Social Movements and Political Parties: Gays, Lesbians, and Travestis and the Struggle for Inclusion in Brazil

By Marsiaj, Juan P. | Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies, July 2006 | Go to article overview

Social Movements and Political Parties: Gays, Lesbians, and Travestis and the Struggle for Inclusion in Brazil


Marsiaj, Juan P., Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies


Abstract. The struggle for recognition and inclusion of gays, lesbians, and travestis (GLTs) into Brazilian society and politics emerged during the democratization process set in motion in the late 1970s. Part of this struggle has involved attempts at gaining access to and influence over political parties in order to push forward a pro-GLT agenda. This article examines and seeks to explain how political parties matter for the struggle of GLTs in Brazil, as well as the main patterns of support for and opposition to GLT rights across the left-right spectrum of political parties in Brazil. This article argues that while it is neither the sole nor main vehicle for progressive change, parties matter in generating policy and legislative change in favour of sexual minorities. While greater support can be found in leftist parties mainly for institutional and historical reasons, this support is not unanimous within the left. Religion and individual attitudes also help explain these patterns. Moreover, the same factors, coupled with electoral incentives, also shed light on the general opposition and occasional support from right-wing parties.

Resume. La lutte pour la reconnaissance et l'inclusion des gays, lesbiennes et transsexuels (GLT) dans la societe et la politique bresiliennes est apparue durant le processus de democratisation declenche a la fin des annees 1970. Une partie de cette lutte a eu pour but d'acceder aux partis politiques et a les influencer, cela pour favoriser les revendications pro-GLT. Cet article examine et cherche a expliquer l'importance des partis politiques dans la lutte des GLT au Bresil, ainsi que les principaux patrons d'appui et d'opposition aux droits des GLT au sein de la gauche. On affirme que, meme si les partis ne sont pas les seuls ni les plus importants vecteurs de changement social, ils jouent un role dans la production de changements politiques et legislatifs favorables aux minorites sexuelles. Alors que l'appui est plus significatif dans les partis de gauche, surtout pour des raisons institutionnelles et historiques, cet appui n'est pas unanime. La religion et les attitudes individuelles expliquent aussi ces patrons. D'ailleurs, les memes facteurs, associes a des incitatifs electoraux, permettent de mieux comprendre l'opposition generale et l'appui occasionnel des partis de droite.

The question of how social movements affect political institutions and, more broadly, promote social and political change has received significant scholarly attention in the recent past. The relationship between social movements, political parties, and the state is a complex one, working in multiple directions and across different dimensions simultaneously. As outlined in political opportunity and political process models, while social movements can have an impact on other mainstream political institutions through protest action or more direct engagement with these institutions, change in the configuration of the institutional framework may also generate new opportunities for those social movements (and perhaps their opponents) (Tarrow 1993, 1996, 1998; Kitschelt 1986; Tilly 1978; Engel 2001).

After the transitions away from authoritarian rule in Latin America in the 1980s, a number of scholars began to examine the emergence and development of social movements during the period of regime transition (Eckstein 2001b; Escobar and Alvarez 1992; Sader 1988). A large part of this literature, however, focused on the social movements themselves, on their internal development, on the construction of new identities, and on their autonomy vis-a-vis the state and political parties. It is only later, in the mid-1990s, as democratization processes developed further, that studies started to give more attention to the relationship between social movements and the formal political and state institutions, in addition to questions related to culture and identity (Alvarez, Dagnino, and Escobar 1998; Roberts 1997; Oxhorn 2001). …

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