Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mexico: Puebla Archbishop bans HIV positive men from priesthood

[UPDATE: Archdiocese drops plan to test seminarians for HIV, reiterates HIV ban, Feb. 5, 2009]

In a press conference held a week ago, Puebla Archbishop Rosendo Huesca Pacheco (right) announced that all those who wish to become priests by joining the city's seminaries will be tested for HIV and rejected if the test comes back positive, a practice that was now in effect.

"They undergo tests including HIV, so that someone who is sick can't get in through the cracks," he said, "We pay attention to this, we are not asleep, but sometimes things get past us, but if you are sick we do not accept you" (Proceso, Jan. 26, 2009).

He reiterated that gay men were banned and said that those who wished to become priests would have to undergo a series of "psychological" tests as well to make sure they were fit for priesthood.

Archbishop Huesca was responding to an initiative by Violeta Lagunes Viveros, a legislative representative from the region, who said she would introduce a bill to modify the Civil Code of Puebla to define pederasty as a crime - and include aggravated charges for church ministers or educators who are found to have abused children.
"The crime of pederasty does not exist in the legislature, as such, since there is a designation for crimes of corruption of minors, human trafficking, child pornography, rape and kidnapping", Lagunes said while asking for the Archbishop's support of the bill (Milenio, Jan. 20, 2009).
But wait! What does child abuse have to do with HIV positive men who seek priesthood? Or gay men for that matter? Ah, never mind, this is the leadership of the Mexican Catholic church we are talking about. They think all of it falls into the same basket.

Which brings us back to the Archbishop's actual response to the petition that he back a bill that would punish pedophiles:
“I do not have that data [on numbers of members of the priesthood that have abused children], it seems to me that it's a topic on which I have no knowledge nor do I master it, this being criminal law, I have no idea how penalties are determined, in terms of canonical law, pederasty is indeed punished, the first step of punishment is suspension, where [a priest] cannot lead mass or anything, but continues to be a priest, and the next is to completely remove him from the priesthood" (Periodico Digital, Jan. 25, 2009).
In other words: No, he will not support a bill that condemns pederasts.

The archbishop's statements have caught the attention of civil rights leaders in Mexico. Brahim Zamora Salazar, director of the non-profit organization Democracy and Sexuality, says that the church in Puebla is violating federal laws that prevent discrimination against HIV positive individuals.

“It is irresponsible for the priests to conduct a discriminatory act defined by the 'Federal Law to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination' and by the 'Mexican Official Norm 010-SSA2-1993 for the Prevention and Control of Infections by HIV'," he said, "Worst of all is that, then, with what moral quality will they ask that there be no corruption, impunity, if they are the first to disrespect the law?" (NotieSe, Jan. 29, 2009).

Zamora said that a group of leaders from non-governmental organizations be traveling to Puebla to personally hand a copy of the law to Archbishop Huesca since "it is obvious he doesn't have knowledge of it".

He also said that, with access to appropriate treatments, someone who was HIV positive can be as healthy as others and engage in any activity or lead his or her life as anyone else does and questioned defining anyone who is HIV positive as being sick or ill.


Friday, January 30, 2009

Peru: News cameras capture inhuman beating, undressing and humiliation of transgender street worker

In my previous work with individuals seeking political asylum in the United States based on their sexual orientation (and their fear of persecution should they be sent back home), I often would read articles and reports of violent beatings and abuse, particularly of transgender individuals, at the hands of authorities or entire communities.

Not that it's necessarily the first time that it's caught on video but when I was made aware of this news report from Perú's America Noticias I was shocked (see YouTube clip above).

Apparently, the news report was broadcast on Wednesday, January 28th, so this might have happened earlier in the week. It shows men belonging to two neighborhood watch groups in Tarapoto, Peru, capturing a transgender sex worker and a client for allegedly engaging in sexual acts out in the open. The report says that both were stripped, their hair shorn off, beaten and humiliated, although the report only seems to capture what happened to the transgender woman.

Most chillingly is one of the members of the group, Jutson Alvarado, brings up the recent stabbing of another transgender person in the streets of Tarapoto and seems in approval of that attack. "We definitely have agreed to eradicate this", he says on camera.

He might have referring to the recent stabbing of a transgender woman in the La Banda de Shilcayo neighborhood: A January 22nd article in Trome says that a hair stylist named Dayana Nicole, who once was crowned "Miss Gay Tarapoto", was near death after being stabbed 20 times. Police said that they were investigating whether Nicole might have been stabbed by a client who had sought her services as a prostitute or by a jealous lover in a "crime of passion".

Update: Several LGBT and human rights organizations in Peru have released a statement which reads as follows...
With profound indignation we have seen the images shown on the news broadcast of America TV showing the brutal and cowardly assault against Techi, the victim whose legal name is JP; a transvestite person who does sex work in the city of Tarapoto.

The assailants, members of the Puerto Azul and Señor de los Milagros neighborhood watch associations, considered that the beating and abuse to which they subjected JP was "deserved" and felt that their actions were "just", citing the need "to eradicate prostitution". Let's remind ourselves that, under Peruvian law, prostitution is not a crime.

It is worrisome that this group of persons pretend to grant themselves the right to judge and punish, a responsibility that only pertains to the State and that should only be exercised according to law, taking into account the difference between mistakes and crimes, as well as the proportion of the punishment.

However, the reality that is shown by the crude images is an absolute lack of respect for the dignity of a person whose only real "crime" is to live according to the gender identity felt as her own and that, if she performs sex work, it might be due to the fact that the marginalization and exclusion suffered by being different does not leave another option. In any case, given that prostitution is not a crime, those who exercise it are not criminals and should not be treated as such.

Although the neighborhood watches played an effective work during the fight against terrorism, we have abundant information that, in present circumstances, they can become an instrument which seeks to impose a certain narrow vision of the world, perpetuating prejudice and irrational hatred .

A person cannot be violated without impunity simply for being different, just because they do not comply with the idea of what a person or persons think is "good" or "bad".

The organizations and activists who defend the rights and dignity of transvestites, gays, lesbians and bisexuals demand:
  • That those who violated Techi will be punished
  • That the organizations that make up the State, municipalities, regional governments and central government, serve their duty - in a professional manner and according to law - to guarantee public order
  • That the organizations that form the State, municipalities, regional governments and central government undertake campaigns against homophobia and in favor of those who are different
Lima, Peru, January 30, 2009

Signed by: Movimiento Homosexual de Lima (MHOL) - PROMSEX Centro de Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos - LTGB Legal - Asociación Civil Ángel Azul de Travestis, Transgéneros y Transexuales - Colectivo Uniones Perú - Grupo de Mujeres Diversas - Asociación Civil Amistad y Respeto - Comunidad Homosexual Esperanza Región Loreto (CHERL) - Grupo Puentes/Casa Abierta - Asociación Civil de Trabajadoras Sexuales Miluska Vida y Dignidad - Grupo Voluntades - Asociación Civil Diversidad San Martinense - Mesa de Concertación de San Martin

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Colombia Diversa on yesterday's landmark ruling granting equal rights to same-sex couples

I am still wrapping my brain around yesterday's ruling by the Constitutional Court in Colombia.

