Showing posts with label Latin American. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Latin American. Show all posts

June 21, 2018

LGBT Rights in Latin America, Year in Review

TeleSUR takes a look at some key events for LGBT rights in the past year in Latin America and the Caribbean.

May 5, 2017: Bermuda: Same-sex marriage becomes legal after a supreme court case
August 1, 2017: Puebla, Mexico: Same sex marriage is legalized
August 10, 2017: Saint Lucia: Homosexual activity criminalized, punished by imprisonment
September 22, 2017: A Brazilian federal court overturns 20 year ban on “conversion therapy,” sparking protests in Sao Paulo.
October 6, 2017: Lawyer and activist Michelle Suarez becomes Uruguay's first transgender senator, assuming the position as a substitute for Communist Party Senator Marcos Carambula.
January 10, 2018: Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) backs same sex marriage, which appllies to all countries which have signed the American convention on human rights.
March 5, 2018: Chilean actress, Daniela Vega, becomes first transgender person to present at the Oscars. Vega starred in the film “A Fantastic Woman,” which took home the best foreign film award at the 2018 Oscars.

Chilean actress Daniela Vega (center) became the first transgender woman to present at the Oscars. Source: Reuters

March 12, 2018: Colombia elects two legislators to Congress who identify as LGBT. Angelica Lozano Correa and Mauricio Andres Toro Orjuela from the Green Alliance elected to the House of Representatives and Senate.
March 14, 2018: Brazilian politician and LGBT activist with the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) was murdered. Her killing resulted in mass protests across Brazil and international condemnation.
March 15, 2018: Mayor of Torreon, Mexico, forces transgender people to carry “health” ID cards, and ten people arrested for “moral damage crimes.”
March 12, 2018: Argentina begins trial of Gabriel Dabid Marino, for the murder of LGBT activist Diana Sacayan who was stabbed to death in 2015.
March 28, 2018: A court in Lima annulled a previous sentence that ordered the government to recognize and register same-sex marriages, in a major setback for Peruvian LGBT
April 12, 2018: Trinidad and Tobago's High Court decriminalizes gay sex.

Jason Jones, activist of the LGBT community celebrates the decriminalization of gay sex. Source: Reuters

May 4, 2018: Cuba observes its 11th day against homophobia and transphobia
May 8, 2018: Rio De Janeiro city council members pass six of the seven bills proposed by murdered LGBT rights activist and council member, Marielle Franco before her death.
May 19, 2018: Investigation of Guatemalan police records show that over 150 people have been persecuted for homosexuality by police, even though homosexuality wasn't a crime.
May 21, 2018: Pope Francis tells a Chilean gay man “God made you this way.”
May 30, 2018: Chile legalizes gender change without requiring sex change surgery
May 30, 2018: Ecuadorean court recognizes a gay couple as a family
June 5, 2018: Barbados LGBT Activists seek to fight buggery laws at IACHR
June 18, 2018: Gabriel David Marino receives a life sentence for the murder of LGBT activist Diana Sacayan, in a historical “transvesticide” trial in Argentina.

June 8, 2018

Despite The Catholic Church Latin America Has Become a Winning LGBT Battle Zone


In 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, largely due to the work of LGBT activists like Esteban Paulon.
Paulon, who didn’t have a partner at the time, saw this movement as a political struggle, rather than a personal one.
“I fought for the law without knowing if I would ever get married or not,” said Paulson, vice president of the Argentine LGBT Federation. “But on the journey to this achievement, I met my partner.”
Paulon and his partner were married three years after the law was passed—turning a national political achievement into a personal milestone they were able to celebrate with their friends and family.
“If the state says that all families are equal before the law and that all families have the same worth, this inevitably has an effect on daily life and on social perception about sexual diversity,” Paulon said. “The fact of being able to access marriage is also personal.”
Since 2010, more than 15,000 same-sex couples have been married in Argentina, the tenth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. The decision illustrated Latin America’s unlikely leadership in the fight for LGBT equal rights. Indeed, the focus on the US gay rights movement has overshadowed other countries where important gains have been won. Finally, Latin America is being recognized as a major leader in the global LGBT movement by both academics and major global activists groups like Human Rights Watch.

