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Panama: Treatment of homosexuals, by the police in particular; state protection provided to homosexuals (2002-2005)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa
Publication Date 19 April 2005
Citation / Document Symbol PAN43497.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Panama: Treatment of homosexuals, by the police in particular; state protection provided to homosexuals (2002-2005), 19 April 2005, PAN43497.FE, available at: [accessed 29 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

General Situation

Gay Times indicated that homosexuality is legal in Panama (24 Sept. 2002). According to the Association of New Men and Women of Panama (Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá, AHMNP), 300,000 Panamanians are homosexual, and the majority of them are not open about it (EFE Central America 6 Sept. 2004).

Gay Times grants three stars out of five to Panama; this indicates that homosexuality is legal [there] but there is no [...] legal protection of gays. [...] generally gays are tolerated by society and by the State [....] There is likely to be little or no harassment by the authorities. A small gay scene is likely to exist with at least a few bars, clubs and gay organisations in major population centres (6 Jan. 2002).

Sources report that the Catholic church in Panama declared its opposition to non-governmental organizations' efforts to have same-sex civil unions recognized in Panama (EFE Central America 6 Sept. 2004; see also AP 14 June 2004).

According to the Latinobarómetro study, made public in August 2004, Panamanians are second only to Salvadoreans among Latin Americans in their hostility toward homosexuals (ANSA 15 August 2004).

However, the on-line daily Crítica reported that a young homosexual man dressed up as a queen, who had already participated in several carnivals, was surprised by the crowd's positive reception during a parade in the capital (20 Feb. 2004). Another young homosexual man, who was Panama City's 2002 Carnival Queen, said that the carnival was the only occasion when homosexuals could be open about their sexuality in Panama (Reuters 21 Feb. 2002). In general, however, transvestites face marked discrimination in society (ibid.).

Although society still does not accept homosexual politicians and business people, homosexuality is becoming more acceptable in the television industry: a television host was open about his homosexuality, and television soap operas have introduced gay characters (ibid.).

NGOs' Visibility and Work

Gay Times indicated that AHMNP received legal recognition after a three-year battle (24 Sept. 2002).

A meeting took place in Madrid on 21 March 2005 between a group of NGOs that support homosexuals in Argentina, Colombia, Honduras and Panama, and the secretariat of Spain's AIDS plan (EFE Mundo 21 Mar. 2005). The NGOs indicated that about 11 per cent of homosexuals in Panama have AIDS, and that there is a lack of resources for helping the homosexual population (ibid.; see also Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005). According to Country Reports 2004, the AHMNP had difficulty obtaining authorization to offer AIDS information sessions to prisoners (28 Feb. 2005).

Gay Times reports that in recent years a gay scene has developed in Panama, where seven gay bars or clubs can be found (24 Sept. 2002). Guí has a list of 12 businesses, including three movie theatres, offering services to Panama's gay population (n.d.). lists nine gay bars (n.d.).


The AHMNP presented a petition to the Panamanian legislative assembly requesting that a law be enacted to recognize the civil rights of same-sex couples (EFE Central America 6 Sept. 2004). In June 2004, an Associated Press article reported the beginning of a campaign to collect signatures in favour of recognizing same-sex unions (14 June 2004). In addition, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) launched an international campaign to support this initiative (IGLHRC 16 Sept. 2004).

Gay Times reported that homosexuals still face discriminatory laws; according to a 1949 decree, gay public sex is punishable by a $500 fine or one year in prison, while no equivalent exists for heterosexuals (Gay Times 24 Sept. 2002). Gay Times also indicated that homosexuals are banned from both the police and the armed forces (ibid.). In addition, there is no legislative protection against discrimination, and a provision in the constitution that forbids the creation of "'companies, associations or foundations' that are contrary to the moral or legal order" has been used to refuse registration of gay organizations (ibid.).

Police Treatment and State Protection

No information concerning police treatment of homosexuals or state protection in Panama could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


ANSA. 15 August 2004. "AMLAT-Encuesta: Homosexualidad y Aborto, con Menos Rechazo." (Dialog)

Associated Press (AP). 14 June 2004. "Homosexuales Panamenos Buscan Legalizar sus Matrimonios." (Dialog)

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004. 28 February 2005. "Panama." United States Department of State, Washington, D.C. [Accessed 8 Apr. 2005]

Crítica [Panama]. 14 March 2005. "Educación: ¿Que Determina la Orientación Sexual? Y Tú... ¿Qué Sabes?" [Accessed 13 Apr. 2005]
_____. 20 February 2004. Ariosto Velásquez. "Ariam Seguirá Siendo la Reina en los Próximos Carnavales Gay Capitalinos." [Accessed 13 Apr. 2005]

EFE Central America. 6 September 2004. "Iglesia Catolica Rechaza Intentos Legalizar Union Homosexuales." (Dialog)

EFE Mundo. 21 March 2005. "ONG de Apoyo Homosexuales Piden Recursos y Respaldo a su Trabajo." (Dialog)

Gay Times. 24 September 2002. "Lesbian and Gay Panama." [Accessed 12 Apr. 2005]
_____. 6 January 2002. "Guide to the Pink Star System." [Accessed 13 Apr. 2005] n.d. "Todos los Anuncios." [Accessed 12 Apr. 2005]

Guí n.d. "Panama en Toda la Guía." [Accessed 12 Apr. 2005]

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). 16 September 2004. "Support Civil Unions Proposal Now Under Attack By The Catholic Church." [Accessed 8 Apr. 2005]

Reuters. 21 February 2002. Robin Emmott. "Panama's Gays Fight Homophobia for Real Acceptance." ( [Accessed 11 Apr. 2005]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), El Panamá-América [Panama],, Government of Panama, International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), Ministry of Government and Justice of Panama, La Prensa [Panama], Rex Wockner, El Siglo [Panama], Weekly News Update on the Americas, World News Connection.

Oral sources: Unsuccessful attempts were made to contact the non-governmental organization Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá (AHMNP), whose Internet site no longer works.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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