Reading the first news brief that appeared online in El Tiempo, it promised less than the article's title implied: "Full recognition from Constitutional Court to same-sex partners."

Yes, the Court had ruled that a series of rights afforded to long term heterosexual partners should be also granted to long term same-sex partners BUT it
seemed to stop short of granting civil union or common-law union status (unlike a blurb at The Advocate online implies today).

In fact, I consciously decided not to translate the article's title in my post yesterday because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't misreading the information before calling it a "full recognition" of same-sex partnerships.

Well, after translating the statement below and discussing the ruling with Colombia Diversa's director Marcela Sánchez, I have come to realize that this is much bigger than I originally thought particularly outside a framework that puts same-sex marriage as a measure of full equality.

In fact, Marcela is quoted today by El Tiempo stating that the ruling gives same-sex couples in Colombia "equality".

"We are not putting ourselves above others, instead we were putting [ourselves] as equals," she says, "They are not additional rights but the same (as those of heterosexuals)."

In a brief e-mail exchange I asked if it was truly "equality" and she said "Yes, it is equality; We have all the rights of a common-law union, minus adoption."

She also told me that the organizations that brought the lawsuit before the court made a conscious decision to specifically ask for the rights and not for civil or common-law unions which is the reason why the court did not pronounce itself on those matters.

So, here is a concept: Colombian same-sex partners, following a series of High Court rulings including the one announced yesterday, probably enjoy more rights than same-sex couples in any other Latin American nation with the exception - perhaps - of Uruguay which approved civil unions in December of 2007 - and yet they have achieved this without having yet been granted civil marriage or common-law marriage status?

Just amazing and it speaks to the hard work of hundreds of LGBT advocates throughout Colombian history including my friends Germán Humberto Rincón Perfetti and Manuel Antonio Velandia Mora who did so much in the a980's and 1990's to bring equal rights issues to the forefront in Colombia.

Through their efforts, as well as hat of many others, different same-sex partnership bills have come close to being adopted by the county's legislature (the last one was rejected by the Senate in October of 2008). With yesterday's ruling, passage of such a bill seems predestined.

Colombia Diversa, the leading LGBT rights organization in Colombia and one of the organizations that asked the Constitutional Court to determine whether same-sex partners should enjoy all the rights of heterosexual partners, released the following statement on yesterday's landmark ruling (I have translated it from the Spanish language original):


Historic ruling by the Constitutional Court in Colombia recognizes equality between heterosexual common law partners and those of the same sex.

Today, January 27, 2009, the Constitutional Court brought the country one step forward - a fundamental one - in matters of human rights. The High Tribunal acknowledged that a number of civil, political, social, economic, criminal and immigration rights, among others - previously reserved for heterosexual couples, also apply to same-sex couples.

In this way, Colombia has made progress in fulfilling its international commitment to incorporate Equality into its domestic legal norms, on behalf of a population that has historically been vulnerable due to their sexual orientation. Eighteen years after the enactment of the 1991 Constitution, [promoting] equality between all people, this principle has effectively been by lifting a series of limitations in Colombia that weighed down on rights, depending to the sexual orientation of individuals.

It was confirmed that equal rights cannot allow qualifications, nor exceptions nor mitigating circumstances that depend on sexual orientation.


The path that led to the Court's recent ruling began with a lawsuit. On April 28, 2008, Colombia Diversa, The Law, Justice and Society Study Center (Dejusticia), and The Public Interest Rights Group of the University of Los Andes, filed a lawsuit seeking equal rights between permanent partners, heterosexual and homosexual, and thus eliminate all forms of discrimination.

The lawsuit was actively supported by a diverse group of 32 human rights organizations, most of which do not represent an exclusive advocacy for LGBT rights. Such was the case with Human Rights Watch, the Colombian Commission of Jurists and Sisma Woman among many others (see list). Their primary interest was to bring domestic legislation in Colombia closer to a genuine concept of Equality.

Rights and responsibilities recognized

Specifically, it was a claim of inconstitutionality en masse against a series of laws that guarantee these rights and responsibilities to unmarried heterosexual couples, so that same-sex couples could be included as beneficiaries.

The plaintiffs asked the Court to extend the protections inherent in all rights afforded to heterosexual partners in a common-law union, to same sex-couples. At the same time, there was a request for the same order of duties and responsibilities for both types of couples.

In short, the rights and responsibilities that were demanded and recognized by the Court are related to:
  • Civil rights norms which establish limitations to the access and exercise of civil service and the establishment of contracts with the State.
  • Civil and political rights, such as housing protections, so that the so-called 'family patrimony' cannot be seized and [establishes] joint family housing rights [la afectación de vivienda familiar].
  • Access to a Colombian nationality, and residence in the department of San Andres and Providencia.
  • The right to benefits, allowances and compensation measures of a social nature in favor of same-sex couples.
  • This is the case with the special social security norms that apply to public law enforcement, family allowance, family allowance for housing, subsidies for rural access to property, and indemnity coverage for death in a traffic accident of a permanent partner.
  • Crime punishment and prevention norms, misconduct and the guarantee not to incriminate a partner.
  • Rights for permanent partners of victims of heinous crimes.
Here is how EFE breaks it down:
The ruling means that property of homosexual couples that is considered part of the family possessions, including the home, can not be embargoed or distrained.

On the other hand, if a foreigner enters into a same-sex union with a Colombian in Colombia, he or she may obtain Colombian citizenship if and when that union has been under way for more than two consecutive years.

Members of same-sex couples cannot be forced to testify against their partners.

Regarding public officials, when one takes the oath of office, that person's same-sex partner - if any - will also take the office.
Update: Former right-wing congressman Victor Velazquez is incensed! From Colombia Reports (based on this article from El Espectador)

Former congressman Victor Velasquez petitioned the high court to reverse its ruling, accusing the Court it is out of line and should leave legislation about gay rights to Congress.

Velasquez called on the Catholic Church to denounce the ruling and wants a referendum held to let the Colombian people reverse what "undermines the morale of the country."