Following Argentina’s Lead

And rightly so. Not only was Argentina the first Latin American nation to legalize marriage equality, but it has also enacted some of the most progressive transgender rights laws in the world. Most notable is a 2012 ruling that allows transgender folks to change their gender on government documents without first having to receive psychiatric counseling or transition surgery. Argentina also requires that public and private medical facilities provide free hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery. 
Since Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico City and 12 Mexican states have also made same-sex marriage legal. Other nations, such as Chile and Ecuador, recognize civil unions between same-sex couples, though not marriages. These advances haven’t been won without vocal—and at time violent—resistance. But Latin America’s LGBT push demonstrates how vibrant activist networks, effective messaging to citizens, and access to democratic institutions have made the legalization of same-sex marriage possible.
Argentina has a strong history of LGBT organizing, dating back to at least the 1960s, explains Jordi Díez, a professor at Canada’s University of Guelph who has studied the legalization of same-sex marriage in the Americas. These networks were key to getting the law passed.
Argentina transitioned from a brutal military dictatorship to democratic rule in the early 1980s—a shift founded on the basis of respect for human rights. Accordingly, local LGBT organizations successfully appealed to citizens to approve same-sex marriage by framing it as a human rights issue.
Same-sex couples celebrate their nuptials in Mexico.

Beyond human rights, Argentina also has a unique relationship with religion. True, Latin America is known for being overwhelmingly Catholic. But the Argentine political system has developed without the infiltration of the church within the legislative assembly, Díez explains. This means—much like in the US—Argentina has essentially kept the church from defining the state. Similar approaches were successful in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia, though they met with more religious resistance than in Argentina. Meanwhile, despite Chile’s reputation as one of the most progressive countries in the region, a surprisingly strong church has been able to halt a range of liberal policies including same-sex marriage and abortion.
Chile is just one of many Latin American nations that have yet to fully embrace same-sex rights. Much of the reason for this is economic, says Díez: “In Latin America, there is a very strong association with levels of economic development, which include levels of education, industrialization, et cetera, and support for same-sex marriage.” 
Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras score lowest on the development index and also have low approval ratings of same-sex marriage. In Cuba, the same-sex marriage cause has finally taken up by Fidel Castro’s daughter, Mariela Casto, and is expected to be included in a larger constitutional reform process slated for this summer. Also, slow to same-sex marriage rights are countries in the English-speaking Caribbean, which Díez attributes to the legacy of colonialism.
Countries colonized by the Spanish or Portuguese never fully criminalized homosexuality like their British colonial counterparts. This means homophobic perceptions may be more deeply entrenched in these Anglophone societies—both new and old—according to Díez. Far more recently, Spain was among the first European nations to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005, which set an example for its former colonies. Meanwhile, same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized in the United Kingdom until 2013.

The Right to Life

Although a large portion of the region now has access to a wide range of LGBT rights, this fight has not been won without resistance. Unfortunately, there is still a high level of violence against the LGBT population—particularly trans men and women—in the region. Indeed, a 2015 study by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights tallied nearly 600 LGBT murders across Latin America from January 2013 to March 2014.
“Alongside the advance of marriage rights in places like Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, and parts of Mexico, you also have the rise of fundamentalist groups linked, above all, to Evangelical groups,” said Paulon, who has traveled across the region in the course of his activism. Securing basic rights like personal safety remain at the forefront of these “outlier” nations—where marriage, sadly, still seems like a distant dream.
Aldo Alexander Peña, a trans man living in El Salvador, was hospitalized in 2015 after he was beaten unconscious by police in a case that sparked a national and international outcry. Since then, Pena has become heavily involved in LGBT activism. His current priority—and that of the handful of trans-rights organizations in El Salvador —is passing a gender identity law to allow trans Salvadorans to legally change their name and gender. 
“It’s not that we don’t want to be able to get married and have kids one day,” Peña says. “but when we think about it, if they are already denying us the right to gender identity so profoundly, how will they respond the day that LGBT organizations in El Salvador start to fight for same-sex marriage?”
Peña ran for a seat on the mayoral council in El Salvador’s March 2018 legislative elections. He didn’t win but believes just running is a step forward for the LGBT community in El Salvador as it promotes LGBT civic participation and political representation. Yet as Peña can attest, much of Central America has a long way to go.
There were at least 38 deadly hate crimes against LGBT Salvadorans last year.

