Friday, November 25, 2011

An interview with me!

I have been doing a few interviews as of late and by that I mean who could forget my incredible tête-à-têtes with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Michael Musto, Tim Dax and Lisa M?

Now comes the greatest interview of all: An interview with me!

Don't worry, I am not as infatuated with myself to have conducted the interview.  It was just happy happenstance that my friend Enrique TorreMolina was gracious enough to reach out and ask a few pressing questions.  Some excerpts:
  • Me on immigration: There is no reason why the wealthiest nation in the world cannot provide opportunities for immigrants to develop their full potential regardless of economic or educational background. 
  • Me on blogging: Not every blog writer posts a daily entry or multiple daily posts. I’m sure most people don’t even realize how much perseverance, dedication, personal sacrifice and time it takes a blogger to keep up that sort of blogging rhythm but it’s almost a Herculean task. 
  • Me on gossip: For a while I tried to be snarky and gossipy because I felt readers would enjoy it, but ultimately it wasn’t my style. I ended up erasing a few posts where I felt I had dished out at a couple of celebrities. It just made me feel dirty. Others do gossip much better than I do.
  • Me on Latino LGBT priorities: Sometimes the question about community “priorities” bothers me –and I know you didn’t mean it that way– because it’s usually code speak for ‘your priority is not important, my priority is’.
  • Me on my which other blogs you should be following: It might be an eclectic list but...
Heck, I'll let you read the whole interview, and check out some of the blogs I gave props to, here: Blabbeando with Andrés Duque.

If I may say so, it's probably the most important interview you will read in your life.

Thanks, Enrique, for having the great taste to interview me! You rock.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Stunning LGBT campaign ads from Argentina

A year ago, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to grant same-sex couples full marriage rights. Before this year is over, the Argentinean congress might very well pass a groundbreaking transgender-rights law extending health care protections to transgender individuals and making it easier for trans folk to change their ID's to better reflect their gender identity without requiring proof of gender reassignment surgery.

Getting to this point has certainly taken years of work by Argentinean LGBT organizations, activists, advocates and allies.  It has also inspired some pretty amazing television and online video ads.

The following two ads come from the Observatory for the Promotion of Sexual Diversity Rights in Salta or Obs.Salta for short and were made possible through grants from the United Nations (turn "annotations" on for my on-screen translation).

The second ad takes a similar take in a different setting...

The ads have actually been out for more than a year but somehow I missed them. You might also have missed a couple of really amazing ads I featured earlier.

The first one came as the ultimately successful marriage equality campaign was about to begin its final phase...

The most recent ad I featured is also a stunner and comes as advocates push for the transgender rights bill...

These are truly amazing ads.  When I try to think of any LGBT advocacy ads from the United States that are similar to these I am at a loss.  True, attitudes towards these issues might be different in Argentina than in the United States but does anyone know of any related ads produced in the U.S. that seem as immediate and vibrant as these ads?


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cuban exile group in Miami stages hilarious protest against Ricky Martin

Details are sketchy but a small group of Cuban exiles in Miami apparently held a protest against pop singer Ricky Martin for daring to take the role of "Che" in the new Broadway version of the play "Evita".

Once feared for instigating boycotts against any music band that dared to perform in Cuba or had any allegiances to Cuban-based artists, Vigilia Mambisa, as the group calls itself, has become a shadow of its former glory and has lost favor with newer Cuban-American generations who see them as out of touch with political realities.

Images captured at the event, which was held on Friday, November 11th, in the parking lot outside the Miami's American Airlines Arena, show a woman holding a sing that reads "Ricky Martin: Undesirable, not worthy of appreciation - Boycott". Signs on the steamroller read "Boycott Ricky Martin's music" and "Vigilia Mambisa - Freedom".

