGBTQI+ people. We cannot finish without saying that the Paraguayan context is different from the rest of the countries in the region, since it cannot be ignored that, while the region was debating about human rights, in Paraguay we were under an iron dictatorship that made any kind of action and thought outside the dictatorial scheme impossible. Currently, we are facing a scenario where the Paraguayan TLGBI movement is moving forward, while we live in a State that is moving backwards.
- Auyero, J. (2001). Glocal riots. International Sociology, 16 (1), 33-53.
- Lauritsen, J., & Thorstad, D. (1974). The early homosexual rights movement (1864-1935). New York: Times Change Press.
- Mérida Jiménez, Rafael (2009).
- Manifiestos Gays, lesbianos y queer (1969-1994). Barcelona: Icaria.
- Mogutin, Salva (2016). Gay in de Gulag. Index on Censorship (Ru), Vol. 24, Nº 1
- Weeks, Jeffrey (1989). Sexual politics, revista New Internationalist, n° 201
- Stryker, S. (2020). Historia de lo trans: las raíces de la revolución de hoy. Continta me tienes.
- Romero, F. & Simonetto, P. (2019). Sexualidades radicales: los movimientos de liberación homosexual en América Latina (1967-1989). Izquierdas, (46).
- Halperin, D. (2007). San Foucault: para una hagiografía gay. El cuenco de plata.
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