Saturday, April 30, 2011

Argentina: A new government ID for Alejandro Iglesias as he becomes the poster boy for transgender rights

The end of "Gran Hermano 2011": This weekend brings the season finale of "Gran Hermano 2011" - the Argentinean version of the international "Big Brother" reality show franchise.  As you know, if you have been following this blog, the show started with a bang when it was revealed to viewers that one of the contestants - Aejandro Iglesias - was a transgender man.

Surprisingly viewers quickly warmed up to Alejandro and some media observers named him an early favorite to become the winner. That didn't happen: He was voted out in March after having spent three months as a contestant (pretty respectable, considering he outlasted two of the guys in this weekend's final only to see producers bring them back into the house).

Interviewed after leaving the house, Alejandro said he had no regrets about participating in the reality show and revealing his identity in such a public way.  His hope, he said, was that his visibility might have helped others going through the same struggles he experienced earlier in his life as he realized his true identity and that his participation in the show might have led to a national dialogue on transgender rights.

"What I'd like?," Alejandro said to an interviewer, "To have the law passed so it won't be as tough to get to where I am... because people like me might be fighting the same battles and when they realize there is so much they have to do, they become depressed, they shut down."

The law Alejandro mentions in the interview is a gender identity bill expected to be introduced for debate in the Argentinean legislature later this year. If approved, the law would make it easier and faster for transgender individuals to request a new government-issued national ID, or DNI, which better-reflects their current gender.

With Alejandro becoming a pop-culture phenomenon, the Argentinean LGBT Federation (FALGBT) and the Travesti, Transexual and Transgender Association of Argentina (ATTTA) realized Alejandro had also created a tremendous opportunity to educate the public on the bill and, after reaching the producers, they were given a chance to address "Big Brother" viewers back in March. Here is the 14-minute clip of their appearance on the show, which I've translated (turn annotations on).

It's quite an amazing clip, considering it was shown on mainstream Argentinean television as part of one of the top rated shows in the country.

The gender identity bill: In the clip, FALGBT President Esteban Paulón explains that the gender identity bill is now the top priority for the organization that led the successful push for marriage equality in the country (in 2010, Argentina became the first Latin American country to pass a law granting marriage rights to same-sex couples).  He explains that the bill would allow transgender individuals to request a change of name and gender on their government-issued ID without having to be diagnosed as suffering "gender dysphoria" and without being required to show proof of having undergone gender-reassignment surgery.

Paulón also says that there are similarities between the successful campaign the Federation mounted for marriage equality and the current campaign for the gender identity bill.

He says that the Federation worked with a number of same-sex couples who went to the courts to demand the right to marry on the basis of discrimination and that nine of those couples were granted the right to marry months before marriage equality became the law of the land.

Similarly, he says that the Federation is working with several transgender individuals who have gone to court to argue the current regulations for changing their ID's are discriminatory and places an unfair burden on them and the courts have ruled in favor of three transgender individuals since December (Paulón says that there are another 30 cases pending in the courts of Buenos Aires and 100 cases total pending in Argentinean courts).

Photo: "Gran Hermano 2011" contestants Luz Rios and Alejandro Iglesias (wearing red-ribbon sashes) meet gay Argentinean hubbies Alex Freyre and José Maria Di Bello, the first gay couple to marry in all of Latin America (photo courtesy of Alex).

"Gender Dysphoria": You might never have heard of the term "gender dysphoria" but, thanks to Alejandro, most people in Argentina probably have heard of it by now.  On his casting tape, he used the term "disforia de género" as an issue he wanted to highlight as a contestant in the show and, as he "came out" as a transgender man inside the house, he also explained to them that he had "gender dysphoria" (Search for "disforia de género" on Google News and you'll get hundreds of news articles that have followed Alejandro's lead and used the term when talking about him).

In my original blog post about Alejandro I alluded to the discontent that exists out there about the term "gender dysphoria" in certain segments of the transgender community.  I did this by linking up to a blog post by Alexandra Billings in which she reacted to the casting tape clip of Alejandro I posted on my blog ("Big Latin Brother", January 6, 2011).

Basically, the argument is that "gender dysphoria" is a medical term long used to designate being transgender as a pathology or illness.  The insidiousness of the term is that it is also a diagnosis that transgender individuals must seek if they want to have access to gender-reassignment surgery or a change in their government ID in many parts of the world, including most of the United States.

What's interesting about this clip is that Marcela Romero, Director of ATTTA, takes the term - as well as Alejandro's embrace of "gender dysphoria" - head on.

"Throughout the world the transgender community is fighting to remove 'gender dysphoria', it doesn't exist" Romero says at the 8:00 minute mark, "France already removed it from its health manuals, 'gender dysphoria' doesn't exist. What exists is the guideline for a court judge to say that you have 'gender dysphoria' in order to grant you a document and delay it for four years, ten years in my case".

