Another Goal for Gay Rights in Latin America

by Amira Valliani:

Hotlanta Soccer, the London Leftfooters, and 26 other teams from around the world landed in Buenos Aires in late September to compete in the world’s most popular sport. But as the New York Ramblers marched through the streets with Barbie dolls in their hands and fans waved rainbow flags, it became clear that something was unique about this soccer championship. This was the Gay World Cup.

Courtesy Hotlanta Soccer

This summer marked the first time Latin America hosted the games, organized by the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association (IGLFA). The annual championship uses soccer to increase the visibility and acceptance of homosexuality in sports and, more broadly, to fight sexual discrimination. By bringing together a diverse group of players, gay and straight, the IGLFA aims to break down the stereotype that homosexuality entails femininity and athleticism entails masculinity.

Brian Gannon, Secretary of the Ramblers, told the Globalist that these games are about more than activism: “It is simultaneously a political statement, a real soccer tournament on both a competitive and recreational level, and a large social event.” Gannon hopes the championships will demonstrate that “diversity is a positive force in that multiple communities come together to form a rich and complete society.”

Is it working? “Absolutely,” said Ken Sanchez, one of Gannon’s teammates. He said the games this year were the largest in the event’s 17-year history and that local soccer teams and global soccer organizations support the Cup. “People are getting pumped about this.”

Gannon, however, is unsure how effective the IGLFA has been. He believes its biggest impact has been limited to the gay community, especially for homosexuals who grew up learning “to hate sports as a ground zero for name calling and bullying.”

Regardless of the games’ effectiveness in fighting sexual discrimination, hosting the event is a landmark in the rich cultural history of BA, whose history of sexual tolerance already goes back several decades. Gay rights organizations have thrived there since the 1980s, and in 1996 an anti-discrimination clause that included language about sexual orientation was written into Buenos Aires’ new constitution. In 2003, the city became the first in Latin America to legalize same-sex civil unions. And this year, it was the first Latin American host to the IGLFA Championships.

Buenos Aires is recognized globally for its friendliness toward gay residents and visitors. It is the most popular spot for gay tourism in Latin America, with many gay clubs, cruises, and five-star hotels that cater to gay guests. The city even publishes a tourist map that points out gay-friendly locations around the city.

Nicolas Ducoté, Executive Director and Cofounder of Argentina’s premier independent think-thank, Center for the Implementation of Public Policies of Equity Growth, attributes changes in attitudes about homosexuality to progressive city government. In the past decade, two progressive mayors have lent a great deal of support to the gay community. While many frowned upon displays of affection among males in the past, Ducoté said that attitudes about sexuality are now so relaxed that “you see macho rugby players kissing each other when greeting.”

Still, gay culture often finds itself up against el machismo in the greater Buenos Aires province and the rest of Argentina. Ducoté defined el machismo as a practice that “highlights the physical brutishness of man,” reinforcing ideas of male dominance and aggressiveness. In the minds of many Argentineans, homosexuality and machismo are mutually exclusive. The culture dictates that male-female gender roles be so well-defined that the individual playing a male role in a homosexual relationship would not be considered gay, but macho. The belief that homosexuals are necessarily effeminate or need to play gender roles in relationships indicate that the city’s thriving homosexual community is still battling stereotypes.

Bringing the Gay World Cup to Buenos Aires is part of a mission to combat the perceived divide between el machismo and the homosexual community. The IGLFA hopes to free homosexuals from the labels that machismo has placed upon them and thereby bridge gay and straight communities.  By welcoming Gay World Cup athletes, Buenos Aires is demonstrating, as Gannon said, “Gays and straights can play together.”