The same group has mounted similar protest against a number of music bands including Miguel Bosé, Juanes and Los Van Van. This is not even the first fictionalized "Che" they have boycotted. In 2008, they riled against the Steven Soderbergh movie about the life of Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Ironically, according to Wikipedia, the character of "Che" in "Evita" was originally not even based on the Argentinean-born left wing revolutionary leader who helped Fidel Castro take over Cuba.  Apparently it was later that Harold Prince suggested that actors play the character as such when he joined production at a later stage in the play's development.

It's also not the only protest mounted against Ricky Martin in Miami in the last twelve months. On December 18th of last year, a group led by a Hispanic evangelical church stood outside Miami's Univision studios claiming that an interview with the pop idol that aired on November 2nd had been pornographic, indecent and obscene (it had been none of those things) and, of course, promoted the gay lifestyle.

Other than their target, the two protests apparently had something in common: Neither seemed to attract much attention or press.

Previews for "Evita" with Ricky Martin, Elena Roger and Michael Cerveris begin on Broadway on March 12th.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Senator DeMint to Obama: Stop promoting human rights protections for LGBT communities outside the United States

NOTE: This entry has been cross-posted at The New Civil Rights Movement. Thanks to NCRM Editor David Badash for hosting the post there as well.

When President Barack Obama named Puerto Rican lawyer Mari Carmen Aponte as his choice to become the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador in 2009, the nomination ran smack into a wall set up by Republican Senators who simply refused to vote on a wide array of diplomatic candidates nominated by the president.

At preliminary hearings at the time, conservative South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint led the charge against Aponte raising several "issues" including ludicrous rumors that she might very well be a Communist infiltrator.

Facing an obstructionist Republican Senate, Obama waited until a congressional recess to pull several of the nominees out of the regular nomination process and use his presidential powers to appoint them as interim ambassadors.  That meant that they could immediately start serving as diplomats but would have to eventually face confirmation hearings at the end of the next calendar year from the date in which they were appointed.

Among those who were appointed for interim posts on August of 2010 was Aponte.

On a related matter, on June 27th of this year U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held the third annual LGBT pride event to happen at the U.S. Department of State under her watch.

In an extraordinary speech before staff from the Department of State and members of the U.S. diplomatic corps, Clinton saluted their work on promoting respect for LGBT communities throughout the world. An excerpt from the full speech:
There is the tremendous work that our diplomats have been doing in regional and international institutions to strengthen a shared consensus about how governments should treat their citizens. And we’ve made the message very consistent and of a high priority. All people’s rights and dignity must be protected whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The very next day El Salvador's La Prensa Gráfica published an opinion piece by Ambassador Aponte titled "For an end to prejudice, wherever it exists".  An excerpt from the article (full translation at the end of this post):
Last March, before the Human Rights Council at the United Nations, the United States, El Salvador and eighty-three other nations signed a pledge to eliminate violence against members of the LGBT community; additionally, on May of 2010, Salvadorean President Mauricio Funes signed Decree 56 which prohibits all forms of discrimination by the government of El Salvador on the basis of sexual orientation or identity. I applaud efforts by the government of El Salvador in support of the LGBT community both on the national and the international level.
The OpEd drew an immediate and furious rebuke from a small but powerful group of right-wing conservative religious leaders from El Salvador and other Latin American countries.

On July 6th, ACI Prensa reported that 42 so-called "pro life" and "pro family" organizations from the United States and Latin America had signed a statement rejecting the opinion piece ("Civil groups energetically reject the gay ideology of the United States in El Salvador").  A translated excerpt:
Aponte's article is essentially a cover for those so-called 'gay rights' which are actually an attempt to disguise an absolute imposition of the LGBT lobby's ideology on Catholic countries such as El Salvador - a position promoted by the Obama administration and by his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in particular.