The Campaign for Costa Rica

Larissa Arroyo, a Costa Rican LGBT rights activist who works with the organization Acceder says: “It’s important to understand that marriage is not the most important goal or the ultimate objective in the fight for equal rights, but rather it is a step, which is often symbolic. The goal is really the equal treatment of and the end of discrimination against LGBT people.”
All eyes were on Costa Rica this spring during its presidential elections when same-sex marriage became a key issue.
On Jan. 9, the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights (IACHR) declared in a landmark advisory opinion that the American Convention on Human Rights—to which Costa Rica is bound—requires all 23 signatory countries to legalize same-sex marriage.
The announcement came during the campaign season for Costa Rica’s presidential elections. And while human rights activists rejoiced, many conservative forces were galvanized to fight the ruling—which quickly became a “wedge” issue.
Throughout the campaign, polls predicted a tight race between Carlos Alvarado—of the ruling party, against evangelical Fabricio Alvarado (no relation)—who rallied support by speaking out against the IACHR decision and the LGBT population.
“For the first time in my country, I was scared. I was scared for my life and for the life of my colleagues,” said Arroyo. During the campaign, reports of hate crimes and discrimination against LGBT Costa Ricans, Arroyo said.
Arroyo was prepared for the worst as Costa Ricans headed to the ballot box on April 1. She watched the results with friends and colleagues, full of fear and anticipation. But Fabricio Alvarado was overwhelmingly defeated, losing by a 20 point margin. Relieved, Arroyo was one of many Costa Ricans who celebrated with rainbow flags at the Hispanidad Fountain, a common meeting place for marches and celebrations in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose.
“In some way, it was how we said, ‘Ok, now we can return to publicly being who we are and we don’t have to be scared anymore of being the target of some type of violence,’” she said. Still, same-sex marriage is still not legal in Costa Rica, and legislation would have to be proposed in Congress to afford this right to all citizens.
And so the fight continues.
“Our view, at least from the point of activists, is that we are not just going to let them give us a small victory,” said Arroyo. “We want all of our rights and no more discrimination.”
Anna-Catherine Brigida~~~~~~QUARTZ
This story is part of the series on Global Pride.

January 13, 2016

How Some of South America Stopped Being Homophobic

 The modern Gaucho?
From the early 1970s through the late 1980s, no place in the world was more unfriendly, dangerous, and potentially lethal for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people than Latin America. Viewing homosexuality as the ultimate sign of bourgeois decadence, Communist Cuba imprisoned and tortured gays by the truckloads, a horror captured in novelist Reynaldo Arenas’ gripping memoir, Before Night Falls. Argentina’s right-wing military regime targeted gays through the so-called Proceso Nacional, a dirty war waged between 1976 and 1983 to rid the country of political dissidents and so-called social undesirables. By the late 1980s, the scale of deadly violence against homosexuals in Brazil was so vast that it prompted gay rights activists to declare a “homocaust” and instigated a 1995 Amnesty International report, Breaking the Silence, about worldwide violence against LGBT people. This marked the first time that a major human rights organization had shined a spotlight on gay issues.