"With this decision the Court wants to put the country in reverse; the countries that ruled in favor of homosexuals are left without population, because two men and two women can't reproduce," the former lawmaker told the press.

Best Spanish language articles so far on yesterday's court ruling...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Colombia: High Court rules that same-sex partners should be held accountable to same rules that govern heterosexual partners

[NOTE: I have posted a MAJOR UPDATE on this story: Click on "Colombia Diversa on yesterday's landmark rling granting equal rights to same-sex couples" - Andrés]

Breaking news this evening on a ruling by Colombia's Constitutional Court which broadens the recognition of same-sex partners in the South American nation. From El Tiempo web portal:
The high court ordered changes to 42 norms that range from Criminal, Civil and Disciplinary Codes, to the special health plan available to military forces.

The Magistrates embraced a position paper submitted by their peer, Rodrigo Escobar Gil.

They ruled that the challenged dispositions did not justify the discrimination they instituted, or that the variances with regards to same-sex couples placed these people in a position of vulnerability before the law.

And in both cases, the Constitutional Court held that the right to equality was violated.

Hence, provisions such as those contained the Disciplinary and Penal Codes, which establish the right against incrimination by a spouse, should also be applied to heterosexual partners.

Another instance is that of crimes related to domestic violence; victims can be same-sex partners or aggravation imposed by law for crimes against the person.

This includes cases where reparations are made to victims of heinous crimes.
Whew! Translating that was a doozy! In short, regulations that determine criminal or violent conduct by persons involved in same-sex partnerships will be held to the same standards as those applied to married heterosexual couples. Or that is what I get from the article?

UPDATE: In a message posted tonight on Facebook by leading Colombian LGBT rights organization Colombia Diversa, they say that the ruling also establishes that gay Colombian citizens can grant foreign same-sex partners immigration rights in the same way that married heterosexual partners can sponsor their spouses for immigration purposes.


Antonio Pagán, 1st gay Latino NYC Councilmember, dead at age 50

I must have met the man more than a few times but, for the life of me, I can't remember a single encounter. I wasn't living in New York when he became the first openly gay Latino man to be elected to the New York City Council in 1991, but I certainly was involved in city politics by the time he left the Council in 1997, and had become well-aware of his notorious reputation.

Last week his name crossed my mind as in "Whatever happened to..." Now comes word that Antonio Pagán (right) died on Sunday at the age of 50 at Beth Israel Medical Center of a heart attack.

You might think that the Latino LGBT community would be mourning his loss and declaring him the Harvey Milk of our generation but let's say that: 1) Aside from past articles archived at The New York Times there is little online material to make others aware of his historic run for office (I mean, was he the first openly gay Latino to be elected to political office in the United States?); and 2) Hm, how can I put this gently? By all accounts he was a brilliant man but also an asshole who held petty grudges against enemies and pushed policies that were an anathema to the people he represented (not that I can't think of a few people in political office that fit that description).

Paul DeRienzo put it best when he wrote the following in response to a NY Times' City Room blog report on Pagán's passing:
Antonio Pagan was a brilliant man, but also a petty and personally vindictive one who did not embody the values of the majority of residents of the Lower East Side. He was an advocate for landlords and big business and a close associate of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Pagan’s decisions closed community gardens, community centers and evicted residents, while driving up rents in what is still fundamentally a poor and struggling neighborhood. He was also directly involved in instigating a police riot in Tompkins Square Park on August 6th, 1988 that caused hundreds of injuries to local residents. That riot happened because Mr. Pagan and others made decisions about the rights of homeless people living in the park in secret, while conspiring with police officials behind the back of the community. Mr. Pagan will not be missed as a political leader in our neighborhood, but most feel sorrow that a young man should be cut down in his prime. My condolences to his family, but to all the poor people who suffered because of Mr. Pagan’s desire to have as he once said "my piece of the rock,” they deserve condolence as well.
At that site, some defend him but most are vitriolic in the hate they spew against Pagán (he would probably rejoice in the fact that his actions still bring so much venom a decade after his City Council stint).

As for the cause of death: There is some online chatter that Pagán might have died after a longtime battle with HIV/AIDS which certainly is pure speculation at this point in time. But if that is the case, and those close to him are uncomfortable with disclosing his HIV status, what does that say about a man who was among the founding board members of the still-existing nonprofit organization Hispanic AIDS Forum? Or - if it is true that he had been battling HIV/AIDS - was it his personal wish that if he died others would not find out that he was HIV positive?

If that is the case, it certainly honors Pagán's conflicting personae, but it also speaks to how in a certain segments of the Latino community - even among openly gay folk - AIDS is still silenced.

Interestingly, since Pagán was elected to the City Council representing the Lower East Side of Manhattan, his successors have also been of Puerto Rican descent and openly gay. First came Margarita López who held the seat from 1998 to 2005 before she sought higher office when term limits came into effect, followed by Rosie Méndez who currently holds the seat.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guatemala: Stunning charges against leading LGBT rights advocate

Details are sketchy and vary from one account to another but a Guatemalan government agency has brought 'attempted murder' charges against a leading LGBT rights advocate in a case that stems from an attack against a transgender woman last July.

The charges against Jorge López (right), director of the HIV prevention non-governmental agency OASIS, seem ludicrous considering his long-standing efforts as an advocate for transgender folk. At least one human rights organization is calling for an international response demanding an impartial review of the charges brought against him.

The charges: In a news brief, La Hora reports that the Guatemalan Public Ministry released an arrest warrant against López for "his alleged participation in the attack against a transgender on July 4th in Zone 1."

According to Telediaro 3, the Public Ministry alleges that López was among a group of people who beat up a transgender woman so badly that her arms almost had to be amputated.

Prensa Libre, on the other hand, seems to get the facts wrong in reporting that López was accused of murder against a transgender woman found dead on a public street in June of 2008.

López says it's a government vendetta: All three papers report that López surrendered yesterday and defended himself before the media as he made his way into the courthouse.

"As he indicated before entering the courthouse, [López said] he is being pressured by the National Civil Police (PNC) and the Public Ministry (MP), based on accusations he made last September that agents from both institutions attacked six homosexuals", says Telediario 3.

Prensa Libre says that he admitted that there had been a attack against transgender individuals on the date mentioned by the authorities but argues that he was among those who called the authorities to alert them to the attacks (he says he plans to use the phone records as roof of his innocence).

Reports said that he was joined by representatives from international human rights organizations and Guatemala's Human Rights Attorney's office at the court hearing.

