Sunday, April 12, 2009

A gatherng of Latin American LGBT advocates in Los Angeles

A bunch of Colombians and a Brazilian (L to R: Germán Humberto Rincón Perfetti, Lucas Paoli Itabothany, Andrés Duque, Mauricio Albarracín, José Fernando Serrano Amaya and - in front - Alejandra Azurero and Marcela Sánchez)

It's been a month since I attended the "Global Arc of Justice: Sexual Orientation Law Around the World" conference at UCLA's School of Law, and I am still thrilled at having been there. The conference, organized on an annual basis by The Williams Institute and the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association brings together the leading international legal advocates working on LGBT rights.

And, certainly, there was a virtual who's who among the top legal LGBT advocates in the United States, which included Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson; former International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission ED Paula Ettelbrick; Scott Long, Director of the LGBT Division at Human Rights Watch; Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Julie Dorf, Director of the Council for Global Equality; and Nan Hunter, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, among others.

But what was truly unique about the conference was that, for the first time ever, the focus was on Latin America. This meant that there was just as stellar a gathering of LGBT rights advocates from the region as those from the US, including a few friends who I had not seen in years, and people I had heard about but never met before.

Among the people I got to meet was Judge Karen Atala from Chile (left). In 2004, in a case that made international news, Judge Atala lost custody of three daughters from a previous marriage when Chile's Supreme Court ruled that her current relationship with a woman was not in the children's interest. The case is currently on appeal before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and several US LGBT and human rights organizations have filed an amicus brief in her support.

Then there was Tamara Adrian Hérnandez (pictured right, next to José Ramón Merentes Corréa of Venezuela's Unión Afirmativa who I also greatly admire). Ms. Adrian is a firebrand attorney and law professor from Venezuela whose work has shaped the inclusion of LGBT rights language in the Ecuadorian and Bolivian constitutions, even as her own government has resisted them.

Also present: Olga Orraca-Paredes, one of the leading LGBT rights activists from Puerto Rico, founder of the Lesbian Creative Workshop and one of the organizers of the annual LGBT pride parades in San Juan, who I hadn't seen in almost a decade. It was surreal to be able to share a couple of breakfasts with Olga and to share thoughts on Latino LGBT organizing after all these years.

Here, Olga is standing next to another of my heroes, Susel Paredes Piqué (right), an attorney who founded Perú's LGBT Legal Association.

Recently, I wrote about a transgender sex worker in Tarapoto, Perú, being beaten up and humiliated on national television. Well, Susel and her organization are among those providing support to the victim, and I was glad to have an opportunity to talk to her about the case and to find out that the woman was receiving good legal advice and supportive services.

Which brings us to transgender Argentinian expatriate Mónica León (who currently lives in France), and Peruvian transgender activist Belissa Andía Perez (pictured below).

Both are subjects of documentaries exposing the harshness of living life as transgender advocates in their respective countries. And it was particularly moving to watch each film after having hung out with them for a couple of days and getting to know them.

In "En El Fuego" Ms. Perez (right), Transgender Secretariat to the ILGA Executive Board and founder of the trans-right organization Claveles Rojos in Peru, speaks about the long path to being accepted by her family and her own struggle to figure out what it means to be a transgender person in Peru (Claveles Rojos is the lead agency providing support to the Tarapoto victim).

In the amazing "Hotel Gondolín", Ms. León (above, left) is shown taking control over an abandoned apartment building inhabited by transgender sex workers. She institutes a series of unorthodox 'house rules' meant to decrease drug-addiction and improve their living environment (i.e. demanding huge 'rent' penalties for those caught taking drugs), and also organizes them to lobby the Buenos Aires City Council for a law that will decrease police persecution of sex-workers by deregulating certain areas of the city. Wherever you stand on the issue of decriminalizing prostitution, it is amazing to see this woman's efforts to improve the life of such a marginalized community.

I also met the other Andrés at the conference, Andrés Ignacio Rivera Duarte from Chile, and we got along famously (that's the two Andreses on the left).

I believe he is still spreading rumors in Chile about my non-religious upbringing and the Chinese Revolution coloring books that I used to paint as a kid.

Last year, along with South African Bishop Desmond Tutu and the Iranian Queer Organization, Andrés was one of the recipients last year of the prestigious Felipa de Souza award given by IGLHRC for global LGBT advocacy.

He was recognized as the founder of Organización de Transexuales por la Dignidad - the first non-governmental transgender rights organization in his country - and for his groundbreaking work on trans rights issues in one of the most socially conservative countries in South America.

But wait! There is more!

Colombia Diversa was in the house! Which meant that I had the opportunity to see my good friends Marcela Sánchez, Germán Humberto Rincón Perfetti, Mauricio Albarracín and attorney Alejandra Azurero (see top pic). They, of course, were part of the team who build the strategy that resulted in the series of rulings by the Colombian Constitutional Court granting most of the rights enjoyed by heterosexual married partners to same-sex couples.

The four, along with José Fernando Serrano, did a presentation on the advances in Colombia which was attended perhaps by fifteen, maybe twenty people, tops. And yet, as I looked at these young advocates I couldn't help but to feel awe.

In every single respect they - and the folk I have described above - are the Evan Wolfsons, Shannon Minters and Paula Ettelbricks of Latin America. On some areas, they have been able to bring more advances in LGBT rights in their home countries than some of the best advocates in the United States (not so much in other areas). So forgive Germán for standing up at a closing-day Prop. 8 panel - rather dramatically - to take his turn in criticising the failed California "No on Prop. 8" strategy from a Colombian point of view (with the helpful assistance of a woofy translator).

As for woofyness, Argentinian Supreme Court Justice Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni? OMG! (Down boys, he was at the conference as an ally).

And I have certainly only mentioned just a sampling of the conference and not given nearly a complete overview of how great it was! I must thank, though, David B. Cruz from USC and Brad Sears from The Williams Institute (as well as Saúl Sarabia from UCLA Law School) for putting together this amazing and historic gathering.

The Williams Institute actually has pdf files which summarize the daily happenings during the conference here, here and here. They also have posted photos here.

My personal photo album can be found here.

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