In Latin American countries that were spared military dictatorship, from either the right or the left, the picture for gays was only marginally better. In Colombia, police brigades were rounding up gays, alongside prostitutes, drug addicts, and the homeless, as part of a “cleansing” policy to eradicate crime. Morality campaigns in Mexico kept gays in the closet, unable to live their lives openly or petition the government for protection against discrimination. As recently as the early 1990s, many Latin American nations still refused legal recognition of gay rights organizations, deeming them a threat to the family and the nation (this was the rationale given by the Argentine Supreme Court when it denied legality to a gay association in 1991), and revelers at gay pride parades covered their faces for fear of reprisals from employers, friends, and neighbors. 

Today, however, Latin America stands, alongside Western Europe and the United States, among the most progressive regions on LGBT rights. All Latin American nations have decriminalized homosexuality, with Panama being the last country to abolish an anti-sodomy law, in 2008; and all of them have laws in the books protecting gays and lesbians against discrimination. Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and in several Mexican states and the Federal District of Mexico City. Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador allow same-sex civil unions that offer same-sex couples all the benefits of marriage save for the name. Some Latin American nations are now even forerunners in the global struggle for LGBT equality.

Since 2010, when Argentina became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, it has enacted some of the most progressive LGBT legislation found anywhere in the world. Argentine law currently allows anyone to change his or her biological gender without the customary permission from a doctor or a judge. The law also permits same-sex couples wishing to have children access to reproductive assistance, such as in-vitro fertilization, through the national health system and bans conversion therapy intended to “cure” same-sex attraction. Not surprisingly, today Argentina tops many lists of countries most responsive to LGBT issues and concerns.

So how did Latin America go from being one of the most repressive environments for homosexuals in the world to one of the least? And what are the takeaways for the international human rights community as it seeks to contain the backlash against gay rights sweeping large swaths of the world? Triggered, in no small measure, by the fear that gay rights advances in the developed North will find their way into the global South, in recent years, India, Nigeria, and Uganda (among others), have moved to criminalize or to re-criminalize homosexuality. Bahrain, Egypt, and Iran are reported to have begun executing gays. Other countries have instituted a ban on the “promotion” of homosexuality, fashioned after Russia’s infamous 2013 anti-gay propaganda law. That law is so broad as to make an admission of homosexuality, unless made in a negative light, a crime.


External influence has certainly played a big role in Latin America’s “gay rights revolution.” For starters, for several decades now, the region has been engulfed in a tidal wave of “global queering,” a term that refers to the worldwide spread of homosexual identities and cultural practices launched by the gay liberation movement born with the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Widely known as the launch pad for the contemporary gay rights movement, Stonewall inspired a generation of Latin American gay activists to import the gospel of gay liberation to the region. They were led by the Frente de Liberación Homosexual (FLH), Latin America’s first viable gay rights organization. Founded in Buenos Aires in 1971, the FLH promoted sexual nonconformity, pride in being gay, and repeal of the infamous edictos policiales, federal ordinances that made homosexuality a crime in practice although not in law. (Argentina, like most of Latin America, decriminalized homosexuality in the nineteenth century, influenced by France’s Napoleonic Civil Code). Although the FLH was viciously crushed by the military in 1976, after the return of democracy to Argentina in 1983, its legacy inspired a new generation of gay activists to pick up the cause.

Pressure and shaming from international human rights organizations has also facilitated gay rights by aiding in the “socialization” of Latin American governments into human rights norms and practices. During the 1980s, gay activists at the Inter-American Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission created a splash by pushing the United States and Canada into granting political asylum to a number of Latin Americans who claimed that their lives were endangered by the fact that they were homosexual. The most famous of these cases was that of Marcelo Tenorio, a gay male from Brazil, the first person to be granted asylum in the United States on the grounds of his sexual orientation. Tenorio told U.S. immigration officials that he fled Brazil in 1990 after he was stabbed outside of a gay bar in Rio de Janeiro in 1989 and that he feared for his life if forced to go home. In coming to his rescue, activists were aiming as much to save gay lives as to embarrass the Brazilian government for its horrid treatment of gays and lesbians.