She also speaks directly to Alejandro, who is in the audience, at the 13:50 minute mark and says "I wanted to tell you, Ale, that 'gender dysphoria' no longer exists, let's stop 'gender dysphoria', let's stop it" to which Alejandro meekly responds "Yes, of course" and defends himself by saying "It was the only concept I had."

Paulón also puts Alejandro on the spot by asking him to commit to working with the Federation and tells him that the Federation is committed to work with him not only to make sure Alejandro gets a new ID but also in assessing whether he wants to go to the courts and demand that the state respond to the need of transgender people who want to undergo gender-reassignment surgery as a health issue.  Paulón says that this is part of a second transgender rights bill that the Federation is working on which would require the government to respond to the integral health of all Argentineans, including transgender folk.

Alejandro, who is sitting next to Luz Rios - a lesbian contestant who was his closest ally during the current season of "Gran Hermano" - commits himself to working with the Federation and ATTTA just as Luz is seen to become overwhelmed with emotion and starts to cry.

It's really an amazing clip. Perhaps I'll get to translate it down the line.

Alejandro gets his new ID: Last week, Paulón came through on one of his two promises to Alejandro. Working with Maria Rachid, Vice President of the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI), Alejandro received his new government ID on Thursday morning.  He is now officially registered as "Alejandro Iván Iglesias" and as a male for all intents and purposes.  Here is a (translated) clip of the ceremony in which he was handed the new documents...

Imagine the marriage equality movement in the United States working as closely with transgender rights activists in this way?

Of course, the battle for the right of transgender folk to change the name and gender on their ID's is not unique to Argentina.

In the United States there are varying policies on changing one's ID documents, most requiring a transgender person to show they've had a psychiatric evaluation and show proof of having undergone gender-reassignment surgery.  Last month, three transgender individuals sued New York City arguing that the city's requirement for proof of surgery and a psychiatric evaluation made it extremely difficult for most transgender New Yorkers to get their ID's changed.

Pakistan was in the news earlier this week after their Supreme Court granted transgender individuals to register for a "third gender" category on their government ID's.

But I am am so glad I picked up Alejandro's story early on when he was introduced as part of the "Gran Hermano" contestants back in December. It's really been an incredibly moving story.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ricky Martin's new video: Más

Ricky Martin has released a video for the second single from his album "Musica + Amor + Sexo" titled "Más".  It was taped in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on the opening weekend of his current tour and directed by Colombian film director Simon Brand who has previously directed videos for Shakira, Paulina Rubio and Jessica Simpson.  Not that it captures much more than the live experience, little neon crosses here and there, with a few male and female of models embedded in the crowd.  Martin, who recently came out, is preparing to release English-language versions of the song.'

Interestingly "Tu y Yo", my favorite song on the new album - which happens to be the most unapologetic homoerotic track - is not among the songs performed in the new tour and, as far as I know, is also not set to be released as a future single.

With that in mind, here is the official video for the Spanish version of "Más"...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

NYS Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., Joe.My.God., The Village Voice, El Diario La Prensa, oh my...

It's been a grey, cold, rainy Spring day here in New York but an interesting exchange has been taking place between New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. and the venerable newsweekly The Village Voice over a post on Joe.My.God.

It all began yesterday when a reader of Joe.My.God. sent translated information from a Dominican Republic newspaper in which the State Senator announced an anti-marriage equality march and rally to take place in the Bronx on May 15th, 2011.  The reader's statement as posted on Joe's blog:
Radio Vision Cristiana, a New Jersey-based Spanish-language AM radio station that broadcasts religious programming, is planning a huge anti-gay march in New York City on May 15, 2011. It will be held in the Bronx (starting at noon the participants will march from 149th Street and Third avenue to [161st] street in the Bronx). The radio station, as well as the main organizer of the event, State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. are urging all Hispanics and especially evangelicals to oppose the possible legalization of same-sex marriages in New York State. Ruben Diaz is urging the participants "to paralyze all traffic in the Bronx" on that day. Organizers of the event expect up to 30,000 people to show up. A similar rally was held in 2009, it attracted about 20,000 people and took many city officials by surprise. 
In the original Spanish-language article, the Senator also riles against the largest Spanish-language newspaper in the city, El Diario La Prensa, and their longstanding editorial support for marriage equality and says he will launch a boycott of the newspaper.  From the article:
"On that day El Diario La Prensa will see a 20,000 issue drop in sales and, in this way, it will see that the Hispanic community in this city opposes marriage between people of the same sex and abortion," said Ruben Diaz.
In speaking against a woman's right to choose, the paper also says that the Senator argued that of 100 women who give birth, 48 "dump them into the trash" implying that the abortion rate in this country is 48% (on January 10th, the New York Times reported that even at it's peak in 1981, annual abortion rates never have reached past 2.9% of pregnancies).

