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Towards a Mercosur without Homophobia
We are convinced that LGBT issues will become an integral part of the Mercosur’s agenda
Latin America and Caribbean
By Alexandre Böer, SOMOS - Comunicação, Saúde e Sexualidade/Porto Alegre
and Beto de Jesus, co-Secretary-General, ILGA-LAC.

The Meeting of High Level Authorities in Human Rights of the Mercosur and Associated States (RAADDHH), established in December 2004 by the Summit of Presidents of the member countries, began to work effectively in May 2005 as a forum of the States which are parties to the process of regional integration, for the purpose of analyzing and defining public policies in the Human Rights area.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela are now parties.

Nine meetings have taken place since May 2005, the most recent of which on August 8th to 10th in Montevideo, Uruguay.

ILGA LAC (the Latin American and Caribbean region of ILGA) and the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transgenders (ABGLT) have been represented by its leaders Beto de Jesus and Alexandre Böer since the 5th meeting, held in Brazil, envisaging to mainstream the GLBT issue into the policies of the Mercosur Member States.

According to the Mercosur LGBT Organizations Network, of which ABGLT is a co-founder and a member and for which ILGA LAC acts as a consultative body, this was the most important meeting, delivering the most remarkable advances.

The meeting was preceded by the first regional seminar on Sexual Diversity, Identity and Gender, organized by the Pro-Tempore Presidency of Uruguay. It is being prepared since the last Pro-Tempore Presidency in 2006, in Brazil, during which ABGLT was able to politically address the issue and increase the participation of civil society members, which up to that time were only entitled to attend these meetings as observers.

Thus, in this last meeting, it was possible to present to the high authorities a document drafted by the civil society and the participating Governments, pointing out the urgent need of action to eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression in these countries and recognize the Rights to Sexual Diversity as Human Rights.

This document will now be examined by the Governments at the next meeting of high level authorities, to be held in Uruguay by the end of the year.

After evaluation, the document, or what will eventually be adopted from it by consensus among the Member States, is to be taken to the different Government Offices.

It will thus be possible to move towards the tabling of a resolution before the United Nations by the Mercosur and Associated States and boost the preliminary draft of the Inter-American Convention Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance that is being discussed within the framework of the OAS (Organization of American States), expressly including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Once again, ABGLT was represented by its leaders Beto de Jesus, co-Secretary-General of ILGA-LAC and member of ABGLT and of Instituto Édson Néris/São Paulo, and Alexandre Böer, of SOMOS - Comunicação, Saúde e Sexualidade/Porto Alegre.

They both participated actively in the development of this process, by means of advocacy for GLBT Human Rights in the Mercosur, exchange of information and contacts with the Brazilian authorities, and actions within the Mercosur LGBT Network, established earlier this year in Rosario, Argentina, of which ABGLT is also one of the founding institutions.

Beto de Jesus described the reality and vulnerabilities of the GLBT population in Brazil and Latin America to the members of the table on Human Rights and Sexual Diversity. As for Alexandre Böer, he focused on the official meetings and articulated proposals submitted by the high level authorities.

We stress the concordance and partnership reached with the whole Brazilian delegation, which was headed by the Minister of the Special Department on Human Rights, Paulo Vannuchi. Another member of the delegation, Ivair Augusto dos Santos, gave a vital contribution to the achievement of the objectives. He supported, inter alia, the proposed establishment of a subgroup dealing specifically with GLBT issues, to work in the context of the Group on Discrimination, Racism and Xenophobia.

We are convinced that LGBT issues will become an integral part of the Mercosur’s agenda. The Brazilian delegation also included representatives from the Special Departments on Human Rights and Racial Equality and from the Itamaraty (Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Maria José Lubertino, Director of the Argentinian National Institute Against Discrimination (INADI), presented a proposal to create the “Mercosur without Homophobia” Programme, building on the Brazilian experience. The Brazilian Minister of the Special Department on Human Rights, Paulo Vannuchi, supported this proposal.

What does the document say?

On the same occasion, a document was also drafted as an outcome of the RAADDHH, in which the concerned countries are invited to:

- revoke and/or modify all types of legislation discriminating against or criminalising lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites, transexuals and transgenders or restraining the full exercise of the same rights enjoyed by other citizens. In particular, revoke any type of legal act or regulation preventing the donation of blood from lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites, transexuals and transgenders;

- develop or stimulate horizontal public policies in all governance areas (e.g., “Brazil without Homophobia” and those proposed for the “National Plan Against Discrimination” in Argentina or the “Sexual Education Committee” in Uruguay), anti-discriminatory laws, programmes and actions, in the context of education, health, work, etc., thus expressly promoting non-discrimination in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, in particular policies that may favour access of trans people in all areas. As regards legislation, it must be effectively implemented by some judicial body able to ensure its operativity and invert the burden of proof. For this, it is important to establish a direct contact with the civil society, so that each policy decision will be the fruit of a joint work;

- promote the inclusion of contents relating to LGBT people’s rights in education (both public and private, institutional and non-institutional) at all levels, including teacher training, and encourage campaigns to deconstruct prejudices upon which discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression is based;

- promote the establishment of research groups on subjects relating to sexual diversity;

- adopt political decisions and actions that definitely put an end to harassment, discrimination, persecution and repression by the public security forces against LGBT people, in particular trans people, in each country;

- prepare legislation granting LGBT people and their families the same protection and rights that States recognize to heterosexual families, by establishing legal institutions such as partnerships, cohabitation, civil pacts or same-sex marriage;

- adopt legislation allowing trans people to change name and sex registers without surgical or medical requisites of any type and ensuring public and free access to sex redesign treatments and surgery;

- develop specific institutional areas within the State to deal with matters relating to discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. Each State must disseminate these data to the public, receive and systematize complaints, with a concrete response for each case, and allow the evaluation of public policies that are to be designed in each country. They must also commit their political will to boost the preliminary draft of the Inter-American Convention Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance that is being discussed within the framework of the OAS, to expressly include sexual orientation and gender identity;

- accelerate the creation of a Regional Observatory for Discriminatory Practices that includes discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, where civil society organizations may interact with the High Level Authorities in Human Rights of the Mercosur and their parliamentarians, concerning, inter alia, research, study, discussion and attention to the issue. This Observatory should draw up an annual report on the situation of LGBT people in the Region, to be submitted to national and international bodies.

We acknowledge the need to encourage our countries to develop any actions required to implement the measures listed in this declaration.

We commit ourselves to organize a forthcoming seminar, promoting the participation of Government Offices, authorities and officials from different power levels in each country; to incorporate the Sexual Diversity issue in the RAADDHH in a permanent way, horizontalizing the work of every group, committee or programme; to include the Sexual Diversity issue in the regular reports of each country on Human Rights (such as economic, social and cultural rights); and to include the study and consideration of the Yogyakarta Principles as a topic for the next meeting, with a view to assess the support of the Member States to these principles.

Translation: Jorge Madeira Mendes

ILGA-LAC - Somos