International pressure has also encouraged Latin American nations to enact policies and legislation specifically intended to advance gay civil rights. In 1991, after denying legal recognition to the Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (CHA), Argentine President Carlos Menem was treated to a shaming campaign while traveling in the United States. It was waged by ACT-UP Americas, an offshoot of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), the New York-based organization famous for its attention-grabbing activism. Menem was accosted virtually everywhere he went, including at the Argentine consulate in New York, where a demonstration featured pictures of AIDS patients chained to their hospital beds in Buenos Aires. Upon his return home, Menem promptly legalized the CHA. Backed with legality, in 1996 the CHA was able to secure a ban on anti-gay discrimination in the City of Buenos Aires, the first gay rights ordinance in all of Latin America.

The international outcry over the killing of Daniel Zamudio, a gay 24-year old Chilean who was brutally killed by neo-Nazis in 2012, tipped the balance in the debate over a national ban on discrimination in that country. Years before Zamudio’s killing, the Chilean Congress had discussed and ultimately shelved a national anti-discrimination law. At the heart of the dispute was whether the law should include sexual orientation as a category for anti-discrimination protection. After the many international headlines generated by Zamudio’s killing, including an article in Spain’s El País, in which the Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa called on the Latin American nations to end anti-gay discrimination and violence, the national anti-discrimination law, including sexual orientation, sailed through the Chilean Congress.

Last but not least has been the timely intervention by several individual foreign nations, most notably Spain. After 2005, when Spain became the first Roman Catholic nation to legalize same-sex marriage, the Socialist administration of José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero made LGBT rights a priority in its diplomatic relations with Latin America. This intervention, ably aided by a host of Spanish NGOs, such as Fundación Triángulo and the Federación Estatal LGBT, is credited with spurring gay rights policies throughout Latin America, especially same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage. No other Latin American country was more impacted by this “diffusion” effect than Argentina, a country that is predominantly populated by people of European descent, has high levels of social and economic development, and possesses Latin America’s richest history of organized activism around the issue of homosexuality. Not surprisingly, in both Spain and Argentina the campaign for marriage equality shared the same slogan: “The same name with the same rights.”


Ultimately, however, the rise of gay rights in Latin America should be seen a homegrown affair fueled by a host of cultural, legal, and political factors. After all, naming and shaming has done little for Western leaders to promote gay rights at the global level. In visits to Senegal and Kenya, for example, U.S. President Barack Obama urged his hosts to decriminalize homosexuality and afford civil rights protections to the LGBT population. If anything, these efforts have spectacularly backfired, as can be seen by the unprecedented gay rights backlash currently underway in much of Africa. Ironically, LGBT people are worse off today in most parts of Africa than before the West began to push its gay rights agenda.

Since the mid-1980s, when Latin America began to emerge from military rule and embrace democracy, the region has experienced a deep process of social modernization. Among its most significant aspects is the growing secularization of the public, as can be seen in the rise of so-called lapsed Catholics, also known as “cultural Catholics.” These are self-professed Catholics who do not see themselves as beholden to the Church’s teachings. In countries such as Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, about two-thirds of all Catholics fall into this category. These religious trends, which have undoubtedly have been accelerated by the Church’s loss of moral authority ensuing from its support of bloodthirsty dictatorships and sex abuse scandals, have made the public more accepting of homosexuality and more supportive of gay rights.

A decline in religiosity in Latin America has also lowered the risks for Latin American politicians of supporting gay rights. In 2009, when Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a left-wing politician famous for his social liberalism, signed into law Mexico City’s same-sex marriage ordinance, he tuned a deaf ear to the Catholic Church’s threat of excommunication. That would have been unthinkable only a few years prior. Former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, today hailed as a gay rights heroine for her fierce advocacy of marriage equality, all but welcomed the opposition to same-sex marriage by then Cardinal of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio (today Pope Francis). When Bergoglio branded the same-sex marriage bill “the Devil’s Project,” Kirchner delivered a rhetorical smack down, characterizing his words as “reminiscent of the Dark Ages and the Inquisition.”

