Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Homophobia rears up its ugly head in Panama: Lesbian couple jailed for kissing, consul forced to resign over leaked photos

A couple of notably homophobic incidents this week in the Central American country of Panama:

Panamanian consul to the Canary Islands resigns over photos distributed on Twitter:  I have a feeling that when 22 year old Ítalo Giovanni Afú Quiel was appointed as the Panamanian consul to the Canary Islands in Spain he might have felt as if he'd won the lottery.

Known as a tourist destination for its beaches and relatively mild year-long climate and situated in the southern tip of Spain just across the northern coast of mainland Africa, the archipelago seems like a dream destination for just about anyone, particularly a young politically connected guy like Afú.

His appointment had already drawn some controversy in May of last year when it was revealed that he was one of ten individuals who found cushy government positions after his former boss, Juan Carlos Varela, became the country's Vice President.

That report also reproduced an e-mail message in which Afú boasted that one of Spain's leading store chains had agreed to carry a rum brand produced by Hermanos Varela, the company owned by the VP's family for which he and the VP had previously worked.

Nepotism, using a consular office to promote a sitting Vice President's economic interests? No big deal. Showing up to an annual carnival celebration dressed up like a woman and being caught on camera? An almost immediate resignation.

Three photos, apparently taken on March 12th on the final night of the annual carnival celebrations in Las Palmas, show Afú dressed in a pink dress and carrying a fuchsia-colored purse as a plastic yellow banana sticks out of his chest.  Apparently, the images only started making the Twitter rounds early last week quickly exploding on the national scene with the major Panamanian dailies running daily articles about the "scandal".

On Friday, the leading Panamanian newspaper, La Estrella, breathlessly reported on the images.  It quoted academic leaders as saying that the images were "yet another insult to the dignity of the community" while Vice President Varela defended him.

"He could have dressed up as a pirate, he could have dressed up as sea robber, or he could have dressed as - I don't know - Donald Duck?", the Vice Predident said, "We have to call it what it was: Carnival, a costume party".

The damage was done, tough, the director of the conservative and homophobic paper Hora Cero called him part of a "flowery" cadre of diplomats known for their homosexuality ("The diplomacy of 'el florón'"), conservative journalist and former political candidate Carlos Zavala called him a "faggot" ("Carlos Zavala confronts consul Afú") and, to top it all off, a Miami television station made homophobic fodder of the whole deal by showing a jaw-droppingly bad video of skimpily clad girls dancing to an all-female group singing lines such as "a confused consul went to a party wearing a woman's dress instead of pants" to the tune of "Guantanamera".

You might laugh but, apparently, though, Panamanians are incredibly concerned about how their country is viewed by a tiny Miami cable station ("U.S. television station makes fun of Panamanian consul - Newspapers of the world feature the case" La Estrella screams out).

What to do? Well, Afú resigned as a consul yesterday, effective April 30th.  In an interview published before his resignation, Afú revealed that Vice President Varela had called him after the scandal broke and warned him that he'd be fired if he ever showed up dressed like a woman to work or to any diplomatic event. Afú told Crítica he'd never dress up like a woman ever again. Sigh.

Lesbian couple held behind bars for hours after kissing in public: Surprised that a consul might lose his job over dressing up for carnival instead of charges of political nepotism?  Wait until you read this...

On Sunday, 32 year old Valentina Hernandez (right) and her 24 year old girlfriend were enjoying a romantic walk down the streets of the historic Casco Antigüo colonial district of Panama City when she stopped to give her girlfriend a kiss.

Hernandez, a psychologist by profession, reached out to Panamanian newspaper Prensa and shared details of what followed ("Police abuse reported").

Hernandez says that a member of Panama's presidential guard who had seen them kiss approached them and accused them of improper behavior.  When Hernandez asked him to explain clearly which law they had violated, the guard grew exasperated and called for reinforcement.  She says that ten other members of the Institutional Protective Service (S.P.I.) quickly showed up and took her ID and cell phone as they whisked the couple to the local police precinct.

Hernandez says that, once they reached the precinct, she was given an intrusive body check by a policewoman.

"I felt they touched me everywhere," she said, "They rubbed their hands on my genitals, it was disgusting, my girlfriend was asked to take her pants off."