Village Voice reporter Steven Thrasher, who wrote an amazing cover story profile of out soldier Dan Choi back in October, quickly picked up on Joe's post at the Voice's blog Runnin' Scared noting that May 15th, the planned rally date, was also the planned date for the annual AIDS Walk organized by GMHC.

That post, as the one on Joe.My.God., elicited some angry reactions including someone who hoped Diaz would "shortly die of natural causes".  That led others to write similar comments including some anonymous fucktard named "Wayne" to go a step further and write " you wish, Mr. Diaz... I can arrange your final resting place in a local dump."

Today, Senator Diaz responded on his website in a press statement titled "An Open Letter to the Editors of The Village Voice".  An excerpt
When I read the comments posted online that followed your article, I considered that you or your editors have espoused an "at all costs" approach to achieving your goal of passing a gay marriage bill. One reader, Wayne writes: " you wish, Mr Diaz.....I can arrange your final resting place in a local dump."

Would the authors and editors at the Village Voice have been so quick to tolerate any comments hoping for the demise or imminent death of one of their favorite political leaders? Or perhaps their purpose really was to draw out and encourage criminal acts by your readers....

It's so sad to see people in journalism abuse their positions, but it's outrageous to see how the editors of the Village Voice use their editorial discretion to facilitate and encourage homicide.
Dramatic much? Anonymous online trolling is what defines current online "debates" nowadays and there is no doubt in my mind that the Senator knows this.  That doesn't mean that he isn't smart enough to use it to his advantage and pretend he is a victim - particularly for someone who welcomes any press he can get.  In any case, Tony Ortega, editor of the Village Voice, responded today as well:
As you noticed, in a recent update to this blog by Steven Thrasher on how irrelevant you are becoming in New York's inexorable move to making marriage equality a reality in this state, I put a rather salacious headline on the piece: "Ruben Diaz, Sr.: Gay Marriage Over My Dead Body."

I wrote that headline in an attempt not only to get attention to Thrasher's reasoned, well-reported post, but also to characterize just how out of step with reality your opposition to gay marriage has become in a city where the national movement for gay rights began.

I did not, however, actually wish you dead, and if some of our commenters were similarly hyperbolic in their denunciations of you, I consider that unfortunate.

No, there certainly is no desire on my part or on the part of the Voice to hope for your early demise. In fact, you provide for us a valuable service, reminding us of how backward and mean-spirited many people in this country, and even many people in this otherwise enlightened city, are about human rights and basic human dignity.

The Voice in general, and Steven Thrasher in particular, has provided example after example of how loving, committed couples are denied the most basic of human rights because of bizarre and hate-filled screeds by the shortsighted emotional midgets of this country, of which you make a most convenient and visible example.

For that reason, if for no other, we want you to be around after the more responsible members of our political leadership adopt gay marriage, and for a long, long time after that.

So that we may never forget.
Tony, I believe, gets things only half-right.

There are websites and blogs that choose to moderate comments, like this one.  There are websites and blogs that choose not to do so, and I respect that as well. But I don't think Diaz ever referred to the Voice's blog post title.  Instead, I believe he was specifically responding to the comments left on the post and deliberately picking up on the 'local dump' post.

Simply stating, as Ortega did, that "if some of our commenters were similarly hyperbolic in their denunciations of you, I consider that unfortunate" (italics mine) is sadly akin to every time a homophobic personality apologizes for some homophobic outburst by qualifying the statement with "if anyone was offended by...".

As one of the largest-read gay blogs in the country, and as a blog that does not moderate comments, I am well-aware of the flack that Joe Jervis has gotten as the author of Joe.My.Blog. and the way he has been unfairly blamed for the thoughts of his readers.  Kudos, then, to Joe for following up on the story today and including the following statement:
Please do not leave comments making even the most idle of threats of physical harm or property damage against any persons or places. Longtime readers may recall that in late 2009, anti-gay and Christianist websites launched a campaign against JMG, claiming that readers were making "terrorist threats" against supporters of Proposition 8. Please contact me via email if you see any threats or calls to violence and I will dispatch them at once. Our enemies are reading every word you write.
Here is where it gets mightily dispiriting.  Even though Diaz is attacking 'teh geyz', a woman's right to choose and one of the major Latino media supporters of marriage equality in the United States, a large part of the angry visceral queer reaction to Diaz' statements doesn't really call for his head to roll --- but it certainly brings to mind the xenophobic Tea Party.

