Latin America and the Caribbean is a place of paradoxes. The region is usually depicted as relaxed, diverse, happy and open. But unfortunately, it also it stands close to the top of the international charts that measure violence against LGBTI people. According to the European advocacy organization TGEU, the region accounts for 78% of the world toll of trans people murdered from January 2008 to January 2016. Patriarchy maintains a tenacious grip on society, fomenting prejudice and conservatism, even among certain churches, and sometimes threatening or achieving regressive changes to social policy. Yet, at the same time, this is the region where important battles for equality have been won in recent years: laws against sexual discrimination and that protect women from gender-based violence have been passed. How can we explain such progress on these areas of inequality even in the face of rising violence and conservatism?
De nada sirve callarse – It’s no good keeping silent. Educational video from Christian Aid partner ORMUSA, El Salvador.
One explanation is the strong presence of social movements across the region. The mobilization of civil society to press governments to implement inclusive policies is fundamental to guarantee equality as is shown by the work of some Christian Aid partners. In Colombia, even though the environment is very dangerous for human rights activists, social movements are working to promote LGBTI rights through ‘Pride Parades’, among other activities. In El Salvador, partner ORMUSA has been working for more than four years on the promotion of sexual education in public schools, with the perspective of gender equality and helping students to question the oppressive traditional values of their society, such as machismo. In Bolivia, with partner Soluciones Practicas, Christian Aid has been supporting a youth enterprise project with indigenous communities in the Amazon for the past 3 years. This project has been also enabling LGBTI young people to thrive and take a more active role in local economic development – evidence of the way LGBTI discrimination is linked to the economy.
Christian Aid in Brazil has been supporting the Landless Movement (MST) in their struggles for fair and just access to land and good quality of life for landless people. In the last years, leadership building work has included landless LGBT, helping to increase their public visibility and showing how this is linked to other inequalities. T
It is important to note that faith based organizations are also an important part of Latin American and Caribbean culture. Although religious values and interpretations of scripture can still uphold discriminatory practices and norms that oppress LGBTI people, there are partners such as the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil and the Christian Council of Churches in Brazil, CONIC, that seek to speak out with a progressive voice.
Articles in the Anglican Service of Diakonia and Development magazine show how debates and dialogue with local faith communities have not ignored issues of inequality and LGBRI discrimination. Instead these faith communities have recognized their role to ensure that equality and dignity is for everyone, based on their belief that all are made in God’s image and all people deserve their rights to be respected.
When organizations are supported to struggle for LGBTI rights, they are also tackling structural inequalities, economic, political and cultural systems which, as well as embodying sexual discrimination, marginalize people, interact with other inequalities. Guaranteeing LGBTI rights also implies tackling economic realities, providing opportunities for people to thrive, develop their own autonomy and establish a social framework where people, who are also LGBTI, can ascend to positions of leadership and, in doing so, inspire others.
If Christian Aid wants to ensure that ‘no one is left behind’, and if we truly believe that all are made in the image of God, of equal value and worth, then we must not turn away from the violence and suffering of our sisters and brothers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We must recognize that LGBTI people have been part of all Christian Aid’s work from the beginning, for over 70 years! It is time we learned to see and understand their experiences of marginalization, how it intersects with their other identities of race, social and economic status, disability and age, so we can fight the relevant structures of power and social norms that keep people poor. The work LAC [Christian Aid’s Latin America and the Caribbean division] is taking forward is helping Christian Aid understand in more depth what we mean when we say we believe in equality for all. –Christian Aid’s Gender Champion Clare Paine.
At the heart of Christian Aid’s work in Latin American and Caribbean region lies our unique contribution to overcome the structural inequalities that affect and marginalize vast numbers of people. In a recent report, Christian Aid highlights the scandal of the intersecting inequalities present in the region. This is our contribution to the regional debates, self-analysis and dialogue within ACT and other ecumenical agencies. This helps us to reinforce our commitment to stand for an equal society that promotes the same rights for every person.
Leonardo Godoy is a LAC Comms Intern at Christian Aid