International response: So far, the New York based Human Rights First is the first organization to demand a proper review of charges against López. From their statement:
López is the director of a prominent organization that works to protect the rights of transgendered sex workers in Guatemala and he has spent many years advocating for them. He worked closely with the victim and sought police protection for her shortly before the attack. He later submitted complaints about police misconduct against sex workers, shortly before the arrest warrant against him was issued.
They also urge folk to sign on to a statement asking the court to "begin an impartial review of the validity of the charges against him and to close the case against him if there is insufficient evidence."

Sign-on statement: I urge you to join Human Rights First! Click here and demand that justice be served. It certainly looks as if the Guatemalan government is trying to get rid of of a key human rights advocate by trumping up charges against him. The least you can do is to demand an independent review of the charges brought against him.

*** UPDATE! *** (posted Jan. 26th at 5:04PM): A source says that charges against López were lowered from attempted murder to harboring and hindering persecution. He was released by the court as the case proceeds through the legal system and put under house arrest. I'll post additional information as it becomes available.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Update: POC contingent to remain among first to line up at NYC Pride March

[Photo credit: Fading Ad Blog] An e-mail sent out earlier this month to past New York City Pride March participants indicated that organizers had decided to do away with specific "theme sections" and allow organizations to register for "first-come, first-serve" ordering.

This made me wonder if the announced changes would mean that the long-standing People of Color contingent, which has historically marched 2nd or 3rd in line, would be dissolved, in essence, and POC groups dispersed along the marching route ("NYC Pride March organizers do away with 'theme sections'", January 9, 2009).

In an open letter sent out on January 19th by Heritage of Pride, organizers of the march, they make clear that this will not be the case.

The agency says that "Groups who have traditionally marched as a unified front - such as the POC contingency - will still be able to do so with the full cooperation and support of HOP" and "The POC contingency and its placement at the front of The March is part of both the political significance and rich history of The March, and it has always been HOP’s intent to keep them in their rightful place."

Full text below -

To Whom It May Concern:

On behalf of Heritage of Pride (HOP), I would like to extend our sincerest apologies for any confusion or negativity that may have resulted from our recent email regarding the organization of this year’s march. The email, sent by the HOP March Committee, announced our decision to discontinue the ordering of The March by “themed sections” and allow for March placement to be determined on a first-come-first-serve basis. Regretfully, the email did not explain how the decision would affect contingents that wish to continue marching together, nor did it explain the reasoning behind the decision. As a result, the decision was misinterpreted and a significant portion of our community was left feeling offended and overlooked. This was certainly not our intention and we are deeply sorry for any miscommunication and the distress it may have caused.

In the past, groups registering to march were automatically assigned a category and required to march with their designated “section”. Under the policy, the formation of “sections” will be a “at will” and left to the discretion of each registering group. We wish to make it clear that the new policy does not prohibit individual groups from marching together as a “section”. Groups who have traditionally marched as a unified front (such as the POC contingency) will still be able to do so with the full cooperation and support of HOP.

The new policy does dictate that March order be determined on a first-come-first-serve basis, but contains a clause allowing HOP to make exceptions and assign placement in order to maintain the overall integrity of The March. HOP is firmly committed to preserving the core values of The March. The POC contingency and its placement at the front of The March is part of both the political significance and rich history of The March, and it has always been HOP’s intent to keep them in their rightful place.

Hop would like the POC community to know that we have always, and will always, support them in any way we can. We thank you for your understanding on this matter. If anyone has any questions or would like to be involved in the decision making process of NYC PRIDE, we welcome them attend one of our various planning sessions. Meeting dates and times can be found at

Yours in Pride,

Todd Emmett
Managing Director
Heritage of Pride, Inc.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Minutes before Inaugurtion Day dawns

On Saturday, I urged you to donate what you could to The Lesbian and Gay Bands of America (LGBAC) so they could defer costs related to their historic participation as the first-ever LGBT marching band to have been invited to take part of the Presidential Inaugural Parade (which takes place tomorrow on inauguration day).

One of the marchers is Sal Garcia (left), a friend who agreed to answer a couple of questions for this blog on the eve of the event.

I know that you have been marching locally at the different pride events throughout the New York City metropolitan area during the past few years. I always love it when I see you in the crowd. What has that experience been like over the years?

Sal: To elaborate on this, NYC is not our only venue, as the LGBAC, we represent the Lesbian and Gay community in places such as New Hope, PA, Ausbury and Montclair, NJ, Albany, Providence RI, Boston, DC, as well as participation in gay games across the nation etc. As a member of the LGBAC, my fellow band members and I are ambassadors for the LGBT community. We are in essence a family that through our love for music, dance, and the art of the color guard artistry bring attention to our community of LGBT citizens in positive light,

Blabbeando: You will be marching at the Inaugural Parade for the President of the United States. The first time that an LGBT marching band has ever been invited to participate. How did you find out that you would be marching? What was your reaction?

Sal: We put in our application as did other groups. We found out that we were being considered for participation shortly after Obama's election. At this point, whether it was a pre-parade performers or actual parade performers was unknown. In the early part of December we were informed that we would be a parade unit. Since then, we have all been on pins and needles.

Blabbeando. It will probably be an incredible experience. What are your expectations about the weekend?

Sal: We don't know what to expect. We have worked hard to represent our LGBT community across the nation and the world for that fact. We just all see this as a 'Brand New Day', which happens to the title of one of our songs (from The Wiz)

Blabbeando: BTW, it will probably be REALLY cold. Mittens or gloves?

Sal: Mixture depending what instrument or equipment you handle but I am wearing gloves.

Blabbeando: Finally, what does it mean for you that the event is part of the swearing in of Barack Obama, the first African-American president that this country has ever had?

Sal: What Joe (my partner) wrote on his Facebook wall gives you some perspective…

Being Part of History! 9:27am: In just hours Sal and I will join our brothers and sisters of the
Lesbian and Gay Band Association in Washington, DC as we make history by being the first lesbian and gay marching group to march in a presidential inaugural parade.

This is truly an honor, one which we approach with excitement as well as, nervousness. But the love of family and friends have been a source of courage and empowerment to all involved in this magical day.

Our friend and fellow band member, Leslie Becker, had this to say about the history of our civil right trek.
I have made a lot of history with some of you. Together as the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps we were the first openly gay group to perform for a president when we marched in the bicentennial of George Washington's Inaugural in 1989. That was Daddy Bush we played for then. And in 1993 with the Lesbian and Gay Bands of America (now Association) we played for the new president, Bill Clinton, at the Inaugural parade as pre-parade performers. That was truly an amazing experience, and many of my BAC friends were there to share the experience with me. And, it was so much fun that we did it again in 1997.

