Presidential candidate and former Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus
As someone who was born in Medellin, Colombia, I am constantly amazed by how far the LGBT movement in my country of birth has come and by how LGBT rights have taken center stage on a national level. The leading national newspaper, El Tiempo, is the only Latin American newspaper who has unequivocally editorialized in favor of marriage for same-sex couples ("El Derecho a Ser 'Gay'", November 21, 2001) and, under the leadership of former Senator Piedad Cordoba, a same-sex civil union bill even got to the Colombian Senate floor last year (though promptly dismissed on a technicality).
So it should not come as a surprise that in a joint interview published on Saturday, El Tiempo asked two of the leading presidential candidates - Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa - "What would you offer to the so-called sexual minorities?" Both men, who happen to also be well-regarded former Mayors of Bogota, say that they support gays.
Mr. Peñalosa is direct in his response: "In this issue, as on others, I am truly liberal."
It is Mr. Mockus who responds by making a stunning confession: "More than to offer something, I express my complete tolerance towards adult homosexuality. As a kid, I was harassed by a 15-year old gay man and by another who was forty [years of age]. Abusive homosexuality should be rejected with all our spirit. Sexuality is the most delicate of human languages, for homosexuals or heterosexuals."
The person who forwarded the article to me was offended that Mr. Mockus would make comparissons between homosexuality and pedophilia but I actually think there are nuances here that do not make this a blanket accusation that all gays are pedophiles - as religious fundamentalists argue from time to time.
A extremely candid man with streaks of brilliance in dealing with urban development, this is not the first time that he has done or said something that might shock people (this is the man, after all, who - as Director of the National University of Bogota - dropped his pants in a public auditorium and showed his butt to a a crowd of 2,000 students as an expression of his frustration in dealing with them. The result? He was promptly fired when a student sent a video tape to all the major television news networks and then became a political neophyte who was elected to the Mayoral office).
The last couple of times that I have gone to Colombia I have been shocked by the number of young kids - male and female - that you see in certain areas of Bogota and Medellin at night prostituting themselves. In Colombia, the age of consent is 14, and - overall - awareness about sexual or physical abuse of minors or enforcement of laws protecting children are lax. Physical abuse of children is also common. Sometimes the results are tragic as when Luis Alfredo Garavito - a heterosexual man - was arrested in 1999 and confessed to having killed and dismembered over 140 (mostly) street children between the ages of eight and sixteen over a period of five years.
With so many homeless children in the street and some of the violent culture that has led to the rise of teen sicarios, sometimes society becomes so jaded that only when these extremely horrid crimes rise to the awareness of the general population do they elicit a reponse. Considering the high rates of sexual and physical abuse endured by children in Colombia, the general silence about it is astounding (and protects people like Luis Alfredo Garavito who left some clues behind as he sought kids to kill throughout 5 different states).
Which is why I am grateful to Mr. Mockus for speaking up about the issue in such a personal way. It's just that someone should talk to Mr. Mockus and help him to better define the differences between one thing an the other. If Mr. Mockus is willing to listen and have an open heart, it could turn into a tremendous opportunity of having such a visible figure raise awareness about the abuse of children in Colombia. Though many gay men cringe at the word 'tolerance' which Mr. Mockus used in his response, that last line in his statement speaks of respecting everyone's sexuality, whether gay or heterosexual - which makes me think that he would willingly listen to why he should not make such connections.