A [stomach-churning] sampling from responses on Joe's post asking for a moderate reaction:
  • I wish these people would go back to their 3rd world "democracies" where they can practice their vile discrimination.
  • Hispanics arriving on out of state church buses?....Take pictures of the buses and their affiliations, take pictures of the bussed in participants, and someone please clue in INS, just in case there are some "undocumented" protesters.
  • I agree with some of our other posters concerning full documentation of all the protesters being bussed in to participate in this event, regardless of any racial or nationalist agendas.  If your cause is so weak that any warm body will do, it is more than probable that some of these people might have documentation issues which need addressing.
The 'funny' thing is that Senator Diaz and a large number of his followers were born in Puerto Rico and, as such, have always been U.S. citizens.

There are a number of folk commenting on Joe's site who try to counter the xenophobia but, more often than not, they get attacked themselves as well.

The 'sad' thing is that it doesn't really surprise me because it's nothing new.  What amazes me is their mindless willingness to shoot themselves in the foot by alienating immigrant and non-immigrant Latinos who might support marriage equality.

I'll have some additional thoughts on this in my next post.

  • The Senator has a follow-up response he has titled "Protecting Marriage".
  • The Voice follows up. Ruben Diaz, Jr., the Senator's son and current Bronx Borough President, will not be participating in his father's rally.
  • Some have said that the fact that the march and rally has been scheduled on May 15th might have to do with the fact that it would fall on the same date as the AIDS Walk in Manhattan. Bob Kappstatter at the New York Daily News says there might be another reason: It's also the same date as the Bronx Puerto Rican Day Parade, which ends just six blocks away from the anti-gay rally.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Elvis Crespo, Granda Entertainment and the Latino LGBT community

 Last month Granda Entertainment announced a series of performances by merengue music singer Elvis Crespo at different LGBT-related venues throughout the United States.

The singer hit it big in 1999 with his first two singles as a solo artist - "Suavemente" and "Tu Sonrisa" - which spent weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks chart.

"Suavemente", the album, earned the Billboard 'Best Male/Tropical Salsa Album of the Year' honor and was nominated for 'Best Tropical Latin Performance' at the Grammy Awards.

The two songs also became huge dance-floor staples at Latino gay bars in New York and Miami and still can be heard blasting from the speakers from time to time twelve years after they were released.

In December Elvis Crespo released "Indestructible" - his 8th solo album - and launched a video for the single "Hey, Dude".  It's safe to say, though, that he's never managed to match the early success of those first two hits.  Instead, in the last few years, he's been busier confronting allegations of marital infidelity as well as a headline-grabbing 2009 allegation of public masturbation on a civil passenger flight.

And now comes his new LGBT venue tour.

In some ways, it makes a lot of sense for Elvis Crespo to engage his Latino LGBT fans in the United States.  It is a devoted fan-base and the costs of performing at gay venues far outstrip putting together a full touring schedule.

Granda Entertainment is also arguably the place to go. Over the years they have mastered the art of pulling together these kind of tours for former Latino pop stars hoping to revive their careers.  They include Mexican singer Gloria Trevi, who saw her music career reborn after she toured gay bars in the major urban markets in the United States, and - less successfully - Karyme Lozano who wanted to promote a salsa music album after years of performing as an actress in Mexican telenovelas. In 2008, as part of her Granda Entertainment-sponsored LGBT venue tour, Lozano was named as the Queen of the 2008 San Francisco Pride Parade. Two years later she was prominently featured as an anti-marriage equality ally by homophobic institutions such as the National Organization for Marriage.

I do get that this is a business venture and I do believe that - beyond the obvious commercial interests - Crespo does have a sincere interest in reaching out and supporting his LGBT fans.

But I was also incredibly bothered by the way the tour was promoted: The original press release was titled "Elvis Crespo to tour in support of the LGBT community" (italics mine) and media followed blindly. "Elvis Crespo sings in support of the LGBT community" said Puerto Rico's Primera Hora; "Elvis Crespo announces a tour in support of the LGBT community in the United States" said Yahoo News Mexico.

Excuse me? In "support" of the Latino LGBT community? In what way? Are proceeds going to any Latino LGBT charities? Is Elvis Crespo standing up for marriage equality in the same way that Gloria Trevi uploaded a video against passage of Prop. 8 in California? And isn't this actually the other way around? Aren't you asking the Latino LGBT community to spend their hard-earned money to support Elvis Crespo's singing career?

And yet, I realized my anger turned on the way that the press release had been phased rather than on what anyone else in this world might have picked up from it - so I let it go... until it actually became an issue.

On April 6th, on the eve of the first performance, Crespo was scheduled to appear at the top rated Spanish-language radio station in Chicago - La Kalle 106.7 FM - to promote his tour.  By all accounts, the singer showed up at the Univision-owned radio station but left before he had said a single word. As Primera Hora reported, Crespo alleged he simply chose to stand up an leave the studio when he was not allowed to express his support for the LGBT community.

