- Out in the Periphery: Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution by Omar G. Encarnación
Omar G. Encarnación’s Out in the Periphery: Latin America’s Gay Rights Revolution is a masterful comparative study of the asymmetrical but persistent adoption of gay rights across Latin America. The book’s goal is “to focus on the interaction of global influence and domestic factors in determining the shape of national gay rights policy in Latin America; and more specifically, to demonstrate how the domestic environment has mediated external influence with respect to gay rights across Latin America” (7). Charting how the United States has persistently undermined gay rights in Latin America and lagged behind progressive initiatives across South America and the Caribbean, Encarnación provides a compelling assessment of the uneven development of gay rights across Latin America.
Out in the Periphery addresses three major veins of argument in the literature about gay rights in Latin America. First, it disposes of the argument that gay rights in Latin America were propelled by the U.S. gay rights movement, beginning at Stonewall in 1969. Second, it rejects the frequently made argument that international human rights activists have pressured Latin American governments to yield on human rights, framing the distribution of LGBTQ social movements as a result of a paternal “international socialization.” Finally, it deftly handles the notion that “policy diffusion,” especially from Spain’s legalization of gay marriage in 2005 propelled more progressive policy regimes (4–5). Encarnación proposes instead that narratives privileging a U.S.-centric narrative miss the ways in which Latin America has led on gay rights despite U.S. efforts to erode them in Latin America. Encarnación argues that, “international gay rights ideas have been imbued with or wedded to local practices and implemented with the aid of local strategies and tactics” (6). Encarnación articulates an interaction between the international context and the local tactics that is fresh and compelling.
Chapter 1, “Latin America through Transnational Lenses,” outlines what Encarnación calls the “international gay rights arc” to highlight how post-Stonewall historiography distorts Latin American gay history. Pointing to the [End Page 224] irony of Puerto Rico’s conservatism on gay rights despite its relationship with the United States, the resentment of American meddling by politicians in places like El Salvador, and the uneven development of gay rights across Latin America as evidence that the U.S. sexual regime does not have a monolithic positive influence on other countries. Chapter 2, “Domestic Change, Foreign Influence, and Gay Rights,” documents how Latin America has become receptive to international gay rights trends due to political reform and economic and social modernization. It focuses on changing religious patterns, constitutional reforms, the popularity of left-wing socialists, and the public rise of gay rights activism as factors neglected by scholars analyzing how global queering has operated in Latin America.
Part II unpacks Argentina as an outlier in the global conversation about gay rights activism. For example, in Chapter 3, Encarnación argues that Argentina had the foresight to frame “the freedom of sexuality” as a “basic human right” (11) and documents the twists and turns in social movement activist organizations and mobilizations that gave rise to a totally innovative context for gay rights.
Part III contrasts the history and political context in Argentina with Brazil, a country more sexually liberal than much of Latin America and yet “one that fell behind Argentina and other Latin American nations in legislating gay rights” (12). Here, the opposition to gay rights by Brazilians is located in pervasive homophobia, evangelical Christianity, a hostile legislative environment, and military rule. The final chapter demonstrates how the local context of any country is the primary influence on the adoption of gay rights within any particular policy debate. Encarnación writes, “this study suggests the primacy of ‘strategy’ in shaping gay rights struggles, especially how the campaign for gay rights is crafted” (194). Indeed, Out in the Periphery provides a clear case for...