Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Omar G. Encarnación's "Out in the Periphery"

Omar G. Encarnación is Professor of Political Studies at Bard College.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Out in the Periphery: Latin America's Gay Rights Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Out in the Periphery, a book about the dramatic rise of gay rights in Latin America, describes the sorry state of affairs of the Comunidad Homosexual Argentina, the first gay rights organization to emerge in Argentina after the military dictatorship in place between 1976 and 1983. The page also highlights a contrast with neighboring Brazil, where gay rights groups were allowed to operate freely by the military regime:
Until the early 1990s, when the CHA was successful in securing legalization, after a long legal and political battle, the organization was shunned by the state. This made the organization fearful of running afoul with the law. For years after its creation, a sign hung in the CHA’s Buenos Aires headquarters warning those under age twenty-two “to leave immediately,” as the organization was afraid that its leaders would be arrested “for trying to corrupt minors.” Understandably, for much of the 1980s and even into the 1990s, the Argentine gay movement looked with envy at its Brazilian counterpart, which by then was enjoying full legality and even the backing of a major political party with presidential aspirations, the Workers’ Party. Lamenting the political picture for gay rights organizations in Argentina in the 1980s and early 1990s, in contrast to the situation in Brazil, a study of Argentine gay activism of the era notes: “There is no equivalent in Argentina to Brazil’s Workers’ Party, which has forged a working relationship with a broad range of social movements, including the lesbian and gay one. In Argentina, power historically alternates between the Radical party and the Justicialistas (Peronists), neither of which has indicated much support on issues relating to sexuality.
The passage is very representative of the book in two important ways. On the one hand, it highlights how far Latin America, and Argentina in particular, has come in advancing equality for the LGBT community. As recently as 1991, the government refused to legalize the CHA. This refusal suggested the extent to which the state in Argentina, even after a successful transition to democracy, was willing to go to repress organized activism around the issue of homosexuality, firmly believing that homosexuality was a threat to the family and the nation as a whole. By 2013, however, Argentina was being celebrated as a global icon of LGBT equality, having legislated same-sex marriage in 2010, and enacted a gender identity law widely regarded as among the most liberal in the world.

On the other hand, the passage from page 99 highlights an interesting puzzle in Latin American gay rights politics: why Argentina surpassed Brazil in advancing LGBT equality. Brazil is world famous for its celebration of sexual diversity, and homosexuality has never been criminalized since the country declared its independence from Portugal in 1825. Yet the country lags behind Argentina and other Latin American nations in legislating LGBT rights, including banning anti-gay discrimination.

As I argue in the book, understanding the counter-intuitive outcomes of gay rights struggles in Argentina and Brazil requires deconstructing how gay activists articulated their demands. While in Brazil gay activists framed their activism as a civil rights struggle, focused on attaining civil rights protections through the legislature and the courts, in Argentina gay activists framed their activism as human rights crusade. Aimed squarely at transforming hearts and minds about homosexuality, the crusade succeeded in changing the law with respect to homosexuality. But, more importantly, the campaign succeeded in transforming society and the culture at large.
Learn more about Out in the Periphery at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue