Viterbo, Caldas, a small conservative town in central-western Colombia, has an estimated population of 15,000. As with many rural communities, it has not escaped some of the violence that has plagued the country and the Black Eagles, a right-wing paramilitary group, is still active in surrounding areas.
Viterbo is also home to Stargays, a soccer team made up of gay and transgender players which enjoys official backing from the town's mayor and seems to have been embraced my most Viterbans except by the town's Catholic priest.
In an eye-opening article by Juan Miguel Álvarez published yesterday in La Patria ("Soccer in Viterbo: Stargays vs. Hot Chicas"), the journalist says his own friends are incredulous when he tells them that there is a well-loved gay soccer team in the conservative heart of Caldas.
To date the team only has played a few public matches, but at a recent Monday night match drew approximately 500 people. That was a significant drop in attendance from their debut game seven months ago when a standing room only area had to be opened because the bleachers were so full.
Obviously there is an element of curiosity that has drawn such big crowds but Álvarez says that by the time he arrived in Viterbo on game day the whole town was in a festive mood and people were already making their way to the stadium early in the evening.
"These matches are events that draw people, everyone gets involved, only the parish priest, doesn't approve," says Nelson Sánchez who is in charge of the stadium and has kept the field grass trimmed for the last ten years, "I was asked if I'd rent out the field and I said yes because this is a public space that anyone who lives in town can enjoy."
When pressed on what the priest actually had said, Mr. Sánchez replied "In Sunday mass, the priest said he was not in agreement with the town becoming involved in such a manner with the matches, because when the church promoted activities to raise funds it did not have as much response as the Stargays games."
In other words, the priest is not necessarily opposed to a gay soccer team, he is just bothered that people seem to be willing to spend more to attend the games than what the church receives in donations.
The match itself was late to start. The opposing team, also a gay team from a neighboring community called Hot Chicas, was a few players short and spent some time recruiting team members on the spot. To keep the crowds entertained during the delay, three team members simply picked up pom poms and danced to music by Thalia, Gloria Trevi and, yes, Beyonce.
Two young men waiting for the game to begin tell the reporter that the last time Gaystars played, they beat a team of fat men. "Those maricas play a lot," says Julian, "Can you imagine a match with midgets? The bomb!"
The game, a mixture of soccer, glamour, beauty pageant drama and camera hogging (some players stop their game and pose if they notice someone is taking their picture), nevertheless impressed the reporter who made note of Stargays' dominance on the field. The team would go on to win 6-3 and extend its winning streak to five games.
Total ticket sales for the event were estimated at approximately $490 dollars which will be donated to a charity helping victims of a recent river flood that left some of Viterbo's citizens homeless.