Vargas Llosa: South America’s homophobia killed Zamudio

Funeral of Daniel Zamudio on March 30. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Barrios via Wiki Commons)
Funeral of Daniel Zamudio on March 30. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Barrios via Wiki Commons)


Last month’s murder of Chilean gay activist Daniel Zamudio gave a boost to a bill to prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians in Chile, but Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru says what’s really needed is a massive change in South America’s sexist, homophobic culture.

Vargas Llosa analyzed the deep roots of the problem in a Spanish-language essay titled “La caza del gay,” or “Gay Hunting,” in the newspaper El Pais.  Loose translations of excerpts from the essay are printed below.  The newspaper summarized the point of the essay thus:

“It is easy and hypocritical is to attribute the murder of Daniel Zamudio to four miscreants calling themselves neo-Nazis. They are only the vanguard of our repellent homophobic tradition.”

Only a fraction of such crimes are ever made public, Vargas Llosa wrote. He cited a study by Movimiento Homosexual de Lima, which reported that 249 people in Peru during 2006-2010 were killed for their “sexual orientation and gender identity” — a rate of one per week.

The self-proclaimed neo-Nazis who killed Zamudio are “just the most crude and repellent” face of an “ancient cultural tradition that gays and lesbians are sick or depraved, so they must be kept a distance from normal people so they won’t corrupt healthy society and lure people into sin, moral and physical decay, and perverse and nefarious practices,” Vargas Llosa wrote.

“This idea of homosexuality is taught in schools, is spread within families, preached in pulpits, disseminated in the media, appears in the speeches of politicians, on radio and television and in comic theater, where dykes and queers are always grotesque characters — abnormal, absurd and dangerous, worthy of contempt and rejection by people living decent, ordinary lives.”

Mario Vargas Llosa (Photo courtesy of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile via Wiki Commons)
Mario Vargas Llosa (Photo courtesy of Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile via Wiki Commons)

On this matter, Catholic and Protestant churches agree with with left-wing insurgencies such as the Shining Path and Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru, which executed homosexuals just as the Inquisition did, Vargas Llosa wrote.

“The issue is not political but religious and cultural. From time immemorial, we were taught the strange idea that there is a sexual orthodoxy that only sick perverts and crazy people deviate from, and we have passed that nonsense on to our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, aided by religious dogmas, moral codes and honored customs.”

“We are afraid of sex,” he wrote, and especially have difficulty with all the “options and variations that must be accepted as manifestations of the rich human diversity,” which would allow people to “choose their behavior and vocation without other limitation than the respect and acquiescence of others.”

The struggle against homophobia lags far behind the struggle against racism, he said.

“Much has been done in the fight against racism, no doubt, without eliminating it entirely. Today, at least you know you should not discriminate against blacks, Asians, Jews, cholos and Indians. Declaring oneself a racist is in very bad taste.

“The same doesn’t apply when it comes to gays, lesbians and transsexuals. They may be despised and abused with impunity. They are the most eloquent proof of how far removed the world is from being truly civilized.”

In most of South America, the harassment and discrimination that Vargas Llosa discusses has not led to laws making homosexual activities a crime. According to a report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, Guyana is the only South American country where homosexual behavior is a criminal offense. Gay sex is there is punishable with a life sentence.

Similar laws exist in 76 countries worldwide, including one country in Central America (Belize), one in South America (Guyana) and 10 in the Caribbean (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.)

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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