The next day, on his Twitter account he wrote "Disappointed that there is homophobia in communication media in the 21st Century: Indestructible LGBT Tour" and linked up to several media accounts reporting he had walked out of the radio studio.

Granda Entertainment sent out a press release titled "Elvis Crespo cancels Chicago radio interview for not being allowed to support LGBT community". And Spanish-language media gladly "reported" on the incident without asking for any additional details.

Sources tell me that the whole thing stemmed from a misunderstanding between Crespo and the radio station that had to do with not observing exclusive promotional rights instead of homophobia and a source also told The Windy City Times that "it was more of an advertising decision" than anything else.

I reached out to La Kalle 106.7 but they told me they had been told not to discuss the incident with media by Univision and to provide a Univision public relations contact number instead. I called Univision but they said there would be no on-the-record statements on the incident for now.

Still, it's pretty obvious that La Kalle106.7 has felt the sting of the media reports claiming they are homophobic.  This week they have prominently Ricky Martin on their home page as the out gay singer takes his new tour to Chicago (see screen capture above).

In the meantime, last weekend Elvis Crespo continued his LGBT venue tour and performed at Miami Beach Gay Pride.  At the stop, he was interviewed by a reporter for Azteca America and asked to comment on the Chicago radio station incident. Surprisingly, Crespo evaded the question several times and told the reporter it was time to leave the incident behind.

Then I found out that Crespo had been invited to sit in as a guest host on the 2-hour afternoon gossip show "Escándalo TV" that aired yesterday on the Univision-owned Telefutura network... So I set up my DVR to tape it.  Sigh.

I have to say that Crespo was charming, funny and seemingly thrilled at getting the exposure. He also was was a better man than most for enduring jokes at his expense from the other hosts based on past controversies, including the alleged masturbation incident on a commercial flight.
BUT - I also have to say he spent all of five minutes talking about his LGBT-related tour and actually giggled as one of the regular hosts showed a Photo-Shopped image of Madonna kissing Britney Spears at the 2003 VMA awards with Juliet Cabrera superimposed in the middle as a gag example of the "racy" pictures that had surfaced lately about the recently booted Univision beauty show contestant (Google if you must).

And then the actual moment when my jaw dropped.

Half way through the show, "Escandalo TV" linked up to a live video feed from the studios of La Kalle 106.7 FM in Chicago providing a perfect chance for Crespo to confront the radio station for the homophobic treatment he alleged he had experienced.

Not so fast.
  • "Mau" Mauricio Mejia (La Kalle 106.7): "Elvis, we love you here at La Kalle, very much so, and we hope you visit soon."
  • Elvis Crespo: "I know, I know, believe me, I know."
  • Me thinking silently: WTF?
So there are a couple of scenarios here:
  • As [separate?] sources for this blog and The Windy City Times have said, this was all a misunderstanding in which the radio station felt Crespo had broken an exclusivity deal and the singer thought he was being silenced for his support of 'teh geyz', in which case things seem to have been resolved behind the scenes. Or;
  • Crespo was right all along and left the radio station as a principled supporter of the LGBT cause (italics still all mine) who couldn't stand being banned from defending 'teh geyz' on the radio, in which case he seems to have caved in to the pressure of getting exposure of Univision-related venues.
Personally, I have a feeling that the truth lies closer to the first scenario than the second one.

I would have no issue whatsoever if the tour had been sold just as a way for a former pop music idol to connect with his LGBT fans, never mind that said idol waited all these years to speak up about LGBT issues.  But Granda Entertainment made it a point to sell the tour as a way to "support" the Latino LGBT community and I'm not sure this quite rises to that level.

In true Granda Entertainment fashion, Elvis Crespo has disclosed that he will be accepting the King of the San Francisco Pride Parade honor on June 26th - just like Gloria Trevi and Karyme Lozano accepted the Queen of the San Francisco Pride Parades in years past.

I know it's a business. But sometimes I wish the Latino LGBT community would stand up and demand that we are not sold out quite as cheaply as that.

Monday, April 18, 2011

As Cuba celebrates the 50th year anniversary of the failed U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion, a place at the table for the gays

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Cubans gathered at Havana's Revolution Square to observe the 50th anniversary of the failed U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion.

The historic event, known in Cuba as the Girón Beach Battle, has always been celebrated with a huge annual military parade and fireworks akin to the 4th of July or Veteran's Day celebrations in the United States.

It's also preceded and followed by huge public rallies dedicated this year to the younger generations by Cuban president Raúl Castro (he expressed concern that those who surrounded him were reaching his age or were older and said he wanted to promote the participation of younger generations in Cuban revolutionary party politics).