But this, this is by far the best. We have elected our first African-American president. Just 143 years ago the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished. In 1870 black men were given the vote. But I am betting that many were turned away at the polls until after the civil rights movement was well underway, thanks in large part to Rosa Parks being tired (and sick and tired) that night back in 1955 when she flat out said, by virtue of not getting up: 'No. YOU stand up. I was here first and my feet hurt.'

1945 saw Jackie Robinson in a Dodgers uniform as the first black man to play a major league sport. In 1969 schools were desegregated and "WHITES ONLY" signs finally disappeared from water fountains and public pools. So how historic is Barack Obama's election? Well, look at those dates. Much of it happened mere moments ago, in the grand scheme of things. So this is very historic indeed.

And now we continue a civil rights movement started by some drag queens who said "No," just as Rosa Parks did. (Only these queens battered police cars with parking meters.) In 1969 when our civil rights movement started it was a crime to be homosexual. Next Tuesday an LGBT band is marching in the Inaugural Parade. But we still have so very far to go, so we cannot ever rest on our laurels. We continue to fight the fight started that hot June night, only now we do it with flutes and flags rather than lighter fluid and matches.

I have faith in America. I have faith in our new president. And I have faith in us. We will march
along that parade route just as proudly as any other band. No...maybe just a little bit prouder, indeed.
To Sal and I, the LGBAC is a family that as you can see from Leslie's beautiful words has its own rich history within our Lesbian and Gay community. However, as we all know, nothing can grow without proper nourishment and thus, we thank you our family and friends for the never-ending nurturing and support that you have shown. Thank you for giving our LGBAC family and us, the drive, courage and fortitude to be the presence, sound and spirit of the Lesbian and Gay Community now and always! Hold on, We're Coming for it's a brand new day!

Update: Here is how it all went down...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Colombia: Court rules that former paramilitary member can dress as a woman while imprisoned

An former member of a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group who is serving eight years in prison for 'conspiracy to commit crime and attempted homicide' has won the right to wear women's clothing and to put on makeup during his incarceration.

Mireya Navaez, as she calls herself, had filed a suit against a 200-inmate all-male prison after being ordered to dress as a man. The top Ibagué court, presided by Judge Alirio Sedano, "acknowledged Narvaez's right to freedom of personality and ordered prison warden Ivan Hernandez to allow him to dress like a woman and wear makeup" ("Prison Lets Colombian Inmate Wear Dress and Makeup Like a Woman", EFE, Jan. 17, 2009).

Colombian right-wing paramilitary groups are known for their conservative intolerance with reports of some areas under their control being placed under strict so-called 'moral' codes (one friend was driven away from his rural home when death-threats began to appear warning HIV-positive individuals in the region that they would be killed unless they left within 48 hours).

Not surprisingly, in two Spanish-language accounts published on Friday, Navaez certainly tells an amazing and harrowing story ("Gay ex-paramilitary files suit to dress as a woman in prison / Top court of Ibagué allows Chaparral prison inmate to dress as a woman", El Tiempo, Jan. 16, 2009).

Navaez, says that she made it to Bogotá at the age of eleven as a homeless runaway and fell in with a group of thieves. The gang saw an advantage in her age and demeanor since, she says, most victims never expected someone like her to be a criminal. By the age of fourteen says she had committed her first murder.

Paramilitary groups often recruit young men from violent neighborhood gangs which is how Mireya ended up taken away from the streets of Bogotá to rural Cumaral, Meta, and in the ranks of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).

To survive as an AUC member, Mireya says that she learned to walk firmly, to speak in a low tone of voice and to disguise his feminine mannerisms. She also says that she tried to show that she was a fearless assassin. Ultimately she was betrayed by a confidant and outed at age eighteen and says she only escaped execution because a paramilitary leader intervened as another was getting ready to shoot her. "They were going to kill me for being a faggot," she says.

I'm not sure I buy some details in the recollection of her life. Let's say that some twists and turns sound a bit too much like a telenovela although I assume that most of it is based on some nuggets of truth. But now that she has won the lawsuit she says she has not only been able to dress as she wants but also gained a new level of respect from guards and inmates in daring to be open (the prison's warden tells El Tiempo that Mireya can dress as a woman any time she likes except during visiting hours since he does not want the families of other inmates to be shocked).

"There are many gays here, but they have not dared to come out of the closet," Mireya says,"I did it and they no longer look at me as the clown, they respect me."

She says that she has been also able to reestablish contact with her mother and her brothers after twelve years although her father still will not accept her and that she hopes that once she is released she will be able to have access to gender reassignment surgery.

An aside: These articles remind me of a case back in the 1990's, I believe, in which a group of Colombian soldiers found some loot and decided to divide between them instead of reporting it. They were found out later and I believe they received prison sentences. I also remember that one of the male soldiers had been planning to use his share to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. Can't find a link to any information online that would corroborate the sketchy details in my memory, though.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Donate ten bucks! Help the Lesbian and Gay Bands of America represent us at the Presidential Inaugural Parade

Inauguration week is finally here and I have a feeling that in the hours ahead we will produce some amazing moments in ways that will compare and perhaps surpass the moment that election returns showed that Barack Obama would become the 44th President of the United States.

Although I won't be in DC, I know a few people who are either on their way or will be making their way this weekend. Some are members of The Lesbian and Gay Bands of America which will be performing during Tuesday's Presidential Inaugural Parade on Tuesday. It is the first time ever that a LGBT organization has been extended an invitation to march at the Parade.

Led by blogger Mike Rogers of BlogActive and PageOneQ, a number of bloggers have decided to unite as BANDING TOGETHER in calling for donations to cover the costs of bringing, feeding and hosting participating marchers who will be traveling from all over the United States.

Making a donation is easy: Whether you can spare $10 bucks or $1,000, please consider making a donation by clicking here.

Here are some of the participating bloggers so far:
How to join BANDING TOGETHER: There is no official list of participating bloggers but if you would like to participate in BANDING TOGETHER follow the following steps: 1. Write about the BANDING TOGETHER action on your blog; 2. Use any of the great banners available here as a graphic in your post (courtesy of Mike Tidmus who created them) and direct readers to the following donation link:

Using this link will allow tracking of donations made through the BANDING TOGETHER blog action.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Free the Senegal 9! SIGN THE PETITION!

I usually don't post petitions here or talk much about LGBT issues outside of the American continent and the Caribbean but the plight of The Senegal 9 has been on my mind and I thought I might as well ask you to take a couple of seconds to sign a petition asking for their release.

