Queering the Public Sphere in Mexico and Brazil

Sexual Rights Movements in Emerging Democracies

Queering the Public Sphere in Mexico and Brazil

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 7 tables, 1 figure Published: May 2010

Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Latin American Studies, Sociology

Queering the Public Sphere in Mexico and Brazil is a groundbreaking comparative analysis of the historical development and contemporary dynamics of LGBT activism in Latin America’s two largest democracies. Rafael de la Dehesa focuses on the ways that LGBT activists have engaged with the state, particularly in alliance with political parties and through government health agencies in the wake of the AIDS crisis. He examines this engagement against the backdrop of the broader political transitions to democracy, the neoliberal transformation of state–civil society relations, and the gradual consolidation of sexual rights at the international level. His comparison highlights similarities between sexual rights movements in Mexico and Brazil, including a convergence on legislative priorities such as antidiscrimination laws and the legal recognition of same-sex couples. At the same time, de la Dehesa points to notable differences in the tactics deployed by activists and the coalitions brought to bear on the state.

De la Dehesa studied the archives of activists, social-movement organizations, political parties, religious institutions, legislatures, and state agencies, and he interviewed hundreds of individuals, not only LGBT activists, but also feminists, AIDS and human-rights activists, party militants, journalists, academics, and state officials. He marshals his prodigious research to reveal the interplay between evolving representative institutions and LGBT activists’ entry into the political public sphere in Latin America, offering a critical analysis of the possibilities opened by emerging democratic arrangements, as well as their limitations. At the same time, exploring activists’ engagement with the international arena, he offers new insights into the diffusion and expression of transnational norms inscribing sexual rights within a broader project of liberal modernity. Queering the Public Sphere in Mexico and Brazil is a landmark examination of LGBT political mobilization.


Queering the Public Sphere in Mexico and Brazil is an excellent read. To my knowledge, it provides the first systematic comparison of national LGBT movements in Latin America. . . . [I]t has the potential to reorient existing academic understandings of the manner in which LGBT social movements are becoming globalized. In short, this is a well-researched and extremely thoughtful book that will make an important contribution to the study of LGBT movements in particular and social movements more generally. It is also a welcome addition to analyses of liberal democracies throughout Latin America.” — Hector Carrillo, American Journal of Sociology

“[Queering the Public Sphere in Mexico and Brazil] both deepens and challenges our understanding of social movements and democratic citizenship. . . . De la Dehesa’s account reminds us that, at one point, feminists saw their activism as destabilizing conventional categories and disrupting social norms. Perhaps this role has now passed to LGBT movements, but in making the compromises needed to gain legal rights and social acceptance, will they too lose their radical edge?” — Jane S. Jaquette, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“[T]he author’s history of homosexuality in Brazil and Mexico is lively…. Top-down changes in policy do not necessarily lead to cultural shifts. But in Latin America, as these authors show, today the grassroots are rising to the challenge.” — Catesby Holmes, NACLA Report on the Americas

“[T]he book succeeds comprehensively as one of the most ambitious, significant sexuality studies monographs on the region in recent years: we are fortunate to have it.”
— Kate Bedford, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“As De la Dehesa elucidates the sociopolitical work of various activists and groups, he synthesizes a thought provoking commentary that will appeal to several disciplines, as well as educated people in the general public. De la Dehesa uses little jargon, and I contend his work will be especially valuable to advanced students and scholars alike. Overall, his thoughtful study is consistent, and it leads readers to further ponder the repercussions of depriving a minority group of several options that the heterosexual majority enjoys. Thus, De la Dehesa’s research offers a timely contribution to the fields of gender studies, human rights studies, Latin American studies, legal studies, and sociology.” — Edward Chamberlain, Human Rights Review

“De la Dehesa’s book is a detailed account of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) activism in both Mexico and Brazil over the last couple of decades. As such, and as Richard Parker points out on the back cover, the research. The volume is clearly a major contribution in several ways, not least of which is its rich archival and detailed ethnographic exploration of these two major national activists processes.” — O. Hugo Benavides, EIAL

“Overall, de la Dehesa invests in queering the public sphere through both elaboration of the destabilizing dynamics of gender and sexuality on citizenship and skepticism toward the very assumptions and aspirations of the public sphere... This discussion is of particular interest to communication and rhetorical theorists who engage the public sphere.” — Daniel C. Brouwer, Quarterly Journal of Speech

“The use of interview excerpts really enlivens the book, particularly as the interviews are often with some of the key figures involved in politics and activism at the time and provides a vivid illustration of what involvement with these social movements at a particular juncture in time might have been like.” — Kyja Noack-Lundberg, Cultural Studies Review