His daughter, Mariela Castro, was also there as the director of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and led an unofficial LGBT contingent who proudly carried the rainbow flag next to the Cuban flag (that's Mariela Castro at the center in the picture holding the rainbow flag).

On their site, CENESEX posted additional photos and noted that their participation in the historic ceremony comes in advance of the 4th Annual Congress Against Homophobia which will take place in May and feature cultural and educational forums throughout the island including Havana, Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, Granma, Villa Clara and, yes, Guantanamo.

No word on whether U.S. actor Sean Penn will show up after taking a rain-check last year when he was invited to the Cuban premiere of Gus Van Sant's "Milk" during last year's anti-homophobia events.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Colombia: Taking communion on Palm Sunday to protest religious anti-gay bigotry

After being appointed as the Archbishop of Bogotá by Pope Benedict XVI in July of last year, Colombian Monsignor Jesús Rubén Salazar Gómez set three specific goals for himself: "Protecting marriage" as that between a man and a woman; fighting abortion rights for women at all costs and, last of all, promoting peace in the South American country.

So it wasn't necessarily a huge surprise to see him use his standing as Archbishop and his role as the president of the Colombian Episcopal Conference to release a public letter yesterday - on the eve of Holy Week - to ask Catholic believers throughout the country to speak up against efforts to grant same-sex couples the right to adopt children.

"Catholics like us are opposed to minors being entrusted to couples made up of same-sex partners and we reject any eventual Constitutional Court decision to that effect," the good pastor said in his letter.

The letter was understood as a call to arms for Catholic churches throughout the nation to take up the issue during today's Sunday mass and throughout the rest of the week.  It also comes in a week that saw great news in the advancement of LGBT rights in the country.

On Wednesday, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled by an overwhelming 8-1 vote that common-law heterosexual partners and unmarried same-sex partners had the right to inherit their partner's belongings in the case of their partner's death, adding to a series of rulings by the same court in favor of LGBT rights.

The president of the Colombian Constitutional Court, Juan Carlos Henao, took pains on Thursday to say the ruling applied to anyone who could prove they had lived in a common-law partnership for two years, regardless whether it was a straight or gay couple, implying that they had yet to rule on whether same-sex couples had the right to marry.

That's because the Constitutional Court already has a couple of cases in it's docket that addresses both adoption rights for same-sex partners and marriage equality... hence the current Colombian Catholic church freak-out.

I have to say that I have no idea how the Constitutional Court will come down on either pending case.  Advocates who have brought previous cases before the Colombian Constitutional Court have been careful not to engage the marriage equality argument and target, instead, specific partnership rights such as inheritance and access to social security and health insurance benefits.  In other words, they have not asked the Constitutional Court to declare whether same-sex couples should be considered a "family" under the Colombian constitution.

Today, though, a dozen lesbian and gay advocates in Bogotá took the Archbishop's challenge head-on.  According to today's El Tiempo, they attended the Palm Sunday mass at the Metropolitan Church in Bogotá and stood in line to receive communion. They each wore a white T-Shirt that read "I am homosexual. I have children. I am Catholic" on one side and "Homophobia is not Christian!" on the other (see picture above).

Reportedly they all received communion.

"Obviously, as Catholics, we feel the pain of encountering a statement coming from the church saying we are not able nor apt to adopt children, or to raise them lovingly," said Elizabeth Castillo who led a group of lesbian mothers, "That is why we are here, it was important to us to establish our voice of protest - we deserve respect!"

"Supposedly, the Church is based on a message of love" she added, "it's incomprehensible why it is that they have sent a press release to the entire nation asking them to protest against adoption rights for gays."

I so love Elizabeth and all the other folk who showed up today at the Metropolitan Church in Bogotá asking not only for respect but also for equal rights.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Passion of the Christ, Part II: Cristiada

When I think back on my years of activism in the Latino gay community I am always struck by those few unexpected moments and images that still rattle in my head and reverberate long after they have passed.

On March 14th, 2004, New York saw as huge an anti-gay rally as I have ever witnessed. Police reports put the crowd outside the Bronx Courthouse at 5,000 to 7,000 but I wouldn't be surprised if the count was much higher.

Although it's not entirely clear who masterminded the event or paid for it, hundreds of Latino churches throughout the NY/NJ/CT tri-state region ended their Sunday morning services by herding parishioners into buses and taking them to the Bronx. At the time, President George W. Bush was threatening a constitutional amendment to block same-sex marriages in the United States and rally organizers seemed all too happy to stand up and speak up in front of a huge banner that read "No to homosexual marriages, yes to President George Bush's constitutional amendment" (so much for a separation between church and state!).

I was there with 40 or 50 queer Latinos and allies hoping to counter the homophobic sentiments being sent in the name of God but there was little chance our message could reach such a huge crowd.  At the very least, we did provide an alternative message to some of the Latino media that showed up that day.