My friend and journalist Kelly Cogswell, who blogs from France at Kelly Sans Culotte and has an opinion column in Gay City News, writes the following, which I have taken the liberty to cross-post on this blog:
AIDES, one of Europe's largest HIV/AIDS organizations, is petitioning the government of Senegal to immediately free the 9 gay men condemned there to 8 years of prison on January 7th for "indecent conduct, acts against nature, and criminal association." All are HIV/AIDS workers. They were arrested on December 19th while meeting at the home of one of them, Diadji Diouf, president of AIDES Senegal. The petition also asks Senegal to decriminalize homosexuality by immediately scrapping article 319:3 of their penal code, which calls for 5 years of prison for anyone who "commits indecent acts or acts against nature with a person of their own sex".

Human Rights Watch, which is also asking for their release and the repeal of Senegal’s sodomy law, says that the men have been reportedly beaten while in detention [read HRW's statement on the Senegal 9].

The petition (in French) is really easy to sign.

First click here: Then scroll to the bottom and click on the text "SIGNEZ LA PETITION" (Sign the Petition). On the window that will open, write your first name ("PRENOM"), last name ("NOM"), and email address ("VOTRE ADRESSE EMAIL"). Ignore the space for a message -- it doesn't seem to work. Then click below on "ENVOYER" (Send).

Congrats. You're helping to save queer lives.

Mexico: 'Clarifying' Cardinal Ennio Antonelli's statement on homosexuality

So you know the one about the Vatican wanting gays and women to stay at home all the time? The gays so no one will see their gayness, and the women to serve their men? It's no joke! It's what Cardinal Ennio Antonelli has been saying as a representative of the Vatican at the 6th World Annual Meeting of Families taking place in Mexico City (read previous post).

Well, apparently, Cardinal Antonelli's words weren't clear enough for some people. Zenit, which calls itself "a non-profit international news agency... convinced of the extraordinary richness of the Catholic Church's message, particularly its social doctrine" and which "view the modern world through the messages of the Pope and the Holy See" has translated a Spanish language statement "clarifying" the Cardinal's words ("Clarification of Statement on Homosexuality").

The Cardinal himself did not write his own clarification. The statement was released by Monsignor Carlos Simón Vazquez, subsecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family. I won't post it in its entirety (you can read the whole thing at the link above) but here is a couple of choice quotes:
Legislators make an anthropological error when they want to socially organize homosexuality. They run the risk of provoking an intellectual confusion, as well as confusion of identity and relationships. It should not be forgotten that confusion frequently favors insecurity, unstable relationships and violence, when legislators don't respect the fundamental sense of human relationships.
[ granting equal rights to the gay community leads to violence?]
The exercise of homosexuality does not reflect the truth of friendship. Friendship is inherent to the human condition in that it offers relationships of proximity, help and cooperation, in a courteous and amiable climate. Friendship should be lived chastely.
[ gays 1. cannot participate in activities that are inherent in the human condition, 2. are incapable of developing friendships and 3. cannot have platonic friendships with others?]

The statement also reaffirms the Catholic church's opposition to same-sex marriage. That one I knew. And not that the Cardinal's statements were that surprising or that I am shocked by the "clarification" but it's chilling to see how much darkness still exists out there when it comes to the Vatican.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mexico: Women and gays should stay confined at home, say Vatican leaders

As we told you recently, over 9,000 Catholic faithful - including 30 cardinals and 200 bishops - have descended upon Mexico City for the 6th World Annual Meeting of Families, the first time that the Vatican-led event has been held in a Latin American country (and the first without the Pope's presence).

As expected, there have been strong anti-gay and anti-women undercurrents in the messaging that is coming out from the gathering with Pontifical Council for the Family president and Cardinal Ennio Antonelli (right) demanding that the 'traditional family' must be given "decisive priority... for the future of society in a post-modern culture sick with individualism" according to the AFP.

The AFP notes that center-right Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who addressed the gathering on its opening date, seemed to distance himself from the organizers' push of the perfect family being that between a man and a woman.

"We must find a way to support those who are not part of traditional, nuclear families," Calderón is quoted as saying which the AFP noting that the President might have been thinking about the 5 million single-parent woman-led households that currently exist in Mexico.

This tidbit, of course, is absent from the US-based right-wing Catholic Life Site News who calls Calderóns appearance at the gathering a "surprise" (actually, he has always said he is a devout Catholic in a heavily Catholic country so I'm not sure what's surprising about it) although they do admit that the President "did not address the specific issues of express divorce and homosexual unions" unlike others at the event.

My favorite headline from Mexican newspapers comes from Milenio: "The Church wants to confine gays and women to their homes".

In the article, Antonelli is quoted as saying that gays should stay in a "private sphere and not come out in public" and Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán saying that women should not be allowed to work or leave their children at home.

When asked about domestic violence among heterosexual partners, Barragán, who certainly seems to have a way with words, said that the Church did not have a role in educating believers in respecting other people's dignity.

"Unfortunately we are all sinners," he said, "The [Catholic] leadership does not have a machine gun to go into every household and say: Look, if you hit your woman, we will kill you right now."

Hundreds of protesters said to be affiliated with the left-wing Socialist Democratic Party greeted participants outside the Expo Bancomer Convention Center where the gathering is taking place January 13th through the 18th. A number of gay leaders had promised to hold their own demonstrations against the gathering.


Thank goodness...

The Times has more reader-submitted photos here. Thank goodness nobody perished (except the geese) or ended up like the all time classic "Airport'77" (itself "bigger, more exciting than "Airport 1975" according to the advertising and featuring Brenda Baccaro, Olivia de Havilland, Christopher Lee, George Kennedy and James Stewart, among other luminaries).

Rex Wockner: Gay VIP's on Obama

Lookie here: It's President-elect Barack Obama's first official presidential portrait taken by photo-journalist Pete Souza.

Weird! Life circumstances ruined my chance to celebrate the presidential election results on Nov. 4th after months of pushing for Obama. So things like this still send chills up my spine and make me tear up a li'l bit.

In any case, Rex Wockner has begun a series of blog posts on reactions from what he calls 'Gay VIP's' to Obama's nomination as president to the United States..

So far here is the breakdown (I'll keep updating the post as he updates his):
More to come...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

We WIN! No time for losers 'cause we are the champions of the WORLD!

So voting is over at the 2008 Weblog Awards for the best blogs of the year and the winner has been crowned. CONGRATULATIONS TOWLEROAD!!

I am glad to report that Blabbeando came in dead-last in the Best LGBT Blog category with 0.5% of the vote! As I said, though, we were stunned to be chosen as a finalist and we hardly had any chance to compete against the big guys and gals. Plus the general subject of this blog is rather narrow anyway. Or perhaps it's all excuses for being a looooosaah !

Being serious: I was actually honored to have been chosen amongst thousands of LGBT blogs out there and it certainly brought new readership to the blog (we went from a Technorati rating of 86 to 104 even if only nerds know what that means).

