Some conservative politicians and churches in Latin America are inciting hate speech against LGBT+ people, fuelling a roll back on legal gains, a United Nations special envoy said on Thursday.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN’s independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, criticised lawmakers who believe it is a “good investment” to speak out against gay and trans people on the campaign trail to win votes and popularity.
“There’s currently a conservative vein that seeks to restrict both the rights, but also the conquests, of LGBTI civil society,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“A number of church denominations – and also that’s the case for also some evangelical churches operating in the political field as political organisations – are … embracing hate speech and the promotion of hateful actions against LGBTI persons.”
While parts of Catholic-dominated Latin America have made recent gains on LGBT+ rights, including allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt, nine Caribbean countries still criminalise same-sex relations, Madrigal-Borloz said.
The growing social and political influence of evangelical Christian groups, particularly in Brazil and Central America, has stymied efforts to promote acceptance of LGBT+ people, gay rights campaigners say.
“We have seen many political campaigns waged in the last five years in the region almost exclusively on platforms of the human rights of LGBTI persons, when we all know that the region has very many other fundamental problems,” said Madrigal-Borloz.
Madrigal-Borloz said some hateful campaigns are being financed by religious and political groups inside and outside Latin America, including from the United States, where conservative Christians are battling LGBT+ rights gains.
The US Supreme Court has made significant rulings to advance gay rights, such as legalising same-sex unions in 2015, in the face of opposition from evangelical groups that believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Looking ahead, some of the most pressing issues for LGBT+ rights are reining in rising hate speech on social media and tackling violence against trans women, Madrigal-Borloz said.
“Understanding the extent, and the limits, of freedom of expression in cyberspace is going to be one of the great agendas of the coming years,” said Madrigal-Borloz, a Costa-Rican lawyer and the second expert to fill the post, created in 2016.
Trans women in Latin America have a life expectancy of 35, he said, and they face “horrifying” levels of violence, particularly in Brazil, where 130 people were killed over the last year – the highest number in the world – and Mexico.
The figures, published by the Trans Murder Monitoring project, were the “tip of the iceberg”, he said.
“Trans deaths is a very invisible affair,” Madrigal-Borloz said.
“The great majority of countries in the world do not register trans women as the killing of a trans person but rather the killing of a man.”
-Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota – Thomson Reuters Foundation