“[A]nother wonderful piece of scholarship based on a decade of field research, including nearly 270 interviews with a wide range of respondents. . . . [A] beautifully written, eloquently argued, and entirely original work. De la Dehesa has written the first English-language monograph focused on the interaction of Latin American LGBT communities with party systems and the state. . . . This book is sure to find a wide audience, as it explores key issues in Latin American and sexuality studies, as well as in sociology and politics.” — Elisabeth Jay Friedman, Signs

“Rafael de la Dehesa does a wonderful job comparing the activism of the LGBT movements in both countries, something that is important mainly because of the lack of this kind of rigorous studies in Latin America. Queering the Public Sphere in Mexico and Brazil, a model of comparative analysis, reveals a significant history of organization and political presence of sexual minorities in Latin America that has remained mostly ignored.”
— R. Hernandez Rodriguez, The Latin Americanist

“Rafael de la Dehesa has written an empirically rich and analytically nuanced book that explores the rise and development of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activist engagements with the state in Brazil and Mexico. . . . de la Dehesa makes a substantial contribution to our knowledge of LGBT movements and of Brazilian and Mexican politics. . . . [H]is comparative analysis deepens our understanding of how globalization, in particular the transnational project of liberal modernity, powerfully affects local activism, but in contingent and nonhomogenizing ways.” — Deborah Gould, Perspectives on Politics

“Rafael de la Dehesa’s work stands out among recent studies of social movement activism around sexual identities and scholarly publications on democratisation in Latin America. It breathes fresh air into the debate on the nature and meaning of the democratisation processes in the region and provides key insights on the role that civil society groups have played in domestic and transnational contexts. . . . Without any doubt this will soon become a seminal piece for anyone interested in interdisciplinary and comparative analyses, North and South.” — Antonio Torres-Ruiz, Journal of Latin American Studies

“The detailed analysis of the different efforts in each country and the careful cross-national comparison makes this work an essential source for any scholar working on Brazil, Mexico, democratization in Latin America, and the emergence of gender and sexual movements demanding equal rights and an end to discrimination.” — James N. Green, The Americas

“De la Dehesa is a true theoretical polyglot; in his work can be found a skillfully-woven tapestry of critical thought, ranging from a rich foundation in political science scholarship to the observations of scholars and public intellectuals including Michel Foucault, Nestor García-Canclini, Carlos Monsiváis, Arjun Appadurai, Judith Butler, George Yúdice, Serge Grunzinski, among others…the work will become a touch point and model for future comparative scholarship that engages sexuality as a meaningful category of analysis for the 'big questions' in the social sciences and humanities.”  — Ryan M. Jones, Luso-Brazilian Review

Queering the Public Sphere in Mexico and Brazil is an exceptional study with the potential to become a major reference in this field of research. It will help to define the analysis of LGBT political mobilization in the global South for some time to come.” — Richard Parker, author of Beneath the Equator: Cultures of Desire, Male Homosexuality, and Emerging Gay Communities in Brazil l

“Rafael de la Dehesa uses the tools and methods of comparative politics to move queer activism from the margins to the center of the debate. He delves deeply into the historical development and current dynamics of queer political interactions with the state in two countries whose institutional and cultural contexts he knows thoroughly. And he makes major contributions to current thinking about neoliberalism, governmentality, the public sphere, and the limits and potential of ‘sexual citizenship.’” — Rosalind Petchesky, co-author of Sexuality, Health, and Human Rights

“Very little has been written on the emergence of gay and lesbian rights as an issue in the public sphere in Latin America, or on the social forces that have led to related legislative gains. Queering the Public Sphere in Mexico and Brazil fills a gap and should be welcomed by specialists in Latin American studies, gay and lesbian studies, social movements, and civil rights.” — Barry D. Adam, co-editor of The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics: National Imprints of a Worldwide Movement


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rafael de la Dehesa is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at the City University of New York, College of Staten Island.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Preface xi

Introduction: Hybrid Modernities, Modern Sexualities 1

Part I. Frames

1. On Sexual Subjects and Public Spheres 27

Part II. Doorways

2. Occupying the Partisan Field: First Door on the Left 61

3. The Limits of Liberalization: Entering the Electoral Field 87

Part III. Pathways

4. Advancing Homosexual Citizenship: Brazil's Early Turn to Legislatures 115

5. Life at the Margins: Coalition Building and Sexual Diversity in the Mexican Legislature 146

6. Brazil without Homophobia, or, A Technocratic Alternative to Political Parties 178

Conclusion: The Hope and Fear of Institutions 204

Acronyms 219

Notes 221

Bibliography 247

Index 287
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Finalist, 2011 Lambda Literary Awards (LGBT Studies)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4724-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4707-1
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