The breakdown?
Pam and Joe have been past winners and Andy T. has now joined them in the pantheon. I am thrilled that This Girl Called Automatic Win pulled in 5th and also remain ever thankful to Monica Roberts at TransGriot for her encouragement and support. We are all winners in this game called life! Or, as ABBA said, "The winner takes it all / The loser standing small / Beside the victory / That's her destiny."

Indeed! Congratulations to all the top vote getters as well as all the nominees!

Puerto Rico: Changes in Civil Code language would drop recognition of same-sex couples as family, limit access to partnership rights

Worrisome news from Puerto Rico: While it appears that a long-gestating Civil Code draft might finally become law during the current legislative session, a legislative committee has indicated that it won't include language that would have allowed couples - straight and gay - to enter into a common-law union with the same rights and responsibilities as marriage ("No opportunities for common-law unions", El Vocero, Jan. 12, 2009).

“It doesn't have the votes to be approved," said Liza Fernandez, Co-Chair of the joint Commission for the Revision of the Civil Code, "I understand that rights should be recognized for partners who live together but are not married, be them homosexuals or heterosexuals, but to bring it as a common-law union will not allow me the possibility of granting those rights. We will seek alternatives and will amend other areas such as inheritance to have, for example, a spouse or cohabiting partner [recognized as] the heir apparent."

In other words, language that would have given same-sex couples access to all rights available to married heterosexual partners in Puerto Rico will be eliminated and, in exchange, they will only be given a few rights.

There is a progressive angle to the alternative which would be of benefit to others. El Vocero says that inheritance rights, hospital visits and medical coverage would be made available to any two people who can demonstrate they have lived together under the same roof for a number of years through a 'civil pact of solidarity'. Same-sex partners would have access to the 'pact' and so would family members, siblings or non-romantic co-inhabitants living together.

But the limited rights would be granted through a Contracts process and not through Family Law. In other words, same sex partners would still not be considered as a family under the new Civil Code.

Fernandez admitted that the elimination of a common-law union figure from the Civil Code was the result of opposition from conservative legislators and religious groups and also indicated that the committee might be open to including an explicit same-sex marriage ban.

Leading LGBT rights advocate Pedro Julio Serrano released a statement in reaction:

"The recognition of any rights is a step in the right direction, but it is not sufficient. To move same-sex partners and heterosexuals who co-habit without getting married in the Book of Contracts is an affront to the dignity of these relationships of love and commitment," he wrote, "We are family as much as any other and we have to be recognized as such in the Book of Families. We are not contract objects, we are a product of love and commitment."


Chile: Religion teacher who was fired for being a lesbian files suit against the Chilean State in international court

I have been seeing this case build up and had planned to write something about it but the great folk at the UK's Pink News beat me to it. From their article:

[Religion teacher Sandra Cecilia] Pavez had taught at a public school in San Bernardo for 23 years.

She lost her position in 2007 after admitting to church authorities she was a lesbian, resulting in her teaching certificate being taken away.

Bishop Juan Ignacio Gonzalez Errazuriz, head of San Bernardo Diocese, also urged Ms Pavez to seek psychological help.

She has twice previously attempted to file lawsuits, one before a local court and another before Chile's Supreme Court but both attempts were unsuccessful.

Ms. Pavez said:

"If there is no guarantee of my rights as a citizen in this country then what kind of citizen am I? A third or second class citizen? Maybe I don't even have a category in my country."

Ms. Pavez has now turned to the Inter-American Human Rights Court where she filed a discrimination suit against the Chilean State. Above, she stands with Rolando Jimenez, President of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (MOVILH) who has backed her in the courts (photo courtesy of the Chilean web portal OpusGay).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dominican Republic: Ashley Schneider takes the crown

A follow up to a story from last year...

On the early, early morning of December 28th, 22 year-old Ashley Schneider was crowned Miss Rainbow International Gay 2008 at an annual beauty pageant ceremony which took place at the Tailú Bar bar in the Dominican Republic city of Santiago.

José Izquierdo, the Governor of the Province of Santiago, had threatened to shut down the event until he was reminded that the site was a private space and that he did not have any jurisdiction over the event. It still didn't stop him or others from expressing their displeasure with the event.

I know what you are thinking: It's a drag show! At a gay bar!! What's the big deal? Well, this is the Dominican Republic where things like these become national news. Which is exactly what happened here.

On November 27th the local assembly approved by majority vote a statement of censure against the beauty contest saying that it "attempted against the moral and good customs of the Santiago society" (El Caribe).

The censure echoed statements that the Reverend Ezequiel Molina made on the Dagastan television show the night before the event (La Información).
"The beauty contest among homosexuals and marriages between persons of the same gender constitute an aberration, an attempt against the Christian and moral values and an affront to the family," he said.

Reverend Molina also riled against 'carnal union' between members of the same sex and against adoption rights for gays although it is unclear whether any weddings or adoptions took place at the Tailú Bar on the night the event took place. For some reason I have a feeling the reverend pulled out his laundry list of objections against the gays having been given a media platform.

Security at the event was strict. Cameras were banned and attendees were searched for weapons and asked for ID. Organizers feared that the local authorities might use any excuse to shut down and possibly even send in underage attendees to give them cause for a search but the event went on smoothly.

A few people interested in watching the contest walked away from the door criticizing the $20 to $35 dollar ticket price as being too high and others walked away when they saw the dozens of television cameras shooting footage of people entering the bar (Clave Digital).

The owners of the club as well as a number of VIP guests called for the recognition of LGBT rights in the Dominican Republic and said that the event should have never have been the center of such media attention and controversy. They also said that they hoped that the outcome had shown that it was not something that challenged the morals of society nor something that was done in poor taste.

Clave Digital has a multimedia page with lots of photos here.

Below, an eliminatory event that took place a month before the Crowning (loooove the bachata techno mix they used):

...and coverage from the local Telemundo station made available on YouTube by hottie reporter Fausto Cruz after the new Queen was announced.

Cuba: Mariela Castro on LGBT rights, Barack Obama

On January 1st, Russia Today which bills itself as "the first 24/7 English-language news channel [to] bring the Russian view on global news" posted an interview with Mariela Castro, Director of the Cuban Center for Sex Education, which was originally taped in Havana, Cuba (see YouTube video above).

Initially she answers some questions on her relationship with her father, Cuban President Raúl Castro, and her uncle, Fidel Castro, but at the 3:28 minute mark she also addresses issues such as same-sex unions, a gender identity law, the use of mass media to raise awareness about LGBT issues, the homophobic nature of Cuban society, HIV/AIDS, Barcak Obama as President of the United States, etc. It's a wide-ranging interview and a site that I had previously not known - LGBTCUBA - has transcribed most of it.