Since embracing democracy, the majority of Latin American nations have also revamped their constitutions, a process that has given Latin America some of the world’s newest and most progressive constitutional frameworks. Some of them, including Argentina’s, fully incorporate the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, making it easier for gays in Latin America to approach the courts and demand equal treatment. Although the declaration is mum on the issue of sexual orientation, many references to the “dignity of all people” are nowadays broadly understood to apply to homosexuals. Most Latin American countries have also strengthened the autonomy of the judiciary, which has historically been the weakest branch in the region’s governments. This, in turn, has empowered the courts to rule boldly in favor of gay rights. In fact, some of the most sweeping court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage have come from Latin American courts.

In 2011, the highest court in the land in Colombia and Brazilian ruled that treating homosexual unions differently from heterosexual unions was unconstitutional, and it ordered the government to grant all the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. In June, 2015, just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Obergefell vs. Hodges that same-sex marriage was a constitutionally guaranteed right under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment of equal protection under the law, the Mexican Supreme Court, without any of the drama of its American counterpart, ruled that all state laws banning same-sex marriage were discriminatory and therefore in violation of the Mexican Constitution.



Lastly, Latin America’s gay rights successes cannot be fully understood without accounting for the smart advocacy by gay rights activists. What Latin American gay activists have lacked in the way of organizational resources relative to their counterparts in the United States and Western Europe—such as large membership bases and political connections—they have more than compensated for by crafting some of savviest gay rights campaigns around. Most notably, whereas gay activists in the United States have waged a “civil rights struggle” to advance gay rights, including same-sex marriage, in much of Latin America gay activists have waged a “human rights crusade.” The former seeks to legitimize gay rights through national law while the latter finds the legitimacy of gay rights in the universality of human rights.

The framing of the struggle for gay rights as a human rights crusade was most expertly realized in Argentina. After the transition to democracy, in 1983, Argentine gay activists folded their aspiration for ending antigay discriminatory policies and for extending civil rights protections into the large and influential Argentine human rights community born from the political excesses of the Dirty War. To drive home the point that gay rights are human rights, activists adopted the slogan “the freedom of sexuality is a basic human right.” That slogan foreshadowed the popular idea that “gay rights are human rights” in European and American gay politics.

Gay organizations in Argentina also branded themselves as human rights organizations, rather than as gay rights associations. A central goal of this effort was to incorporate the gay community into the broader civil society, which was then mobilized around the issue of justice and accountability against the military regime. The movement succeeded in convicting regime members of crimes against humanity. Although Nunca Más (Never Again), the final report of the National Commission on the Disappeared that served as the basis for the prosecution of military officers, does not recognize a single disappeared individual because of his/her sexual orientation, this did not stop gay activists from making the claim that gays are “the disappeared among the disappeared.” According to gay activists, some 400 gays disappeared during the military dictatorship, although no evidence to support this claim has yet emerged.

To influence hearts and minds about homosexuality, as much as to influence gay rights legislation, gay activists adopted the Argentine human rights movement’s playbook. For instance, gay activists embraced the famous escraches, or the accosting and shaming of public officials who fail to support human rights causes, a strategy pioneered by the children of the victims of the Dirty War. Less apparent is that gay organizations have purposely avoided formal political affiliations, believing that support for gay rights, as with human rights, should rise above politics. And so, gay activists have been able to collaborate with politicians from both the left and the right and avoid making gay rights into a partisan issue. On the eve of Argentina’s final senate vote on same-sex marriage, all senators were allowed by the leadership of their parties to vote their conscience, thereby contributing mightily to the support that the bill enjoyed from across the political spectrum.

