Mexico’s LGBT Community Faces Violence Despite Major Gains In Civil Rights

August 4, 2011 7:30 am 0 comments
Mexico’s LGBT Community Faces Violence Despite Major Gains In Civil Rights

A gay pride parade in Mexico City in 2009.

MEXICO CITY — The men who killed Quetzalcoatl Leija Herrera, 33, beat him with rocks just steps from the main square of Chilpancingo, about two hours from Mexico City in the state of Guerrero. Exactly two months later, on July 4, the body of 21-year-old Javier Sánchez Juárez was found in Zumpango del Río, just five miles from Chilpancingo. He had also been beaten to death.

Both murders made headlines across a country that has been traumatized by violence over the last five years. But these were not statistics from Mexico’s bloody drug war: Leija Herrera and Sánchez Juárez, both local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) activists, were apparently killed because they were gay.

The killings darkened what might otherwise have been a time of celebration in the Mexican LGBT community. At the end of June, the country saw its largest-ever pride parade, with up to a million people marching between the skyscrapers that line the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City; and this August marks one year since the Supreme Court upheld the gay marriage law passed by the capital’s municipal government.

While the United States lurches towards acceptance and legal equality for its LGBT citizens, its neighbor to the south is struggling with the same issues. Rights for sexual minorities have become the subject of heated political debates in both countries over the last decade and a half. As in the U.S., the result in Mexico has been a patchwork of contradictory social and legal regimes, often changing dramatically from state to state, city to city, or even neighborhood to neighborhood. Here, some of the hemisphere’s most progressive laws coexist with deeply-rooted social conservatism, discrimination, and violence.

Mexico’s national government does not keep any official statistics about hate crimes; the Federal District (DF), the jurisdiction that covers Mexico City, charged its law enforcement community with doing so in a 2007 law, but so far it has failed to record a single offense against an LGBT victim. Still, those who study the issue are sure that the murders in Guerrero were not isolated incidents, because while the police do not record hate crimes, various researchers and non-profit groups have come up with their own numbers.

In 2009, a coalition of NGOs and the gay media outlet “Letra S” did their own investigation using newspaper clippings. Counting only homicides in which the victim was reported to be either gay, lesbian, transsexual, or cross-dressing; the victim and the perpetrator did not know each other; and there was no robbery, they found an average of 67 murders per year between 2004 and 2008. Some neighborhoods were particularly hard-hit: the Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico City, which contains the Zona Rosa, Mexico’s premier gay nightlife district, had seen 43 killings since 1995.

“The problem with all the numbers we have,” said David Razú, a Mexico City legislator from the liberal Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), “is that when we talk about 400, or 325, or whatever number, we lack the legislation, we lack the will…to be sure when we say, ‘The problem is this big.’”

As a result, the statistics from researchers like “Letra S,” Razú said “are probably low.”

Even so, comparing these “low” numbers to those from other countries paints an alarming picture. In the United States, where hate crimes are officially recorded by the FBI, only one anti-LGBT homicide was recorded in 2009, and five in 2008, the latest years for which data is available. Using broader criteria than the FBI, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found an average of 22 hate-motivated murders per year. These numbers suggest LGBT Mexicans face anywhere from nine to sixty times the danger of lethal violence as do their American counterparts.

Yet the crowds who closed down Mexico City’s main boulevard in late June on their way to the main square, the Zócalo, attest to the impressive victories of Mexico’s gay rights movement. At the square, drizzling rain failed to disperse the marchers, who waved rainbow flags in front of a makeshift stage where performers covered “I Will Survive,” the music echoing off the massive Metropolitan Cathedral on the other side of the plaza. Occasional chants mocked Mexico’s conservative president: “Felipe Calderón también es maricón,” or “Felipe Calderón is a faggot too.”

