As gay rights march on in Latin America, the countries to our south are racing each other to establish themselves as new capitals of gay tourism.
While traditional gay-cation hot spots Rio de Janeiro and Puerto Vallarta continue to amass those pink pesos and reals, other cities like Buenos Aires and Mexico City are trying to catch up. Still, they have a long way to go: the Guardian reports that fully 800,000, or 25 percent of all tourists to Rio annually, are gay. And as The Simpsons has already shown, Brazil’s money is as gay as it can be.
The chase for the gay tourist dollar has intensified lately in the wake of several advances in gay rights. In late 2009, Mexico City became the first city in Latin America to legalize gay marriage, and was followed by Argentina in 2010. Brazil recently legalized gay civil unions, in May, and as we reported in June, a judge in Sao Paulo has ruled that gay civil unions can be upgraded to gay marriages. All of these destinations are using legislative changes to position themselves as meccas of gay tolerance that can’t wait to meet homosexual travellers from around the world (bring your credit cards).
Mexico City recently opened its first tourism office specifically to market to gay travellers. The city even pulled a public relations coup by convincing local businesses to pay for a Mexican honeymoon for the first Argentinian gay couple to wed under the country’s same-sex marriage law.
Rio has also announced a raft of new social programs for the city’s lesbian, gay, bi and trans communities, including anti-bullying initiatives and specialized vocational training.
The messaging is a little bizarre — it almost implies that these countries are expanding gay rights in the search for tourism dollars instead of in support of their domestic populations. On the other hand, if gay travellers help improve social tolerance of gays in their host countries, either through enticement for financial rewards or simply by exposure to more gay people, this can only help to improve the standing of gays throughout the world.
Latin America isn’t standing still on gay rights, either. Just this week, Chile’s conservative president fulfilled a campaign promise to introduce legislation for gay civil unions. Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay all have legalized civil unions as well.