Hernandez says that they were both held behind bars for hours until the authorities asked her to sign a three-page document which they did not allow her to read completely but in which she was told she would free the authorities of any responsibility for their detention.  "I signed," she said, "because I did not want to spend a night in a jail cell."

Late that night, Hernandez said, they were taken to a court where the judge granted them freedom not before warning them that they might be penalized if they were caught doing the same thing again.

Prensa says that the S.P.I. office released a statement saying that the women had been arrested for "drinking alcohol in public" but counters that assertion by pulling out a police report by one of the officers, Alfonso Rodriguez, who reported the arrest was made on the basis of "interfering with police activity and engaging in immoral activities in public".

Speaking to La Estrella, Hernandez says that the couple has hired a lawyer and is exploring the best way to fight back against those who violated their rights.

Interviewed by TVN-2, catholic priest Rafael Siu said that the women should have respected a public environment and said that it was not the way to express love towards others.

To date, as far as I know, neither the Panamanian President nor the Vice President have spoken out about this flagrant human rights violation in the same way that VP Varela came to the defense of the now former Panamanian consul of the Canary Islands.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Big Brother Argentina: Trans man Alejandro has been voted out of the house

An update, if you have been following this blog...

After surviving for three months inside the video-monitored "Big Brother" house, luck ran out Sunday for transgender man Alejandro Iglesias as viewers voted to expel him from the Argentinean version of the reality show.

Alejandro, who was only identified as a "mystery guest" before the show was aired, shocked viewers when it was revealed he was a female-to-male transgender man seeking a chance to win the U$10,000 dollar reward which could help him cover the costs of gender reassignment-surgery ("Alejandro Iglesias shocks the viewers of 'Big Brother 2011'").

Of course, this sort of stunt casting is nothing new when it comes to reality shows.  They always seem to drop a gay here, a lesbian there, and sometimes someone who is bisexual or transgender.  I assume they expect drama will ensue once their sexual identity is revealed.

What was amazing, in this case, was that - at least initially - Alejandro quickly became the viewers' favorite to win the game since he came off as sincere and down-to-earth compared to the other 18 players: A mix of showboat male assholes and big-boobed vedettes looking to make it in showbiz.

It didn't take long for Alejandro to 'come out' to the other housemates and the reaction was surprisingly great ("Alejandro tells his 'Big Brother' housemates he is a trans man").  Alejandro also bonded with a fierce ally, Luz, who also came out as a lesbian.  She later would sacrifice her stay in the house by giving immunity to Alejandro.

Turns out the one person who reacted the worst about the revelation was... a gay guy.

Emiliano Boscatto (the curly-locks guy in the image above) received some media attention in 2008 when he was elected "Mr. Gay Cordoba". And yet, in the house he tried to keep his sexual identity hidden for as long as he could.  Whether he used it as a strategy to rattle Alejandro out of the house or whether he was letting his transphobia fly, Boscatto initially insisted Alejandro was a lesbian and told him he simply was incapable of believing he was a transgender man - ultimately flipping around and questioning whether Alejandro was actually born a man and using the transgender story to move ahead in the game.

Two weeks later, Boscatto was the one who got the boot from the house.

But this is Argentina's "Gran Hermano" where contestants who get booted out apparently can be voted back in (what's the point in that?) And so, Aleandro, who outlasted Boscatto and the person considered to be the best player in the house, Cristian U., saw both of them come back.  And, on Sunday, viewers voted him out instead of voting Boscatto out for a second time (you can watch the moment he gets booted out in this clip - the image above is a photo capture of the clip).

A day after getting booted out, Alejandro sat down with a talk show host to talk about his experience in the house.  He is shown clips of the confrontations between Boscatto and him for the first time and is asked for a reaction.  I have translated the clip as follows (turn 'annotations' on).

To Boscatto's credit, he did try to make an alliance with Alejandro once he returned to the house. Alejanadro also didn't help himself by spending some of the last days in the house moping around and being miserable, particularly after Luz left.  He also proved to be a bad strategist and so picky about his tastes that the producers made fun of all the things he kept requesting from the outside - from music by Pimpinela, to foot odor deodorants, to a particular brand of menthol cigarettes.

