Neoliberal Politics of LGBTQ Rights and Tourism in Cartagena de Indias

Michael Stephens (Binghamton U)


How can we explain the intensification of violent homophobia in a context of apparent increased legal tolerance for the LGBTQ community? Scholars and pundits writing on violence against members of the LGBTQ community have thus far focused on contexts where states have re-entrenched and reinforced laws and penalties against LGBTQ people, as has occurred in Jamaica and Barbados. Colombia is different. In 2016, the very year that Colombia legalized same-sex marriage, hate crimes against the LGBTQ community spiked. My research seeks to unravel this paradox by zeroing in on the region where hate crimes have been particularly high: along the country’s lush Caribbean coast. There, I explore the contradictory and perhaps unintended effects of legalizing same-sex marriage on workers in the region’s dominant and booming industry: tourism. Legalization helped legitimate the country as a progressive and “safe” place for foreign investment and tourists, even as it intensified the marginalization and exploitation of LGBTQ members who work in the industry. I explore how this recent reorganization of labor in the tourist sector may have contributed to the worsening violence against LGBTQ people in Cartagena, Colombia: the regional hub of domestic tourism as well as the site of a noted rise in violence against LGBTQ persons.

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About the Speaker

Michael Stephens is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Binghamton University, New York. His general research interests include historical sociology, gender and sexuality studies, political economy, development and the state, and the Caribbean and Atlantic world. With support from the US Fulbright Program and the Institution for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, I am currently working on my dissertation project, which examines issues of labor, precarity, and space among LGBT tourist workers in the tourist city of Cartagena, Colombia.