It's a position taken as a ploy to impose gender ideology - which stems from the tenents of feminism and homosexual thinking - and use it to promote the idea that the differences between a man and a woman are merely social and not biological or based on nature.
As for the risks of such ideology being "imposed" on El Salvador by the United States? The actual statement released by the organizations made comparisons between the United States and the Roman Empire in the following way:
The fallen Roman Empire was considered to be modern and progressive.  Babies were aborted, newborns were murdered, and - similarly - people would engage in homosexual, bisexual and incestuous relationships, pedophilia, zoophilia and orgies. Such decadence weakened said empire and led to its fall.
Salvadoran cultural observer Marvin Aguilar took the homophobic religious doomsayers to task a week later in an OpEd that ran in La Página ("In consideration of what was said by the U.S. Ambassador"). A translated excerpt:
In the Tuesday, June 28th edition of La Pagina Gráfica, Mari Carmen Aponte wrote about the policies of the current U.S. president which which observe June as the month in which the United States commemorates LGBT pride.

She argued in favor of combating violence, hate and misconceptions about a specific community of individuals. She explained the efforts made by the current government she represents in understanding that the rights of homosexuals are Human Rights and described how [homosexuality] was no longer classified as a pathology or a perversion that should be corrected or silenced.

Nowhere in the text authored by the Ambassador did she refer to any intent by the government she represents to intervene directly in the culture, tradition and values of El Salvador.
Which brings us to this:  As an recess appointee, Aponte must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before the end of this year to be able to keep her post and, once again, Senator DeMint is the one leading the charge against her.  But now, instead of the Cuban infiltrator charges, DeMint is questioning Aponte's strong support for the protection of LGBT communities in El Salvador.

From a November 8th confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee...

And a partial transcript...
I would like to ask unanimous consent to submit for the record an opinion piece published in El Salvador by Ambassador Aponte in June of this year.  In her OpEd, Ms. Aponte, presuming to represent the view of all Americans, in strongly promoting the homosexual lifestyle, wrote that "everyone has the responsibility to inform our neighbors and friends about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender." The OpEd upset a large number of community and pro-family groups in El Salvador who were insulted by Ms. Aponte's attempt to impose a pro-gay agenda in their country.

I would also like to ask unanimous consent to submit, for the record, a response to the OpEd from a coalition of more than three dozen groups and a letter from Salvadorean groups to the United States Senate asking the Senate to oppose Ms. Aponte's confirmation and I quote "We respectfully request that Ms. Aponte be removed from her post as soon as possible so that El Salvador may enjoy the benefits of having a person as a government representative of your noble country."

I would like to apologize to the Salvadorean people on behalf of the United States and reassure them that most Americans share their values. Ms. Aponte's personal, professional and political contact over many years raises numerous questions of judgement. I will vote 'no on Ms. Aponte's confirmation and strongly recommend my colleagues do the same.
In an OpEd published the next day in the conservative website Human Events, DeMint singled out Aponte's praise for Hillary Clinton ("Aponte's Agenda").
Aponte praised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her previous remarks that “gay rights are human rights” and also noted gay pride month is celebrated with “parades, festivals, and educational campaigns” in the United States where the gay rights movement “celebrates its identity throughout the country.”
That's right.  Senator DeMint is urging the U.S. Senate not to appoint Aponte as U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador based on an OpEd in which she saluted the government of El Salvador for their own initiatives to protect their LGBT populations.

Aponte, who was at the hearing, defended herself against DeMint's accusations when she had a chance to reply. "The OpEd reflects the policies of the Obama administration, the Salvadorean government and sixty-three other countries," she said to La Prensa, "It was not drafted as an insult to anyone."

Salvadoran columnist Marvin Aguilar, in an OpEd column published in La Prensa on November 10th, described DeMint's attempts at getting rid of Aponte as follows:
Catholic fundamentalists in El Salvador, skipping over historical papal lessons, have begun a Christian crusade to cleanse El Salvador of Mari Carmen Aponte. They say she is a destroyer of national family values, that she promotes heinous sinfulness and, in adition, some say that she even likes the arts.  Leave it up to us, the Latin American beggars, to be more papal than the Pope when it comes to defend conservative beliefs, customs and traditions which are - of course - shared by all Salvadoreans.

