Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Argentina: Authorities shut down gathering space for bears

Speaking of bears...

A few weeks ago I got news that the meeting place for the Buenos Aires Bear Club (Osos de Buenos Aires) had been abruptly shut down on January 23rd by police right in the middle of what had been a birthday celebration for a club member.

Jump back to October of 2005: When journalist Rex Wockner told me he was heading down to Buenos Aires I told him to contact da' bears and maybe pay them a visit. He did.

Let's say he was impressed. So when I got the news that the Oso clubhouse had been closed, I alerted Rex.

Rex, in turn, wrote up a summary of the events leading up to the police crackdown and the contradictory reasons given by authorities for his weekly international LGBT news column. You can check it at this Windy City Times link (2nd story down, it features a photo of Rex at the Oso clubhouse).

Not much to ad myself. Only that in the club's website - under "Events" - they still say that the clubhouse remains shut down (they still meet on Sundays at the Contramano bar).

For those of you who understand Spanish, there was a great Feb. 2nd OpEd piece by Graciela Mochkofsky in Perfil calling into question just how gay-friendly Buenos Aires is in light of the apparent attempt of intimidation by the authorities and the fact that the clubhouse remains closed.

In the OpEd Mochkofsky says that the club had already been shut down once by authorities in February of 2006 following allegations of noise violations but the club, which is a non-profit organization, had successfully applied for the appropriate permits and had been able to reopen.

This time María Rachid, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans (FALGBT), tells Mochkofsky that two inspectors visited the clubhouse on February 21st to make sure it was closed. When the club explained that they had gotten the proper permits, the inspectors stepped inside anyway and later said that everything seemed in order except for one thing: They warned that there were no condom dispensers in the bathrooms for people to purchase using coins.

The bears, Rachid said, were more than surprised: "At several places throughout the site baskets are always kept full of free condoms provided by the national government to the Bears as active participants in campaigns against AIDS."

No matter. The inspector insisted that condoms should be available for sale and not given away for free (in her column, Mochkofsky notes that - as absurd as the demand might seem - she remembered that a while back authorities had also threatened to shut down a lesbian bar under similar allegations that no condoms were being offered for sale to the bar's clients).

The authorities came back on the 23rd and shut down the club.

This seems to be the type of police harassment that was so prevalent in Latin America during the past few decades but coming from as "gay friendly" a city as Buenos Aires it still shocks. Let's hope that the bears regain access to their lair sooner than later.

By the way, a few years back a television show from Chile featured the Osos de Buenos Aires. Here is a look at the segment:

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