But, this being a reality show and all, I was struck by the guts it took for this 26 year old guy to go on Argentina's top rated reality show and open up like that to millions of viewers.  He might have gone in saying he needed the money for his upcoming surgery, but - as this clip shows - he was also very aware of the potential positive impact his participation would have on others going through the same things he has gone through.

"Truthfully," he tells the talk show host, "I didn't care much about what was happening inside the house. It was all about the repercussions it might have outside... That's the only thing that mattered to me. [My participation] wasn't in vain... even if it's a single person who gives me thanks..."

Asked about what he would like to see in the future, Alejandro says "To have the [gender identity] law pass, that it won't be as hard to get to where I am, that it won't take as much time. Because persons like me might be fighting the same battle and when they see there's so much left do do, they become depressed, they shut down, they don't want to know anything else...".

Alejandro says that he received authorization for a gender-reassignment surgery last year after four years of dealing with tests and paperwork.  He expects the surgery to take place as planned.

As for Argentina, there IS a gender identity bill that has been making its way to the legislature which would guarantee the right to a legal name and gender change on official documents.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Jennifer Lopez: It's OK to be out in the Latino music industry (EXCLUSIVE)

I don't do many interviews on this blog. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because I get pitched so many promotional interview opportunities that have little if anything to do with this blog. Perhaps it's because I haven't mastered the art of interviewing. But when the chance came my way to interview the amazing Jennifer Lopez how could I say no?  Her handlers said she wanted to reach out directly to her Latino LGBT fans through this blog and I was thrilled.

Unexpectedly, I got all nervous and stuff. I'd heard La Lopez was a tough interview to do, that she was furiously protective of her privacy and short on answers. So I prepared a long laundry list of 'Yes' or 'No' questions and hoped they'd would be enough for the 10 minute interview.

Turns out I signed up for a whole different interview than I expected and didn't get to ask all the questions I had prepared.  Jennifer was gracious, open and sweet.  What follows is the transcript of our conversation.

BLABBEANDO – Hi Jennifer! This is Andrés Duque from a blog called Blabbeando.
JENNIFER LOPEZ – Hi, how are you…
BLABBEANDO – I’m good. I wanted to introduce myself: I write a blog about the Latino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community – and I’m a huge fan so I really wanted to thank you for taking this call.
JENNIFER LOPEZ – Absolutely! Thank you for having me.
BLABBEANDO – First of all, as a huge fan, I’m hating you right now because you put the 'Lambada' back in my brain after all these years [JL laughs]. And also, over the weekend, I couldn’t stop saying 'Let me introduce you... to my party people' [JL laughs again]. And I wanted to ask you how do you feel about the impact the song is having this week and how you came along to release it as a single [Currently "On the Floor" is the #1 song and #1 video on I-Tunes].

