Unlikely Advocate In Peru, Advances In Chile And Argentina, Signal Shift In Latin America

Thought prompted by a tragic homophobic murder, the passing of Chile’s hate-crime law is being heralded as the beginning of a new era for the Andean nation. But it’s not the only country in South America that’s seeing advances in LGBT rights—in some cases farther than ones in the U.S.

In Peru, talk-show host Jaime Bayly has emerged as an unlikely spokesman for the country’s gay community: Openly bisexual, he’s evolved in the public eye from a teen journalist to the author of brazen gay novels in the 1990s to his current gig as a conservative chat-show ringleader, earning enmity from, among others, supporters of Chilean President Humala and Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. (Bayly once told his network to throw a partywhen Chavez, who’s battling cancer, dies.)

Oh, and he once ran for president.

Known as “el niño terrible” (the terrible boy), Bayley, 47, sports a modified Beiber cut, has fathered at least 10 children, and has paraded around his much younger wife on camera to his ex-boyfriend jealous.

You gotta love this guy.

Having lived in the U.S. for years, Bayley is an iconoclast and libertarian in the vein of Bill Maher—if Maher lusted for other hombres. In an essay on homosexuality,  Bayley once wrote:

“My mother will be annoyed with me for saying this, but I’m sorry,” begins his most famous essay on the subject, “but I defend the gays.” He explains in quite simple terms, perhaps keeping his mother in mind, why he finds that “the love between two people of the same sex is as legitimate and respectable as heterosexual love,” including—possibly most importantly in as staunchly a Catholic country as Peru, “being gay does not offend God.” In the most poignant part of the essay, he concludes, “God is love. If two people love each other and are happy, they honor God and life itself.”

As Mediaite’s Frances Martel points out, the seemingly disparate facets of Bayley personality—bisexual, crude, anti-socialist—aren’t really seen as contradictions by Peruvians:

In many ways, his unique non-Americanness is a reminder of something long forgotten in American politics—that standing up for LGBT rights was always the province of conservatives (or, as they’re known outside of America, liberals), of the right wing. It was communist revolutionaries like Che Guevara who called for eradicating LGBT folk, who labeled anything from rock music to long hair to homosexuality counterrevolutionary.

Its doubtful such a rare political animal would flourish stateside, where even wearing the wrong sweater or belt can cast aspersions on a politician’s proclivities.

Meanwhile, in Argentina—the first South American country to approve of marriage equality—the government approved a measure this week that allows individuals to change their gender, name and image on public records without undergoing medical procedures or getting approval from judges or doctors. What’s more, hormone treatments and gender-reassignment surgery will now be covered under public and private health insurance and minors under 18 can undergo gender change with parental permission.

“It’s saying you can change your gender legally without having to change your body at all. That’s unheard of,” Stanford bioethicist Katrina Karkazis tells the AP. “There’s a whole set of medical criteria that people have to meet to change their gender in the U.S… This gives the individual an extraordinary amount of authority for how they want to live.”

Said Sen. Miguel Picheto, “This is truly a human right: the right to happiness.”