Love unites but hate also brings people together.  That's the way that local Catholics with an European pedigree have built an alliance with Jim DeMint, U.S. Senator from South Carolina, who is - according to U.S. political analysts, the most conservative congressmember in the Senate. He is a member of the Tea Party and is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate.

In sharp contrast to Salvadorean Catholic leader Archbishop Escobar Alas, DeMint has promoted prayer in schools; in contrast with people from El Salvador, he is in favor of abortion when the life of a mother is at risk; he does not want undocumented Salvadoreans living in the United States and is in favor of deporting them unlike other Catholics; he supported the Iraq invasion and when he finally visited Honduras in 2009, he met with Roberto Micheletti even though our country had not recognized his de facto government.

Nobody is perfect, least of all politicians whether they are from the U.S. or El Salvador, but... What is someone who is a Protestant Baptist and the son of divorced parents doing creating alliances with Salvadorean Catholics who sustain that divorce is a sin? What sexual agenda unites them against Mari Carmen Aponte?

Senator DeMint has publicly said that gays, single mothers, heterosexuals in civil unions as well as sexually active persons should not be hired as school educators.  Similarly, he also has been and advocate that, if government does not have the authority or the legal tools to restrict homosexuality, it also should not be promoted through the legalization of gay marriage. And that is why he has echoed the tumultuous and sad complaints shouted to heaven by the increasingly strident Salvadorean Christian movement that has taken its lobbying activities to U.S. grounds.

Senator DeMint has said that his statements [on homosexuality] are based on his personal beliefs and should not be interpreted as issues he wants or should bring up as a Senator. It's surprising, then, that he is now opposing a column written by the U.S. Ambassador in La Prensa Gráfica which only sought to explain the vision of the Obama government as related to the gay community in the United States.

A tiny drop of fundamentalist fanatics cannot represent the ocean of Salvadoreans who respect the ways of other nations.
Aguilar is making reference to several on the record comments DeMint has made in the past ("Sen. Kim DeMint: Gays and unmarried, pregnant women should not teach public school", The Huffington Post, Oct. 2, 2010).

Covering last week's hearing, La Prensa also mentions that Marco Rubio, U.S Senator from Florida and Tea Party darling, asked Aponte if she had felt pressured to write the OpEd piece.  Aponte reminded the Senator that she has written a regular opinion column for the paper and that she had written on LGBT issues specifically from a human rights viewpoint.

I have yet to find a full transcript or video of the hearing but Senate Republicans, in voting against Aponte, but her written testimony can be downloaded in PDF form here. Three former Salvadorean presidents traveled to Washington, DC, last month to support her confirmation ("Felix Rodriguez: In U.S. National Interest, confirm U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador", Miami Herald, Nov. 5, 2011).

I have translated Ambassador Aponte's "controversial" OpEd on LGBT rights. As you read it, please ask yourself who is seeking to impose certain values on El Salvador: Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.

Clearly for DeMint this is not only about Aponte. This is a rebuke against any attempt by the U.S. government to promote policies that extend human rights protections to LGBT populations throughout the world.

For an end to prejudice, wherever it exists
by Mari Carmen Aponte - As published in Spanish in La Prensa Gráfica on June 28th, 2011

On May 31st, President Obama proclaimed June of 2011 as the pride month for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

"The history of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community in the United States," says the President's proclamation, "is the story of our parents and children, our mothers and daughters, our neighbors and friends who continue the task of making our nation a more perfect union."

In the U.S., June is recognized as Gay Pride Month, a month during which the LGBT community celebrates its identity throughout the country through parades, festivals and educational campaigns.

When Congressman Barney Frank, who is openly gay, was asked why they should be proud of such a natural and innate human characteristic, he said "We are proud to stand up to hatred, prejudice and violence, specially when it is so difficult to stand up and say 'This is me'; To do so should make us feel extremely proud".

