Updated: Jun 18
During the first two decades of the 21st century Latin America has experienced changes in the expansion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer (LGBTIQ+) rights and policies: decriminalisation of homosexuality, anti-discrimination statutes and the right to serve in the military, and same-sex marriage and unions (Corrales, 2020). However, these changes have been uneven in the region, with more legal recognition in some countries than in others. These differences can be attributed in part to the strong political power of some religious organisations whose agenda is to block the efforts that LGBTIQ+ and human rights organisation are attempting to make for LGBTIQ+ people (Encarnación, 2013). Furthermore, the lack of visibility of open LGBTIQ+ officers in positions of responsibility within governments and private companies poses a challenge to the progress of pro-LGBTIQ+ rights (Corrales, 2020).
Panama was the last Latin American nation to decriminalise homosexuality in 2008 (Executive Decree Nº 332) and does not have any specific law to protect LGBTIQ+ people against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, the internal regulation of the National Police and the Fire Department targets the practice of homosexuality and lesbianism publicly (Executive Decrees Nº 204 and Nº 113 respectively). Furthermore, same-sex couples have no legal rights in Panama, a situation that did not change even with the most recent constitutional reform proposal of 2019. In fact, this reform explicitly banned same-sex marriage. The protests of human rights organisations were viewed with disdain by the governing class, with a Senator from the ruling party stating, “They are gay, they cannot enter in the national assembly” (TVN Noticias, 2019). This scenario contributes to an endemic culture of discrimination, bullying, and LGBTIQ+ phobia in both the public and private sectors, including within the maritime sector.
It is imperative to highlight the absence of laws and public policies that protect rights, avoid discrimination, and condemn hate crimes against LGTBIQ+ people. Such is the case, that during the pandemic the Government, through decrees, applied mobility restrictions according to their gender, ignoring the needs of trans population and promoting doubts, possible aggressions, humiliations, and arrests (Resolution 492, 2020).
Undeniable efforts have been made by non-governmental organizations and activists for the rights of LGBTIQ+ people in Panama, particularly through the recognition of same-sex marriage. Currently, the Supreme Court of Justice in Panama has more than 4 claims of unconstitutionality since 2016 and there have been no pronouncements. On the other hand, religious groups mainly from the Catholic and Evangelical Church oppose the approval of marriage and have expressed their feelings through different demonstrations (TVN Noticias, 2020).
Another example of effort and dedication by non-governmental organizations is the celebration of Pride in our country and the evolution that it has had in recent years, with the participation and unrestricted support of international embassies (mostly European), transnational companies, local artists, faces of Panamanian television, and especially a young Panamanian population that desires and deserves respect, equality, and security. However, the absence of government organizations and large Panamanian companies at this event is still notable. This absence is not only notable in Pride, but also in the support of campaigns that raise awareness and educate the Panamanian population regarding the right and equality of LGBTIQ+ people.
For instance, the "Sí acepto" campaign, initially carried out in Costa Rica that promotes same-sex civil marriage, was suspended by the Mayor's Office of Panama City, ordering the removal of the posters placed in various canopies throughout the city.
Nevertheless, it is positive to highlight the progress that society has had in terms of tolerance, promoted by many non-governmental organizations, activists, international embassies in Panama, and other heroes who fight daily from their fields of action for the rights of LGBTIQ+ people and other minorities group. However, there are some pending tasks to attend to, such as anti-discrimination laws and hate attacks, sexual education including LGBTIQ+ issues, approval of same-sex marriage and the proper implementation of administrative actions that this legal condition generates, as well as inclusion, respect and equality programmes in organizations, and greater visibility of LGBTIQ+ people in decision-making positions.
Article by Gustavo Abdiel Aguilar-Miranda
Corrales, J. (2020) 'The Expansion of LGBT Rights in Latin America and the Backlash', in The Oxford Handbook of Global LGBT and Sexual Diversity Politics. 1st edition [Online]. Oxford University Press.
Encarnacion, O.G. (2013) International Influence, Domestic Activism, and Gay Rights in Argentina. Political science quarterly. 128 (4), 687–716.
Ministerio de Gobierno y Justicia. (1997) Decreto Ejecutivo 204. Reglamento de disciplina de la Policía. Gaceta Oficial de la Procuraduría de la Administración. Panamá, Panamá. Available at: http://gacetas.procuraduria-admon.gob.pa/23371_1997.pdf (Accessed: 2 November 2021).
Ministerio de Gobierno y Justicia. (2011) Decreto Ejecutivo 113. Reglamento General del Benemérito Cuerpo de Bomberos de la República de Panamá. Gaceta Oficial de la República de Panamá. Panamá. Available at: https://www.gacetaoficial.gob.pa/pdfTemp/26731_A/GacetaNo_26731a_20110224.pdf (Accessed: 2 November 2021).
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TVN Noticias. (2020) Hay 4 demandas presentadas sobre matrimonio igualitario. Available at: https://www.tvn-2.com/nacionales/demandas-presentadas-matrimonio-igualitario-video_0_5592940722.html (Accessed: 15 October 2021).
Photo credit: Caroline Keyzor