Santiago, Chile – Ecuador became the fifth Latin American country to legalise same-sex marriage this month, a major victory for the country’s LGBT community in a traditionally Catholic and conservative country.
Linn da Quebrada is a trans rapper from Brazil who uses her music to confront the challenges she has faced growing up black and queer in a Sao Paulo favela Courtesy of Linn da Quebrada
Brazil’s Supreme Court also formalised votes to include gay and sexual identity in its anti-discrimination laws, joining several Latin countries that have criminalised both violent and non-violent intolerance against gay individuals.
Advances in legalisation, however, have not quelled rampant homophobic attitudes that continue to pose a violent threat to LGBT communities in many countries, which remain predominantly Catholic and conservative.
As the region has seen a rise of extreme right-wing beliefs, progress is being met with violent homophobic resistance, with several countries, such as Colombia, Brazil, and Chile, witnessing a surge of hate crimes in recent years, according to rights groups.
But as homophobic rhetoric becomes more prominent so have voices from inside Latin America’s LGBT community against hateful action and words.
This includes a number of openly queer musicians, who have emerged from underground gay scenes throughout Latin America over the last decade to reach wider audiences and use their platforms to speak against discriminatory attitudes while celebrating LGBT culture.
Going beyond legislation rights, they see music as a way to change a societal mindset and advocate for tolerance.
Al Jazeera speaks to four queer musicians in Latin America.
Linn da Quebrada: Music is a form of resistance in Brazil
Linn da Quebrada is a trans rapper from Brazil who uses her music to confront the challenges she has faced growing up black and queer in a Sao Paulo favela.
“Music has a very strong importance in the construction of thoughts. It is what we sing every day, until the point that these words and phrases form who we are,” Linn da Quebrada told Al Jazeera.
A staunch feminist and trans activist, she is vocal about the harsh dangers of the patriarchal system present throughout the region.
Her songs fight oppression and seek equality. She sees music as a valuable medium to find a common ground between people of different beliefs, sexual orientations, and backgrounds.
“It helps us realise that even though we are from different beliefs and backgrounds, we can build bridges,” she said.
Brazil is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be trans, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring Project. Many in the LGBT community warn the situation for trans and other queer individuals will only get worse under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office earlier this year.
A self-described “proud homophobe”, Bolsonaro has made his opposition to sexual diversity clear. In 2011, he claimed he would rather have a dead son than a gay one.
In his inauguration speech, he outlined intentions to “combat gender ideology”, and in April he spoke against Brazil turning into a “gay tourism paradise”.
Despite rampant homophobia in the country, Brazil is known for having a vibrant gay culture, with a number of highly celebrated queer performers rising to global recognition.
Da Quebrada is among the most prominent on the scene.
She said that art is integral to battling hatred in her country.
“It is a form LGBTQ+ resistance in Brazil – it helps us realise the strength we have and can have,” she said.
Chile’s Alex Anwandter: With attacks, it’s hard to speak of progress
Although Chile is considered safer than Brazil for LGBT communities, threats are still persistent.
A report by the country’s largest gay rights organisation, Movilh, found that 698 cases of discrimination against LGBT individuals were registered in 2018, an increase of 44 percent from the previous year.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, a spokesman for the organisation described incidents as “more frequent and more violent”.
Queer and gay musicians in the country have expressed outrage at the latest attacks this year. On February 14 – Valentine’s Day – a woman was violently beaten after attackers allegedly saw her holding hands with her girlfriend. She suffered a fractured skull and internal bleeding, and two perpetrators have been arrested for attempted murder. In March, a group of individuals carved swastikas into the body of a trans man.
“We are still talking about people getting beaten up because we are still connected to that,” said Alex Anwandter, one of Chile’s most prominent pop musicians, who identifies as queer. “It is us. They are us.”
Combining disco beats with philosophical lyricism, Anwandter’s music directly addresses homophobic attitudes, such as in the song, Como puedes vivir contigo mismo? (How Can You Live With Yourself?).
In Manifesto, one of his slower songs that address prejudice and alienation, he sings “today I am a woman, the village fag”, which he purposefully performed at the Latin Grammys in 2016.
Both songs are from his album Amiga, which he describes as “a record for Chile”.
Although he acknowledges his country has come a long way in terms of LGBT rights, he explains his reluctance to celebrate any small steps taken.
“There has been a rise of attacks, so it is hard to speak of progress,” he said.
He believes that progress is not just linked to access to rights, but rather related to a “changing a cultural paradigm”.
“I evaluate progress based on whether kids are getting beaten up or killed,” he said.
In his music, he seeks to dismantle the beliefs that lead to hatred and discrimination “from love songs sung between the opposite sex, or about walking down the street holding hands with the person you love”.
He believes it can change people’s prejudices against the gay community.
“I think clarity comes to the people that are listening to the songs, whether they think something like ‘oh, this guy is singing about a man in a love song, I haven’t heard that – why?’,” he said.
Chile’s Javiera Mena: People still think ‘lesbian’ is a strange word
Also from Chile, electro-pop musician Javiera Mena refers to herself as a natural gay rights activist.
“I am an activist just for being open about being a lesbian,” she told Al Jazeera.
“It’s not that my lyrics say, ‘I am gay’ but they just show you things that normally you don’t see.”
Mena makes her sexuality clear in her music videos, most notably in her 2013 hit Espada, which uses anime references to hint at female eroticism in a non-hetero-normative way.
“When I made that video, I wanted to do something explicitly lesbian. Pop iconography is always very gay but in a male sense. There is not much that refers to gay women.”
Javiera Mena recalled encounters with fans who said they came to understand their sexuality by listening to her music Courtesy of Javiera Mena
Both Anwandter and Mena were among the first openly gay musicians in Chile when they came out publicly less than 10 years ago.
“People still think ‘lesbian’ is a strange word,” Mena said, “which is why I am fanatic about saying it over and over again.”
She recalled encounters with fans who said they came to understand their sexuality by listening to her music.
“It is necessary to name it and visibilise it… especially for Chileans who aren’t in the capital city, who do not live in such an open world.”
Mexico’s Sailorfag: Machismo goes hand in hand with homophobia
Meanwhile, in Mexico, rising younger artist Mangel Caravantes, better known as Sailorfag, is reclaiming reggaeton and dance styles through a vibrantly queer lens.
The 22-year-old described Mexican LGBTQ lifestyles as undermined by “a very machista culture”.
“Machismo goes hand in hand with homophobia… although it has advanced a lot,” he told Al Jazeera.
His music ridicules overt masculinity and prejudice.
“I don’t know if it’s the best way to do it, but it is easier for me to talk about those issues with humour, as I am not a very serious person,” he said.
The song, which is a scathing attack on machismo, has more than a million views on YouTube.
“I always wanted to give my opinion a simple way, easy to understand and danceable,” he said.
He makes a point of using inclusive language in his songs, and his blunt social commentary comes almost at odds with his reggaeton style, a genre which has previously been condemned for misogynistic lyrics.
At only 22, the singer is coming to terms with dealing with trolls and haters, yet finds motivation from his large and active fanbase, who support him just as much as he feels he can help them.
“I get messages from fans, for example, guys who are coming to terms with their sexuality, but do not know how to express it. They hear my music, or see my look or my makeup, and they realise they aren’t alone,” he said.
“Which is something beautiful, that I can have a positive impact.”