As the crowd swelled past the Courthouse grounds, across the street and into the park grounds where we stood, the police saw it fit to pen us in as a measure of protection. But I never really felt the need for the police pens nor did I feel in physical danger.  Most of the signs were of the "God made Adam for Eve, not for Steve" or the "love the sinner but hate the sin" variety and most people left us alone.

Most people.

As we stood in our safety area a woman wearing dressed in a denim jacket and wearing a baseball cap slowly made her way up the hill towards us calling us sinners and telling us we were going to hell. The detail that has stuck with me all these years later was not so much her shouting or vehemence but the fact that she was holding a copy of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" high in the air - until someone stepped in and convinced her to walk away.

The movie had just been released three weeks earlier, and I remember finding it hilarious that someone was using a pirated version of the DVD to tell me I was going to hell.

It had also opened to boffo box office success in the United States in part due to the word-of-mouth from preview screenings at right-wing evangelical venues.

Which brings me to a new film called "Cristiada".

Probably not quite as bloody as "The Passion of the Christ" nor as well-poised to receive as large a distribution deal, this is certainly the most expensive and overtly direct attempt to appeal to that segment of the Latino evangelical community who thought "The Passion of the Christ" was a documentary.

Here is the official movie preview which was released at the end of March...

This period piece film dramatizes the Mexican Cristero War of 1926 in which Christians picked up arms to defeat a secular government who was prosecuting religious expression.  The cinematography looks amazing which is not surprising as the movie is being promoted as the most expensive film to be completely filmed in Mexico.  It also has a strong cast which includes legendary actor Peter O'Toole as well as Eva Longoria, Andy Garcia, Rubén Blades, Bruce Greenwood, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Nestor Carbonell.

Scratch deeper and you'll ask why all these fine actors got themselves involved in this project.

Director Dean Wright previously handled special effects for "Chronicles of Narnia: The Witch and the Wardrobe" which is based on a series of C.S. Lewis novels that some have taken to task for weaving Christian theology into what is essentially a children's book series.  That might not necessarily indicate religious intent but an April 8th interview with the homophobic religious site CNA certainly does ("Movie explores faith in Cristero War against forced secularism").

In the interview Wright says he became interested in the film thanks to producer Pablo José Barroso who is no stranger to religious propaganda as in the film "Guadalupe" which was also championed at CNA.

Most worrisome is the involvement of actors Eduardo Verastegüi and Karyme Lozano in the film.

Mexican born Verastegüi plays the role of a martyr Christian priest who was hung for advocating peace. He is also an actor who gained notoriety as a member of a beefcake boyband called Kairo who eventually moved to Hollywood seeking showbiz success.

He found it, initially being cast in movies like "Chasing Papi" and television episodes of "CSI: Miami" and "Charmed" but rumor is that he also fell in the hands of an English-language teacher who taught him that his "life-style" was wrong.

He soon became a rabidly anti-choice advocate and a marriage equality opponent who became the Latino face of those who backed Proposition 8 in California, which sought to ban recognition of any same-sex marriages in the state.

Speaking to Univisión as quoted by CNA (of course) Verastegüi says "It is a film with a great message of faith, love, hope, loyalty and courage, about the religious persecution in Mexico... I play a Catholic lawyer, Blessed Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, called the ‘Mexican Ghandi,’ because he was a heroic pacifist who only wanted to defend his Catholic faith without violence".

Verastegüi playing the martyr. Sigh. As for Karyme Lozano...

Oy! Another big conversion into homophobic blather. This from a woman who gladly received the 2008 crown as the queen of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade!

And there you go. A star-studded Latino movie that spends millions of dollars painting Christians as innocent victims in ways that the director, the producers and some of the actors surely hope it will reverberate today, particularly in Latino communities.

They are already targeting right-wing religious sites for promotion, just as Mel Gibson did a decade ago. This time. though, they are going straight for the heart of the Latino community and I'm not so sure once it finds a distributor it will receive the critical response it deserves to get, particularly in the leading Latino publications.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Peru: LGBT rights and this weekend's presidential elections

Peruvians go to the polls this weekend to elect a new president but they probably won't know who won until June:  None of the leading candidates is expected to get the majority of the votes and, if that's the case, the two top vote getters will be heading for a run-off election ("Leftist favored in Peru vote but run-off expected" - Reuters, April 6, 2011).

In terms of LGBT rights, it's been both breathtaking and frustrating to see issues such as same-sex civil unions be embraced by most of the leading candidates even as they also try to outdo each other in expressing their opposition to same-sex marriage ("Same-sex unions in Perú: Along-shot, except at roiling the presidential race" - Time, March 1, 2011).