JENNIFER LOPEZ – What it means? First of all, it’s amazing. I feel totally overwhelmed. It’s not the type of thing like asking people who have been in the business for a while and they’re like “Oh-kay, my record’s out.”
It never gets old when it hits, it’s like ‘YES!’ People like it! I love it! I love it! You know, because you have to believe in your music so when other people get it it’s just awesome. It’s just amazing.
BLABBEANDO – And you’re really busy right now, with "American Idol", so it must be difficult to stop and sit back and enjoy the moment. But, are you enjoying the moment?
JENNIFER LOPEZ – I am. I am. That’s probably what’s different about this album and this time in my life than it was for this album - and my first few albums, I should say. You know, it’s that I’m actually more in the moment now. I’m more mature now and smart enough to not miss it [laughs]. You know what I mean? This is amazing, this is great and I want to really, really want to be present for this whole thing. I’m just… really, I’m enjoying it.
I’m enjoying doing “Idol”. We are having a great time. We are having a lot of fun. I’ve enjoyed that process. I find it a very creative process. Back and forth between the contestants and us. And what we can share with them from what we know being in the business for a long time. And I love that.
And the record being out right now at the same time, and that all working, that wasn’t planned per se? I knew I was gonna put out and album this year but I didn’t know when. It worked out. It worked out great and it’s all just working together and it just feels really great. I feel really fortunate, really lucky right now, Andrés.
BLABBEANDO – Now, I know that there was a change when it comes to record companies. Was there a point where the album almost didn’t see the light of day? Because that must have been frustrating, working on an album and having it almost not come out on the market.
JENNIFER LOPEZ – Yeah. That wasn’t the case. The case was that I had come to the end of my contract and I had to decide whether or not to stay with SONY or not stay with SONY and I felt… and I went to SONY and asked them if I could move on.
And they - at that point in time - with the transitions going on within the old company, understood. And I had a good enough relationship with them from having some much success – I had done seven albums over there – that they understood me wanting to do that and, like I said, there were transitions going on. They weren’t prepared to do what they needed to do for me and that album at that time. It was really a mutual ‘Yeah, maybe this is the best thing,’ and we decided to part ways.
And I know people want to make more of it than that. That I was dropped or SONY was messing up. They want to make this really big thing about it. But it really was a conversation between me and one person at the company going ‘I think it’s just time, we’ve run our course and let’s find a new home’ and that’s what happened.
I knew that there were places that I could go and who wanted to work with me, and new fresh blood where I could go to and it happened smoothly and quickly.
BLABBEANDO – Now, the ‘fresh blood’, you’re singing with Pitbull and you have new collaborators and you seem always keep up with the latest [music] styles. And it really sounds fresh. I loved – I can’t even pronounce it but – “Loubutins” and I love “On the Floor” and you’re gearing these songs to a dance music [crowd] and, to some degree to the gay community, because we love dance music. And I think you’ve been really smart in the past to use some of the best dance producers and remixers. Talk to me about how you came to work with Pitbull and what other people you are collaborating vocally in the new album.

JENNIFER LOPEZ – For me, when I go to do my music, there’s always gonna be a mix of all the things that I am. I’m a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx. You know what I mean? And here’s always gonna be a mix of dance and urban in my stuff – and pop music - so once you throw all that stuff into the bag then it’s all about me just being myself.
So whenever I work with different producers – I worked with RedOne on a lot of the tracks in the album – and with him it was like ‘Let’s do some great dance tracks’. When I worked with Tricky and Dream, I went to them and I said ‘Let’s do my kind of more urbany-feel pop-record’ and I go to different producers for different things – but it all has to be very ‘me’.
It doesn’t work with every single producer you go in there with, you know what I mean? [laughs]. You go in there and nothing happens. But sometimes, like with RedOne or Tricky and Dream you go in there and in a week you make five, six, seven records. And with the records that actually worked, that are in the album – a lot of Tricky and Dream, a lot of RedOne – those are the ones that you have a lot of chemistry with.
BLABBEANDO - I also wanted to ask you, because in the past you’ve been a professional friend and a personal friend… Last year there was actually a number of people in the Latino music industry that came out as being gay or lesbian, and they include, of course, Ricky Martin but also Angelo Garcia, who was also a former Menudo, Lisa M who did salsa way back in Puerto Rico and now is doing reggateon, and Rita Indiana who is a tremendous up-and-coming talent from the Dominican Republic. So you have all these performers – mostly from the Caribbean – Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic – coming out. I wanted to know how you felt about Ricky’s tremendous step to come out as well as what the moment means in terms of… is the Latino music industry changing and making it safe for people to say who they are?
JENNIFER LOPEZ – Right. Are you asking me if I think it’s safer now?
JENNIFER LOPEZ – I just think it’s a reflection of the real world we live in. And it’s OK to be out. I do think it is. I do think it’s acceptable for people to be who they are. I am a huge advocate of that. In that sense, that’s the only way we can truly love ourselves, it’s by accepting who we are and letting everybody know who we are.
So, I’m very proud – you know – I’m friends with Ricky and I’m very proud of him and support him in everything he does. And all these people who have been... who want to step forward and tell the world who they are… I think that’s awesome.
BLABBEANDO – I also know you’ve been a longtime ally. You’ve always kept the gay community in mind in terms of the music you release and I know you know we are some of your biggest fans so…
JENNIFER LOPEZ – Absolutely…
BLABBEANDO - …I personally wanted to thank you for that as well.
JENNIFER LOPEZ – Absolutely. I mean, I had an aunt who was gay. I grew up with it. It’s just to me, being around dancers my whole life, you know? There’s a lot of dancers as well who are gay and it’s just not… For me it was never even anything as an issue. I had uncles… It was just seeing people were people. And it wasn’t one way or the other for me.
BLABBEANDO – That’s right. I think sometimes we – in the Latino community – we are your brothers, your sisters, etcetera, etcetera, we are part of the family. It’s more open than I think people give it credit for, at least in the Latino community.
BLABBEANDO - Now, going back to the album: What’s the next single? Have you decided on that? Will there be different singles released to the Latino market and the American market?
JENNIFER LOPEZ – Well, we have a lot of plans for the album as things go along. We have three different choices that we can do as a second single and it’s really hard for us to choose. We think we know what we are doing and then at the last minute we might change it [laughs]. But we are shooting a video very soon with Li’l Wayne on one song called “I’m Into You” but there’s another song called “Papi” and there’s another song called “Run the World”. So there are a few songs that we are thinking about as a second single. And we might release some simultaneously: Some are more urban, some are more dance. And, also, we are releasing very soon – or if it’s not released already, I don’t even know if it happened in the past day or two – the Spanish version of “On the Floor”…
BLABBEANDO – That’s great…
JENNIFER LOPEZ – Pitbull did a new version of his rap in Spanish and I re-sang the whole thing in Spanish as well. We are gonna do a Spanglish version where we mix in the Spanish. And then we are probably gonna do a whole Spanish version of the album. So – We have a lot of plans for it.
BLABBEANDO – Well, I know my ten minutes are up but I really wanted to thank you for taking my call.
JENNIFER LOPEZ – Thank you, Andrés, I really appreciate it so much.


