One would like to say that gays, lesbians and others in the LGBT community are well accepted in Panama. However, that would be a stretch... After all, until July 2008, sodomy was a crime punishable with up to one year of imprisonment. Like all of Latin America, Panama is a deeply religious country and, traditionally, homosexuality and religion have made poor bedfellows. Back in 2004, a bill legalizing civil unions was derailed thanks to vigorous opposition from the Catholic Church. Another bill (Proyecto de Ley 650, September 2013) is currently under way with the purpose of defining sexual discrimination as a crime. The Panama's National Scouts' Association excludes gay people from its ranks. (They have however expressed their willingness in helping current members to amend their sexual orientation). There is an active LGBT association in Panama called "Asociación Hombres y Mujeres Nuevos de Panamá" which sponsors annual Gay Pride Parades in the capital, usually at the end of June. Interestingly, several well-known politicians have started making appearances in those parades. (Coincidentally, by some estimates, up to 250,000 voters would be LGBT sympathizers). In a Gallup poll (2012) over one million Panamanians declared having gay friends.
It's obvious that the LGBT community in Panama has a long way to go before reaching full acceptance, but the level of discrimination is probably not worse than it is in many parts of the United States. Hate crimes are unheard of, for example... It's a fact that gays are heavily involved in Carnaval preparations - although that may sound a bit stereotypical - but it's noticeable that during Carnaval celebrations (a pivotal social event) straight and gay crowds mingle quite harmoniously. As in most places in Latin America, Panama is a long way towards civil rights equality and tolerance does not equate acceptance, but there are encouraging signs: the first Latin American and Caribbean Inter-Governmental Conference on Population and Development took place in Montevideo, Uruguay, on August 15, 2013, under the auspices of the United Nations. Panama joined 37 governments of the region and signed the groundbreaking MONTEVIDEO CONSENSUS to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights. Those governments agreed to design policies and programs aiming to eradicate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, asserting that violence against LGBT persons is a critical indicator of marginalization, placing them in a vulnerable position and preventing them from enjoying equal rights. Some will argue that those are theoretical steps, yet to be implemented, but the public opinion is undergoing a radical shift. First of all, the younger generations are infinitely more open-minded than their elders and from a more pragmatic perspective, the government is sure to grasp the increasing appeal and purchasing power of the gay tourism.