That LGBT issues have gained so much traction in the Peruvian presidential elections is probably due to vice-presidential candidate Carlos Bruce (pictured) who is running next to former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo as Toledo makes a 2nd bid for the top office.

Throughout the campaign, Bruce, who is divorced and says he'll never marry again, has been a steadfast advocate for LGBT rights promising to push for a hate crime bill that would penalize homophobic persecution against gays and for a civil unions bill granting partnership rights to gay and lesbian couples.

Back in January, as the Toledo-Bruce team led most of the presidential polls, Bruce sat down with the team of a Peruvian version of Dan Savage's "It Gets Better Project" called "Proyecto Todo Mejora" and addressed Peruvian queer youth...

The message itself is a little muddled. I'm not sure everyone who has bullied gays when they are younger grows up to be a failure nor does the experience of coming to terms with one's sexuality mean you'll be an economically successful person. But it's nevertheless impressive that Bruce didn't seem to think twice about participating in the project in the middle of a presidential campaign [NOTE: At the 5:28 mark, I've also spliced-in a shorter video posted days later by congressional candidate Ronald Gamarra who has also been a longtime LGBT-rights advocate but was probably inspired by Bruce to post his own video on YouTube].

That was January when the election was Toledo's to lose.  Now, three days before the election, polls indicate the Toledo-Bruce ticket might not even make the run-off.  Toledo, who previously led the country on the center-left, is a known entity, but he has been hurt by being equivocal on a number of issues, perhaps having promised too much earlier in the race, and now having to reign back some of his views on social issues like abortion and the legalization of drugs.

The declining fortunes for the Toledo-Bruce team has benefited two other candidates who are leading the polls:

Ollanta Humala, a left wing candidate who almost won the presidential race when he faced Alan Garcia in a run-off in 2006; and Keiko Fujimori, who wants to take the right-wing mantle of her father, former Peruvian president and human rights violator Alberto Fujimori.

Humala is running a much-different campaign than he ran in 2006.  Back then he always wore a red shirt or military uniform and spoke in no uncertain terms about his leftist credentials. Four years later, he's dropped the red shirts in favor of suits and toned down his left-wing rhetoric in ways that observers say make him more palatable to Peruvian middle-class voters.

In the 2006 race, Humala sought to present himself as gay friendly, specifically after his mother was quoted as saying that gays should be shot.  He didn't necessarily spell out any specific LGBT-related policies as part of his presidential platform but did say that gays could serve in his cabinet if they were qualified. Some in his party also said he would make use his presidency to push for a hate-crimes bill.

Most of the leading LGBT organizations and leaders staged protests against Humala and characterized his few overtures as deceitful but he did win the endorsement of a fringe LGBT rights organization called Raiz Diversidad Sexual.

Still, the controversy over his mother's shocking words lingered and he must have felt a need to cover his bases as he looked ahead at the 2011 elections.

In December of 2009, during a nation-wide tour, he stopped in Tarapoto and marched with a number of transgender community leaders.  In January of that year, the region had been the site where a news organization had captured shocking images of a vigilante crew going after a transgender sex worker ("News cameras capture inhuman beating, undressing and humiliation of transgender street worker") so it was quite a sight to see Humala march down the Tarapoto streets next to the transgender activists...

"I believe there should be opportunities for [LGBT] people, give them labor rights," he said to the reporter who covered his Tarapoto visit.

The following clip shows the less than thrilled reactions from some of the LGBT leaders in Lima as well as interviews with his mother and his father.

That was a little more than a year ago. But we now have a new Humala.

On March 2st, he met with Peruvian Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani and came out of the meeting telling reporters that his campaign and the church were in agreement on "the importance of defending family values" and saying that his party had "conservative Catholic beliefs" and saw the "family" as being a man, a woman and their children.

Humala had previously seemed open to granting civil union rights to same-sex couples even as he opposed marriage equality, much like Toledo, but following his new Catholic awakening he even cast doubts on whether he would be in favor of civil unions.

"In some countries, you simply have a division of belongings," he said to El Comercio, "It's unnecessary to grant laws to a minority or a specific group of Peruvians because that could also be an exclusion, as if they were different, and I don't see them as being different."

"We cannot demonize them nor push them to the margins," he continued, "I don't see them as being different".

In other words, if he is elected president he seems more than ready to deny equal rights to gay and lesbians even as he has the gall to say he'll do it for the sake of equality.

By the way, gay blogger Peruanista, who was born in Peru but lives in DC, has a whole different take than I do on Humala and has endorsed him.  He also posted a Spanish-language video on YouTube defending Humala's meeting with Cardinal Cipriani and the statements he made after the meeting.

Peruanista interviewed Humala on his stand on LGBT issues in September of 2010 during one of Humala's visits to the United States.  Here is the video, shared without translation.