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The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America: A Reader on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights (review)

From: The Americas
Volume 68, Number 1, July 2011
pp. 148-149 | 10.1353/tam.2011.0085

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In the past decade, LGBTQ rights have steadily increased in Latin America. These changes have already been decades in the making, but the relevant scholarship—led by anthropologists and cultural studies scholars—has yet to fully interrogate the genealogies of Latin American LGBTQ politics. Enter this important collection edited by Javier Corrales and Mario Pecheny, which is both an initial effort toward such an interrogation and a demonstration of the saliency of LGBTQ issues in scholarship on democratic processes in Latin America, as well as in these processes themselves. The editors have brought together a number of previously published articles, essays, and encyclopedia entries, as well as unpublished works on Latin American LGBTQ rights, with a particular focus on the late 1900s and early 2000s. This work, the first English-language reader on Latin American LGBTQ politics, has broad regional representation over its thirty entries.

Strengths of this collection include the writing of both established and emerging scholars, as well as that of Latin American activists, writers, and politicians. Similarly, the inclusion of texts available in English translation for the first time, particularly those of activists, is beneficial in increasing the book’s readership beyond specialists. The collection’s broad geographic scope—including attention to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela, and Central America and other transnational analyses—is impressive, even if some regions, such as the Southern Cone, receive more attention than others. In addition, the essays focus on myriad themes, ranging from grassroots and political party activism to studies of transnational LGBTQ political cultures, media and the Internet, and human rights. The editors, in their insightful introduction and their essay selections, dramatically argue for—and demonstrate— the importance of LGBTQ sexualities for the study of “state formation, citizenship, democratization, civil rights, inclusionary politics, bargaining, social movements, identity, public policy . . . and the quality of democracy” (p. 1).

However, the collection does have some weaknesses, which, while not diminishing its importance, should be noted. Readers could have benefited from the inclusion of a contributors’ page to orient readers to the authors’ qualifications for inclusion in the text, thereby bringing both the importance of LGBTQ issues and the authors’ scholarship to the attention of one of the editors’ target audiences: non-specialists who might be unaware of individual contributors’ significance.

The selections are uneven in quality, which is surely due in part to the differing kinds of scholarship available and may also reflect challenges in obtaining publication rights. The scholarly articles with their ample citations and primary sources are first rate; these include works by James Green, Rafael de la Dehesa, Aluminé Moreno, Florence Babb, Mariela Castro, former Brazilian president Lula da Silva, and many more. The encyclopedia articles, while they are generally informative for scholars unfamiliar with the field and do include bibliographies, nevertheless lack clear attribution for their claims, some of which have been and continue to be challenged. The collection also could have benefited from more translations of Mexican studies; there are published examples from both activists like Nancy Cárdenas and prominent social critics, including Carlos Monsiváis.

Most essays focus on contemporary issues and the recent past, and they are supplemented by an informative timeline. A richer historical genealogy, however, could have provided beneficial contexts for looking at change over time, in questions of pre-1970s queer community and identity development, in ongoing debates on sexuality that have shaped political and cultural norms, and in similarities and differences between nations that account for the current diversity of rights. This absence is partially due to the paucity of historical studies on Latin American queer sexualities, although cultural studies sources could have provided more background. Pablo Ben’s piece, though, is a good start and, on the whole, the collection is an impressive and welcome addition to the field. It will serve as a useful reference for scholars seeking to incorporate LGBTQ issues into their research, as well as a valuable source for in-class materials that will highly engage students of all levels.

Copyright © 2011 Academy of American Franciscan History
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Ryan Jones. "The Politics of Sexuality in Latin America: A Reader on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender...

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