The end result in Argentina was a gay rights campaign that although inspired by foreign trends and events was firmly grounded in local politics and realities. It succeeded in changing the law regarding homosexuality, and, more important, in transforming society and the culture at large. To be sure, whether the strategies that have worked so brilliantly in Argentina can be replicated in other parts of the world remains an open question. Human rights, for example, do not tug at the hearts of policy-makers and the public in other parts of the global South as they do in Latin America, and in Argentina in particular. But the larger lesson from Latin America remains that strategies for securing gay civil rights can only succeed if they find resonance at the local level. International gay rights activists would do well to heed this advice

August 13, 2014

The Evangelical leaders need virgins grounds than the old US: Latin America? Si

Evangelical leaders from the United States are looking to Latin America as the next battleground in the war against same-sex partnerships and abortion.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, one of the nation’s most prominent Latino faith leaders, and Mat Staver, a disciple of the late Jerry Falwell, who co-founded the Moral Majority, are working with evangelical pastors in Latin America to help strengthen their conservative message and outreach.
This spring, they formed a new group that merged the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC, which Rodriguez is the president and Staver a board member of) with Conela, a Latin American network of evangelical churches. The goal is to help Latin America’s conservative faith leaders become more politically influential, particularly on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
“This merger is a win-win for both NHCLC and Conela, and we are thrilled to join together to better serve Hispanic Evangelicals worldwide,” said Rodriguez on the NHCLC website in May. “Under the new NHCLC, we will continue to unify, serve and represent the Hispanic Evangelical community with the divine and human elements of the Christian message.”
NHCLC’s website said that Conela’s president, Ricardo Luna, sought the merger. The new combined network, the website said, “will result in a worldwide organization that represents over half a million churches and millions of individuals, making it the largest Evangelical association in the world.”
The joint effort is having an impact in at least one nation, Peru.
Julio Rosas, a conservative lawmaker affiliated with NHCLC/Conela, as the merged organization is called, is fighting legislation there that would allow same-sex civil unions.
Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico City have legalized gay marriage in recent years.
"Because of what was happening in Latin America and what we are fighting here in America there needed to be a combination to be able to create a firewall for our Judeo-Christian values," Staver said, according to Reuters, adding, "That is what ultimately brought about this merger."
Staver, a former pastor, has argued against abortion before the Supreme Court. His nonprofit law firm, Liberty Counsel, threatened to sue businesses and public agencies that do not allow employees to have Christmas-themed messages or objects. Staver, vice president of Liberty University, a Virginia college founded by Falwell, has asserted that some people have sought to "censor" Christmas because they don't know the laws.
Reuters reported that Staver alleges that the U.S. government provides financial aid to gay rights groups in other parts of the world, and that that was one motivating factor in joining efforts with Latin American conservatives.
"They were looking to us in America for help. Why? Because America through this current administration has been using a bully pulpit to try to tell them what to do on abortion and homosexuality and they don’t like that,” he told Reuters.
Rosas' aggressive campaigning is a key reason, supporters of the civil union legislation say, that the measure faces an uphill battle.
"I expected a strong reaction from the Catholic Church, but I didn't expect evangelicals to be so aggressive," the bill's author, Carlos Bruce, told Reuters.
"I think it's the first time the evangelical church has such a strong political presence," he added.
Some experts say Staver and Rodriguez seem to be seizing on the strong conservative social views that dominate much of Latin America.
"If I were to speculate, the religious right in the U.S. sees the writing on the wall regarding gay marriage, and are going to try to influence global movements in Latin American and Africa – two places that still have very strong anti-gay secular and religious sentiments," said Arlene Sanchez-Walsh, a Latino church expert at Azusa Pacific University in California, told Reuters.
For his part, Rodriguez is not downplaying his ambition for Latin America.
He hopes, he said, that the new merged group will “serve as the catalyst for the global revitalization of evangelicalism."

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