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Cyndi Lauper meets married couple Alex Freyre and José Di Bello in Argentina

Two of my favorite blogs out there - Towleroad and Joe.My.God. - picked up on a video that shows the great Cyndi Lauper entertaining a bunch of stranded passengers facing delayed flights out of Buenos Aires by singing "Girls Just Want To Have Fun".

Lauper was flying back to the United States from Argentina after performing in Buenos Aires Friday night.

That night, Lauper and her tour production team had invited two very special guests: José Maria Di Bello and Alex Freyre, the first gay couple to marry in all of Latin America (they are all pictured right, with the husbands wearing red ribbon sashes).

I asked Alex to share his thoughts on meeting Lauper and here is what he wrote:
Cyndi wanted to meet us and we were invited to attend the show and meet her backstage.

We told her how we spent the night before we got married listening to her entire "True Colors" CD since it was the only one we had brought along!  And how we danced to it during our secret stay at the hotel.

She seemed surprised. I don't think she was aware that Argentina had passed a marriage law - at least that's what I understood - and [she was even more surprised] about our story. 
She said: "You are heroes!" and we told her that her inspiration had been very valuable to us; that she was an activist who had left her mark; and that we had always admired her for that and loved her for how she was.
José and Alex were among a number of same-sex couples who jumpstarted the push for marriage equality in Argentina by going to the courts and demanding the right to marry.  In November of 2009, in the first ruling of its kind, a court in Buenos Aires ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny them marriage rights and granted them the permission to marry.

As long-time HIV treatment and prevention advocates, they planned a marriage ceremony for December 1st, 2009, but mere hours before the ceremony a second court ordered a stay.

Realizing that the stay only applied to Buenos Aires - and with the assistance of a few legal advocates and a number of LGBT-rights organizations - the couple found out that the Governor of Tierra del Fuego, Fabiana Rios, was willing to officiate a civil marriage ceremony.

So, in utter secrecy, the couple made their way to the southernmost region in the Americas.  When Alex mentions the couple spent the night before the wedding dancing to "True Colors" during their secret stay at the hotel, it was because they told almost no one about their plan to marry in Tierra Del Fuego and people only found out about it after the ceremony had taken place.

That ceremony took place on December 28th, 2009.

Argentina, of course, would later become the first country in Latin America to pass a law granting all Argentinean gay couples the right to marry.

On Twitter, if you understand Spanish, you can follow the couple as follows: José Maria Di Bello tweets here and Alex Freyre tweets here.

Cyndi Lauper, by the way, tweets here.