No one should be subjected to abuse because of who he is or who he loves. Homophobia and the brutal aggression that [gays] often endure are often based on a lack of understanding about what it truly means to be homosexual or transgender. We should work together too prevent negative perceptions through education and offering support to people who confront those who promote hate.

A year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with great passion, stated "gay rights are human rights."  In the same way, we believe people should not be stripped from their rights on the basis of their sexual preference or orientation.  For that reason, the United States will continue to support the elimination of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation on a worldwide basis.

Last March, before the Human Rights Council at the United Nations, the United States, El Salvador and eighty-three other nations signed a pledge to eliminate violence against members of the LGBT community; additionally, on May of 2010, Salvadorean President Mauricio Funes signed Decree 56 which prohibits all forms of discrimination by the government of El Salvador on the basis of sexual orientation or identity. I applaud efforts by the government of El Salvador in support of the LGBT community both on the national and the international level.

However, the responsibility does not only lie in the hands of governments. Everyone has the responsibility to contribute whether it's by confronting intimidation or violence when it happens in our schools or worksites, or by helping to inform our neighbors and friends about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. As our nations advance, we also experience an ongoing transformation on what it means to be a citizen in a democratic society.  Together, as governments and as individuals, we can work to break the cycle of violence and discrimination.

It is the responsibility of each generation to bring our nations closer to fulfilling the promise of equality.  Progress takes time, but history is on our side when we come together to demand an end to prejudice, wherever it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the Americas.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Honduras announces LGBT hate crimes investigation unit after pressure from the United States

This week the Central American government of Honduras announced the launch of a special police unit dedicated to investigate crimes committed against members of the country's LGBT population ("Special unit will investigate crimes against 'gays'", La Tribuna, November 13, 2011).

The announcement follows years of local, regional and international criticism of the Honduran government's handling of a number of horrific crimes committed against the LGBT population in the past few years and, in particular, transgender women.

Of key interest in this announcement is not only that it's probably the first Latin American country to launch such an unit but also the direct and highly visible hand the United States government had in pressuring Honduras to investigate these crimes.

First came a statement from the office of U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens released on January 17th which read, in part, as follows:
The protection of Honduran law extends to all its citizens regardless of sexual orientation and the Lobo Administration has repeatedly expressed its commitment to defend the rights of all Honduran citizens.

It is in this regard that we call upon Honduran law enforcement authorities to vigorously investigate these crimes, bring to justice the perpetrators, and take all necessary steps to protect LGBT persons, who are among the most vulnerable to violence and abuse in Honduras.
Then came statements in late January from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. President Barack Obama himself in which they alluded to the Honduran murders and offered assistance in the form of experts who could train local police officers on how to investigate the crimes ("United States to assist in the investigation of transgender murders in Honduras", Blabbeando, January 28, 2011).

In comments published yesterday by La Tribuna, Oscar Aguilar, the Spokesperson for the newly launched Sexual Diversity Unit of the National Investigation Chairmanship (DINIC), said that the unit would work closely with local LGBT-rights advocates and organizations.

"We know that many of these crimes are left unresolved due to a failure in determining the real causes why they were committed and that is the reason why the Sexual Diversity Unit was launched: To try to resolve them," he told La Tribuna.

In the interview Arce admits that officers have yet to be trained specifically on dealing with the LGBT community but highlights the unit's specific focus on investigating LGBT crimes.   The Unit opened it's first office in Tegucigalpa on Monday and are concentrating on local crimes but Arce says that he hopes to expand their reach and open other offices in other regions of the country down the line.

I am a little weary about Arce's admission that the Unit's officers have yet to receive specific training on how to investigate LGBT-related crimes despite the public offers for assistance from the United States.  It raises suspicion that the announcement might be more of a public relations effort to push back against international criticism rather than a full-faith effort to combat homophobic crime in Honduras.

It is still a remarkable example of how the United States can use pressure on Latin American governments to demand protections for their LGBT populations in a diplomatic but effective way. 

Photo: DINIC Spokesperson Oscar Aguilar via La Tribuna.