The necessity for creating labels to identify objects, situations, and even professions has been both useful and harmful to society. Separating a doctor from a lawyer is vital to our understanding of each job and its role, but discriminating against people because of their skin colour, ethnicity or sexual orientation provides little if any positive value to society, and is, in fact, counterproductive. Just ask any black gay Latin American.
A vital clue to this topic in Latin America is the culture of machismo, which tends to classify acts, gestures, and even orientations in terms of a binary logic that is either masculine or feminine. Similarly, while Latin America is known for its diverse ethnicity, we see everyday racism against people of African descent using their colour as an insult or degrading aspect of their existence.
In mixing both racism and machismo, we see a significant problem around the concept of black gay men in particular. The rejection of LGBT communities in Latin America, when added to the burden of racism around black skin, creates a very toxic environment for people that happen to be both Black and gay in Latin America.
In examining the social environment in which the taboo of being black and gay in Latin America exists, we will look at the topics of racial discrimination and homophobia. Also, we are going to talk about the recent advances in Latin America related to political, social and cultural changes to accept and have a better environment for black and LGBT people in Latin American societies.
The effects of skin colour and sexuality in Latin American groups
Even though Latin America is well known for its diversity in ethnicities and cultures, there are still problems related to discrimination and homophobia. These issues have their source in the colonial era when Africans were enslaved in Latin America, and homosexuality was considered a sin.
Sadly, that kind of perception remains in modern Latin American societies, portraying hate speech, mockery and social rejection of communities that are black and gay in Latin America.
Homophobia in Latin American cultures
Sexual cultures in Latin America and many other parts of the world proceed from a principle of heterology where it is crucial to know with whom, how, and in what context, one has sex. In the case of Latin America perception, due to the “macho society” configuration, homosexual relationships are seeing as a negative behaviour, leading to homophobia, which signifies the aversion to homosexuality is a characteristic aspect in Latin American societies.
As told before, Latin American societies not only judge with whom a person is having a homosexual relationship but also how. Active/Passive concepts are fundamental in judgments about who is the feminine partner and who is the masculine one. For them, a couple requires both elements.
Due to the “Macho” culture around Latin Americans, a feminine man is considered weak, disrespectful, and a negative asset for society. “Maricón,” “loca” and other strong insults are used to emphasise their aversion to gay men, especially when they think of them as the “passive” of the relationship.
Even in their daily speech, we can find people using synonyms of “gay” as an insult and a way to minimize the masculinity of men; If someone is not good at sports, is called “maricon,” or if someone can’t do a task that is supposedly for men, he is “reduced” to a feminine man.
Many Latin American countries show violent behaviour against gay men showing love affection in the street. In the following image, we can see the violent tendencies per Latin American country based on an investigation from America’s Quarterly in 2016.
Even though there are countries such as Argentina and Uruguay, where public affection between gay people is accepted, they still face discrimination issues in some sectors of the country. On the other hand, the most violent countries against gay people such as Honduras, Guatemala, and Paraguay, present horrible actions such as torture, rape and murder, and, in several cases, those crimes go unpunished.
Racist behaviour in Latin America
In the case of race, Latin America presents constant racist speech against afro-descendant people by using phrases with the term “negro” (black/negro) as a derogatory concept. Afro-descendants are stereotyped and referred to as inherently criminal, intellectually inferior, overly sexual, and animalistic.
Anti-black expressions in Latin America are widespread, and racist phrases are used daily in each country:
- Argentina, “negro de mierda” (“shitty negro”) is a popular expression.
- Brazil, Afro-descendants are referred to as “Macaco” (monkey).
- Colombia, the polluted air of Cali is blamed on the presumed dirtiness of blacks.
- Costa Rica, blacks are typically described as “pigs.”
- Cuba, “doing things like a black person” is a common expression to describe a poorly done task or acts of delinquency.
- Ecuador, an often-repeated phrase is that “a black person running is a thief, a white person running is an athlete.”
- Mexico, Afro-Mexicans are considered “ugly,” and they focus on marrying lighter-skinned partners in the Latin American hope to “improv[e] the race.”
- Nicaragua, the phrase “100 negros for one horse” ties to how blacks are viewed as drug addicts and drunks.
- Peru, the common statements about blacks are that they are criminals.
- Venezuela, despite the national pride in being a mixed-race “café con leche” (coffee with milk) society, they have sayings where treat black people as useless and clumsy people.
While such statements don’t intend to carry racial malice, they still activate racial stereotypes about the inferiority of black people.
Connecting the issues for black gay Latin Americans
Seeing the impact of homophobia and racism in Latin American society, it is easy to understand the challenging environment presented to many black gay men. There is a perception of the “appropriate macho behaviour” of men in Latin America. Adding the belief that black men should be more masculine and savage makes a black gay man a contradictory presence in society even more so than for white gay males. A “feminine” black man is a target for mockery and rejection for Latin American societies.
Besides the discrimination received from straight people, black gay men are also victims of rejection from the LGBT community as well. Due to racist perceptions as the ones described above, black gay men often receive negative comments and rejection from gay groups who consider them “not gay enough” or “too black to be gay.”
These problems of discrimination have decreased somewhat in recent years, partly due to several social changes including globalisation, and greater use of the internet. These changes have helped to normalise wider perceptions of gay couples with fewer judgments about preferences, race or culture.
Advances in Latin American societies about discrimination
Fifteen years ago, Latin America countries were very far from accepting gay people in their culture. Thankfully, political, cultural and social changes have gradually improved diversity related to sexuality and race, improving the quality of life of several groups that were ignored in the past decades.
Today, same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and in several Mexican states plus Mexico City. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a proposed measure in 2016 to make it legal countrywide, but the congressional committee that deals with changes to the constitution voted to strike down Peña Nieto’s proposal. Chile and Ecuador allow same-sex civil unions.
Fourteen Latin American countries have also passed laws that prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. Many countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Uruguay now allow same-sex couples to adopt.
In the last few years there has been a very notable shift by the people, with their support, and at the political level, with a government that has approved civil unions, also being open about their skin colour.
Even though Latin American countries have presented important advances in improving life quality for diverse people, no matter the race, sexual preferences or culture, there are still other aspects to solve. Including educational campaigns, sensitisation and implementation of progressive laws are the next steps to create an open society with no discrimination and respect for all its citizens.
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