This show of confidence is the result of staggering changes to Mexican law and society over the last decade, even eclipsing in some ways those in the United States. In 2002, Enoé Uranga, a congresswomen who is also a lesbian, proposed the first civil union bill in Mexico’s history; it was defeated without a floor vote. Just five years later, the northern state of Coahuila passed a similar law, giving legal recognition to same-sex couples there.

Then, in 2009, the legislature of the Federal District voted 39-20 to allow marriages between couples of the same sex. President Calderón’s attorney general challenged the constitutionality of the new law, but on August 6, 2010, the Mexican Supreme Court upheld gay marriage in the capital. A few days later, it ruled that marriages performed in Mexico City had to be recognized throughout the country. With that decision, any couple that could afford a trip to the Federal District and back could be married. By contrast, the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act explicitly allows American states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Many supporters of these legal changes say the real victory is a revolution in social norms. “I am absolutely convinced,” said Razú, who helped write the gay marriage law, “that these reforms are going to lead to a decrease in discrimination. If your own laws are discriminatory, how can you ask society to stop discriminating?”

In many places, this social revolution has already happened. On any day of the week, Mexico City’s Zona Rosa neighborhood is full of gay couples and individuals openly flouting Mexico’s traditional gender roles in appearance and behavior. And increasingly, gay couples are able to openly show affection in other parts of the city—and outside it.

“I’ve been with my partner all over the country,” said Alejandro Reyes, the editor of OHM, a major gay magazine published in Mexico City. Although in many places “people make jokes,” in larger cities like Puerto Vallarta and Guadalajara it’s “common to see gay couples holding hands on the street.”

Noé Ruiz Malacara, who works for the gay rights group San Elredo in Coahuila state, sees the transformation too. “Coahuila has changed drastically,” he said, adding that in Saltillo and Torreón, the state’s largest cities, gay partners “can walk holding hands at the mall or on the street and no one will say anything. Homophobia hasn’t dropped by 100%, but it’s been a good percentage.”

Pages: 1 2

No Comments

Leave a Reply


Other News

  • Mexico North America Today in Latin America Crisis in Guerrero Continues as Peña Nieto Meets with Families of Missing Students

    Crisis in Guerrero Continues as Peña Nieto Meets with Families of Missing Students

    Top Story – Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto  met for the first time with family members of the 43 missing students from Guerrero state on Wednesday in Mexico City. Before the meeting, family members said they were prepared to voice their “indignation” over the country’s fruitless search for their missing loved ones and to demand the president do more. Since the 43 students went missing after being attacked by police on Sept. 26, the search for them has been marked […]

    Read more →
  • Mexico North America Today in Latin America Despite New Leads, No Answers in Search For Missing Students

    Despite New Leads, No Answers in Search For Missing Students

    Top Story — The search continues for Mexico’s 43 missing students in Guerrero state as authorities have not been able to confirm that new mass graves contain the students’ remains. Sunday marked one month since the students from the rural Ayotzinapa Normal School went missing after being arrested in the town of Iguala after commandeering several busses to use them in a protest. According to Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, local police turned the students over to members of […]

    Read more →
  • Andes Colombia Dispatches United States Activists and Journalists Struggle to Make Colombia’s War Visible in the U.S.

    Activists and Journalists Struggle to Make Colombia’s War Visible in the U.S.

    NEW YORK CITY — Diana Gómez and Shaira Rivera, two young women from Colombia, visited several U.S. universities this month to raise awareness about Colombia’s current peace negotiations to end decades of armed conflict. Both their fathers were killed in the war. Their fathers, congressional aide Jaime Gómez and union worker Guillermo Rivera, were killed in Colombia in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Although their cases have not been resolved in court, the young Gómez and Rivera accuse Colombian state forces […]

    Read more →
  • Caribbean Cuba Today in Latin America Cuba to Allow Construction of First New Catholic Church in 55 Years

