Igual en Ecuador: Inside Ecuador’s LGBT+ Rights Struggle

By Ethan Jiang

Back in 2008, the Central American nation of Ecuador made a dramatic stride towards protecting the environment by revising its constitution to include articles that protected the rights of nature. With these provisions, citizens can bring lawsuits that name ecosystems themselves as defendants. Unfortunately, Ecuador’s regard for nature has failed to extend to human nature, as they’ve repeatedly cracked down on LGBT+ rights in blatant violation of both international and domestic standards.

Ecuador’s ugly history with equal rights began in the colonial era, although there is some debate over views on the Inca and Shuar Empire’s views on homosexuality. While reactions to same-sex intercourse were largely mixed beforehand, the introduction of Roman Catholicism with the arrival of conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1531 created long-lasting social mores that frowned on the practice. 

Those norms lasted through Ecuador’s independence all the way up to the turn of the millenium, at which point Quito, Equador’s capital, made several contradictory moves. In 1997, Ecuador’s highest court decriminalized same-sex sexual activity, and just a year later, the nation became one of the first to holistically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. But, in a clear case of “one step forward, two steps back”, Ecuador also tightened restrictions on same-sex marriage during this time.

While anti-LGBT+ sentiments are not unique to Ecuador, the country is notable for the disconnect between its policy and practice. As previously noted, discrimination based on sexual orientation has been outlawed for over two decades, but international observers claim that such laws are rarely, if ever, enforced, and that law enforcement turns a blind eye to horrific abuses. 

The most public of those abuses occur in over 200 private treatment centers, which are often branded as drug rehabilitation clinics. These centers employ a variety of tactics, including rape, as part of efforts to “dehomosexualize” LGBT+ individuals. Almost always, victims are interned against their will and forced to endure such cruelty for months on end. 

More recently, the nation’s judicial system has made significant progress in expanding civil liberties for LGBT+ Ecuadorians. In a string of rulings this summer, Ecuador’s highest effectively legalized same-sex marriage, primarily as a result of pressure from domestic activists and international legal organizations. Moreover, several transgender politicians have entered the national spotlight, and one, Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano, was elected to the national legislature in 2017.  In spite of these advances, public opinion remains stubborn, as recent polling from Vanderbilt University shows that just one in three Ecuadorians supports same-sex marriage.

At the end of the day, it may take some time for Ecuador to move beyond its oppressive roots. Regardless, Ecuador’s LGBT+ population will keep fighting for their rights. After all, it’s only human nature.

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