Progress and Challenges to LGBT Rights in Latin America in Light of the Recent “Sixth Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity”

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At the 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in La Antigua, Guatemala, member states passed the “Sixth Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity” on June 9. While this is the sixth OAS resolution on human rights, it is the first to include LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights. In groundbreaking language, the OAS insisted that member states “defend the human rights of lesbian, gay, transsexual, bisexual, and intersex people because they carry out a fundamental role in the region, and ensure that society complies with state obligations regarding the right to private life.” [1] This historic recognition and protection of human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere heralds the developing leadership of Latin America on LGBT rights. At the same time, it is now crucial to discuss the interplay of cultural trends and international regulations in the regional movement for equality.

The Resolution

For the first time in its history, the OAS has agreed to uphold the human rights of LGBT people and fight discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the “Sixth Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity,” member states have agreed to provisions defending medical rights for intersex individuals, and freedom from harassment and hate crime for LGBT people. [2] From its inception, champions of the resolution included Canada, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. [3] The document follows a trend of regional civil rights legislation that includes Brazil’s international LGBT Congress, Ecuador’s constitutional ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation, Uruguay’s approval of civil unions, and the right of homosexuals to “form a family” in Peru. Americas Quarterly argues that these advancements make Latin America a world leader on LGBT rights. [4] Overall, there is significant positive change throughout the hemisphere, inspiring national and international legislation in the direction of universal equality.

However, despite the general optimism surrounding regional policymaking, the OAS resolution process was far from simple. Universal LGBT rights encountered complicated obstacles from both outside and within the organization itself, which limited the scope and impact of the resolution. According to the Coalition of LGBTTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and intersex) Organizations of Latin America and the Caribbean, broader human rights protection was hindered by “legally inconsistent and ambiguously expressed concerns of Belize, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Jamaica, Barbados, Suriname, Guyana, Honduras, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guatemala about [the] Resolution.” [5] For example, the document does not officially ban discrimination, but rather indicates that the international community will not accept such unjust treatment. During the ratification process, representatives of El Salvador requested additional discussion, supported by Jamaica, Belize, and Barbados, which stalled the resolution. [6] This lack of regional unity on LGBT rights has the potential to discourage progressive OAS decisions preferred by many Latin American states.

Photo Source: International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association
Photo Source: International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association

Cultural Considerations

Religious and social discrimination throughout the Western Hemisphere has the potential to interfere with the LGBT community’s ability to take full advantage of their rights. According to international human rights specialist Omar Encarnación, gay rights in writing “will mean nothing” as long as discrimination and violence remain rampant. In particular, institutionalized discrimination upheld by many religious leaders denies freedom of expression and the right to privacy in many Latin American communities. However, the role of religion in regional human rights is more complicated than simply condemning lifestyles. According to Americas Quarterly:

On the one hand, Catholic [and Protestant] charities tend to offer assistance to AIDS patients and victims of domestic abuse—groups that often include members of the LGBT community. On the other hand, factions within the clergy are today the most unabashed exponents of anti-LGBT speech. [7]

This complex relationship is indicative of greater contradictions facing the regional LGBT rights movement. According to the same publication, “Few prodemocracy movements in the past 30 years have had to face such a complicated dilemma: fighting a moral authority in order to make a democratic point.” [8] The next steps in fighting LGBT discrimination must include collaboration between community leaders who foster particular social or religious values and those advocating for universal human rights.

Photo Source: Source: Organization of American States: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Photo Source: Source: Organization of American States: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights


The progress and hurdles that the movement for LGBT rights experiences in Latin America serve as important guideposts for the struggle to uphold civil rights in individual countries throughout the hemisphere. OAS governments could effectively implement the resolution by reviewing their own laws and policies, in addition to taking concrete steps to combat official discrimination and societal violence targeting members of the LGBT community. In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions protecting LGBT rights at the federal level, it is particularly important for U.S. policymakers to understand these international trends. As a country whose ideals include freedom of identity and expression, the United States is in a unique position to take a leading role in recognizing and protecting LGBT rights. Countries throughout the Western Hemisphere need to find common ground in defending human rights for LGBT people and fighting the discrimination they often face.

Emma Strother, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

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[1] AG/RES. 2807 (XLIII-O/13) “Derechos Humanos, Orientación Sexual e Identidad, y Expresión de Género.”  Unofficial translation from Spanish to English by Emma Strother.

[2] Bellocq, Javier Hourcade. “Brave OAS Resolution on Human Rights.” Corresponsales Clave. June 5, 2013.

[3] Coalition of LGBTTI Organizations of Latin America and the Caribbean. “OAS LGBTTI Coalition Comunique, Declaration Statement and Resolution in Guatemala” Belizean LGBT Rights Violations. June 9, 2013.

[4] Corrales, Javier. “LAGBT Rights in the Americas.” America’s Quarterly. Accessed June 28, 2013.

[5] Coalition of LGBTTI. “OAS LGBTTI Coalition Comunique.”

[6] Ibid.

[7] Corrales. “LAGBT Rights in the Americas.”

[8] Ibid.