Propaganda has been the perfect tool for every authoritarian or totalitarian regime across the world. For many years, Venezuela has attempted to portray its regime as one under which equality and progress were the rule. Huge amounts of money gained between 2003 and 2012 contributed to this purpose. The government proclaimed across the globe that Venezuela was embarking on a democratic socialist revolution, which nourished the sympathy of socialist and leftist movements worldwide. However, warnings given by local activists about the real nature of the regime were mainly unheard — until it was too late.
People are still astonished by the fact that no single LGBTQ+ right has been achieved in my country. Many will say this is untrue, but the fact that more than two-thirds of the Latin American population is now living with equal rights shows the grim reality. Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and somehow Bolivia now have equal rights for LGBTQ+ people. They’ve legalized same-sex marriage or civil unions, legalized recognition of gender identity for the trans population, and implemented antidiscrimination laws for LGBTQ+ people.
Meanwhile, in Venezuela there is no protection against discrimination in schools. And of course, no equal rights and protections for LGBTQ+ couples, no recognition of gender identity for the trans population, and no protections against discrimination and homophobic or transphobic hate crimes. The very spare rules that do exist are simply unapplicable and of no utility whatsoever.
Within the country there is an unbreakable silence about LGBTQ+ rights. The global actions of fundamentalist religious groups — particularly of the coalition of neo-Pentecostal churches and the more radical wing of the Catholic Church attacking what they call the “gender ideology” — are practically absent in Venezuela. They may think there is no need for it here. Not once has the Chavist regime threatened them or countered their attacks against LGBTQ+ people.
This is why, perhaps, all actions introduced before the Supreme Tribunal of Justice over the last 17 years have never been decided. Those actions include some 12 cases relating to the recognition of legal identity for trans people (the oldest of which dates back to May 2004), declaring the unconstitutionality of the Civil Code that limits marriage to men and women, declaring the unconstitutionality of the Military Criminal Justice Code that includes the crime of “relations against nature,” and actions aiming at establishing rules against discrimination. Of course, this makes Venezuela the only country in Latin America that criminalizes same-sex relations.
The Law Against Hate, enacted by the National Constituent Assembly — a group elected with the sole purpose of impeding the actions of the National Assembly and that ceased its functions without having drafted a single article of a new constitution — introduced an article concerning “call to hate” crimes. It includes, among many others, sexual orientation, but it has only been applied to persons who have called for the end of the regime and for fair and free elections.
Silence has always been the perfect tool for fundamentalists around the globe as a means to erase legitimate causes for minority groups. Such is the case for civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. In the case of Venezuela, the silence comes from the regime itself. My hope is for the people to be louder than the silence.
Tamara Adrian is a Venezuelan lawyer, law professor, activist, and lawmaker, having been voted into the National Assembly of Venezuela in 2015. She was the first transgender person elected to office in the country and only the second transgender member of a national legislature in the Western Hemisphere. Tamara is the president for the committee of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and president of the board of directors of GATE: Global Action for Trans Equality. @tamara.adrian
This story is part of an investigative series for Out's 2021 Travel Issue, the first in the magazine's history centering on Latin America. The issue is out on newsstands on April 28, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.