    Cuba to Allow Construction of First New Catholic Church in 55 Years

    Top Story — Cuba’s government has sanctioned the construction of the first Catholic church to be built in the country in 55 years, the latest development in a continued trend of growing acceptance of religion on the island. The church, to be funded by members of the U.S.-based exile community in Tampa, Florida, will be constructed in Sandino, a town located in the province of Piñar del Rio on the island’s western coast. The church’s construction indicates a growing connection […]

    Read more →
  • Brazil North America Southern Cone Today in Latin America Brazil Re-elects Dilma Rousseff as President

    Brazil Re-elects Dilma Rousseff as President

    Top Story — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff won her re-election bid in the closest race in the country’s history, taking just over 51 percent of the vote to beat her opponent Aécio Neves. The tight victory marks the end of a campaign cycle that stunned observers for the atypically vicious attacks from both sides. Rousseff, of the left-populist Workers’ Party, opened her victory speech by saluting fellow party member and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose two-term tenure […]

    Read more →
  • Mexico North America Today in Latin America Governor of Mexican State Steps Down Over Student Disappearances

    Governor of Mexican State Steps Down Over Student Disappearances

    Top Story — The governor of the Mexican state of Guerrero stepped down from his position on Thursday as the disappearance of 43 students there late last month continues to reverberate across the country. Ángel Aguirre, 58, is barred by law from resigning his post, but said that he is taking a leave of absence. Aguirre has faced widespread anger over his handling of the students’ disappearance, and many have called for his resignation during protests in Guerrero’s capital city […]

    Read more →
  • Southern Cone Today in Latin America Uruguay Uruguayan Presidential Candidate Would Roll Back Historic Marijuana Law

    Uruguayan Presidential Candidate Would Roll Back Historic Marijuana Law

    Top Story — Days ahead of Uruguay’s presidential election Sunday, the country’s top opposition candidate on Wednesday vowed to repeal the country’s historic marijuana law, which legalizes the commercial production and sale of the drug. Centrist National Party candidate Luis Lacalle Pou had not previously specified what actions he would take against the law. Lacalle Pou told Reuters that he would keep the articles permitting personal marijuana use and cultivation, but would repeal the rest, including the provisions for commercialization […]

    Read more →
  • Mexico North America Today in Latin America Mexican Troops Executed Victims in June Slayings, Rights Body Finds

    Mexican Troops Executed Victims in June Slayings, Rights Body Finds

    Top Story — Mexican troops executed up to 15 of the 22 suspected gang members killed in June in the small town of San Pedro Limón, according to an investigation by the government’s human rights agency. The account by Raúl Plascencia, president of the commission, contradicted several prior versions of a murky story offered at various stages by the military, the Attorney General’s office and an eyewitness. Plascencia called for prosecutors to investigate a potential cover-up by military officials. At […]

    Read more →
  • Caribbean News Briefs North America As World Series Begins, So Does ‘Latin American Pipeline’ to MLB

    As World Series Begins, So Does ‘Latin American Pipeline’ to MLB

    When the opening pitch is thrown Tuesday night in game one of the World Series, a number of Latin American players will be front and center under the bright stadium floodlights. What won’t be on display, however, are some of the darker stories behind how many Latin Americans make it to play in Major League Baseball in the first place. This season, Latin American players made up close to a quarter of all MLB players — a staggering 86 percent of […]

    Read more →
  • Chile Southern Cone Today in Latin America Pinochet Bodyguard and Ex-Mayor Arrested in Santiago

    Pinochet Bodyguard and Ex-Mayor Arrested in Santiago

    Top Story — Chilean authorities have arrested a former aide to Gen. Augusto Pinochet, accusing him of committing various atrocities under the 1973-1990 military dictatorship. A judge on Monday ordered the arrest of retired military colonel Cristian Labbe on charges of “unlawful association” with a group that ultimately became the DINA secret police force. Labbe was allegedly involved in the murder of 13 people under Pinochet’s dictatorship. Those 13 people, investigators found, were tortured and executed at the notorious Tejas […]

    Read more →