I hope they don't mind me posting it below:

Anastasia Haydulina One day your uncle Fidel Castro… is going to die. Do you think his death will change the status quo of your Cuba?

Mariela Castro Espín First of all, the death of Fidel will bring great suffering for the Cuban people, and it will be an enormous loss. But as far as I can see, the Cubans are willing to continue on the path of socialism even when our Comandante is no longer with us, even when my father and other forefathers of the revolution are not. Our people want socialism. Of course, we're very self-critical, so what we need is a better and rich social reform that will resolve most of the existing contradictions. People themselves are proposing actions necessary for the survival of our socialist society, a society that should always guarantee social justice, equality, and solidarity within the nation, as well as in relations with others. We want welfare, but not as exaggerated as that of consumer societies. I think that socialism in Cuba will survive and become what we have considered to be a utopia.

Haydulina Same-sex unions in a Communist, originally Catholic, state?

Castro Yes, I believe that, in societies like ours, same-sex unions are possible. It's true that, in the history of countries that have tried to create socialism, sexuality-related prejudices from the capitalist past have persisted. But in the Cuban version of socialism it will surely be possible to make fundamental changes in the lives of men and women according to their sexual orientation and other elements of their sexuality that haven't been contemplated by other socialist nations to date. Of course there are very strong influences of religions predominant in our cultures, but they are not going to become obstacles to achieving the aim of guaranteeing human rights socialism must guarantee. That is why we proposed a bill to legalize same-sex unions to parliament.

Haydulina What makes you feel you can overcome the stigma within the Communist Party and legislative barriers to pass it as well?

Castro As head of the National Center for Sex Education, not as daughter of the president, I presented an educational strategy strongly based on the mass media to bring the attention of the Cuban society to various expressions of sexuality within it.

Haydulina Realistically, when do you think we are going to see this bill passed here in Cuba?

Castro We've already accomplished a lot. For example, we've achieved a resolution by the public health ministry that guarantees transsexuals specialized attention, including sex change surgeries. The first of these types of operation are about to begin. They were first performed in 1988 but were interrupted due to people's incomprehension. We're proposing important changes to the family code that include the right of people of the same sex to legalize their unions. We're also working on a gender identity decree law that will make it easier for transsexuals to change their sex and identity papers, regardless of the sex change surgery. Because not all of them are automatically eligible for this operation, but nevertheless people do need society to recognize them in accordance with their gender identity, not by biological sex.

Haydulina Tell us more about the history of homophobia in this country.

Castro Just like any other patriarchal societies in the world, Cuban society is homophobic. In the 1960s and 70s, it expressed itself as a political decision that discriminated against homosexuals, especially men. That was a general criterion coming from not only religions but even from sciences. Psychiatry classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. There were even therapists to change homosexuals into heterosexuals, since that's what was considered normal and healthy. So, the Cuban politicians, educationalists, and doctors acted in accordance with the scientific precepts of the time as well. Neither teachers nor doctors could be gay. Today, no military person can be gay either. But there are homosexuals everywhere, whether out in the open or not. So we attend to them in our center, because humanity is about diversity. The most important thing here is that there have been discussion and change ever since. And in order to avoid this [homophobia] in the future, we've got to be explicit in our laws and policies. Homosexuality is a reality to be taken into account, not got rid of.

Haydulina Two thirds of Cubans with HIV/AIDS are homosexual men. Are they provided due treatment? Are the Cubans with HIV provided the treatments they need?

Castro In 1983, when Fidel learned about the existence of AIDS, he asked the doctors of the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine to carry out research to avoid the tragedy on our island. Since then the state began designing its policies for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. Each patient infected with the virus is provided with all the medical assistance at the cost of the state. Although the medicines are very expensive, as well as prevention matters, these are fundamental to avoid the spreading of the epidemic. Even though Cuba maintains the lowest level [of infection] in the region and in the world, it keeps rising, so we need much more effective prevention and treatment. For example, the island buys condoms for the pharmacies, but many are donated and distributed free of charge as part of the center's educational activities across the country. Thanks to this efficient work, [HIV] infection hardly occurs among adolescents. Unfortunately the existing prejudices impede us from many of the educational activities planned for the homosexual male population.

Haydulina Is your father supportive of your work?

Castro Yes, he's supportive of my work, thanks to the past influence of my mother, on sexual education, and mine. Of course, from time to time we have discussions meant to convince him of the need for quicker solutions. He's also influenced by other people that disagree with my work, and it's those people who create obstacles. But I believe that dialogue is fundamental to progress, so whenever I have a chance to sit down and talk with my father to convince him, I do so.

Haydulina Your mother was an internationally recognized champion of women's rights. What challenges remain for women in Cuba?

Castro There are still the remains of machismo and inequality between men and women. Although there are few women in top governmental positions, we observe rising percentages of women technicians, lawmakers, vice ministers, ministers, as well as among the regional party leadership. Besides, in the last two hurricanes that hit the island, the actions of the women governing the two worst affected provinces made Cubans, and especially women, very proud. In troubled families, women keep returning to household chores and the upbringing up of children, because most of them still think that is our job, that "nobody can do it better than us." But men's participation in all these household duties is no less fundamental, especially in a time of crisis.

Haydulina What other changes would you like to see in Cuba?

Castro I would like the US government to lift the financial, economic, and commercial blockade that it has imposed on our island for fifty years against the Cuban people and that has considerably prevented us from achieving our development goals. It has affected our economy, commercial relations, and financial mechanisms. Cuba doesn't receive credit from any bank, and it's very difficult for us to survive in the field of international economy. The companies that trade with Cuba are being penalized. We have big problems with the Internet without the access to optical fiber. It would be fundamental for life in Cuba to change, for its economy to grow, the salaries to rise. Then, we'd be able to produce, obtain, more materials and use the latest technologies. For example, I'd like to see improvements in democratic participation mechanisms on the island, so that our government could function more fluently. It has a very peculiar and good structure, like no other in the world, and we like its maturity. That's why we need to cultivate mechanisms for people's participation. It's one of the things that preoccupy me most and will bring about a whole range of other changes.

Haydulina What do you expect from the new president of the United States?
Castro I expect wonderful changes for the world and for the people for the United States. The people of the United States deserve a president like Obama and the faith and ideal he espoused. They and all of us need civilization and not barbarity. We need intelligent, honest world leaders. I think that with Obama's presidency a whole new era will begin. It will be a totally different story in the US and all over the world.