Friday, July 20, 2012

Panama's Boy Scouts Association vows to cure gay scouts or else ban them from the organization (UPDATED)

Not two days after the Boy Scouts of America reaffirmed their discriminatory ban on gays, the National Association of Boy Scouts in Panama has announced that it will remove any child, young man or adult who is a current member of the Association and is found to be openly gay.

"We cannot allow the participation of people who have tendencies which are opposed to the formation of our values", said the Association's Executive Director Victor Winter to La Prensa.

Winter argued that the removal process would be "subtle" but that the step was needed because "it goes against our principles and ethic and moral values."

The new policy was actually adopted at a meeting that took place on March 21st but was only announced yesterday.

The Association's norms now include a paragraph that says "Discrimination based on gender will not be allowed, with the understanding that no members with obvious homosexual behaviors or who admit being homosexual will be admitted. Sexual harassment will also not be permitted.  Said infractions, if proven, will lead to the expulsion of the person committing them."

Most worrisome, Winters said that the Association already had put into place programs to help homosexual children "revert" their sexual orientation back to straight.  "We have programs," he told La Prensa, "We do put in our grain of sand in straightening their path."

They also said that before kicking out a Boy Scout who was gay they would first reach out to their parents which I assume means that they would offer the "reversion" program to the parents for their gay kids as an alternative to being kicked out.

Ricardo Beteta, Director of The Association of New Men and Women of Panama (AHMNP), the nation's leading LGBT rights organization, told La Prensa that he was a former Boy Scout and Troop Leader from 1965 to 1973 and condemned the announcement.

"Banning sexual contact within the Troop is not the same thing as defining homosexuality is a deviant behavior and offering a cure," he said, "that is nefarious and discriminatory".

Beteta said that he had first hand knowledge because he had been a victim of so-called reconversion therapy programs forty years ago and survived them to become the director of Panama's leading LGBT rights organization.

Augustín Clément, another leading LGBT rights leader, asked all Panamanians who believed in equality to stop supporting the Boy Scouts Association economically.  He said that each non governmental organization had the right to establish their own rules and regulations but he also urged the government to investigate whether the Association was violating the human dignity of those Boy Scouts who are gay or thought to be gay [Image: Agustín Clement in red and Ricardo Beteta celebrate the Panamanian LGBT pride march that took place on May 25th].

COSTA RICA: Meanwhile in Costa Rica and also in the wake of the announcement by the Boy Scouts of America, Peggi Chávez, Executive Director of the nation's Guides and Scouts Association, told La Nación that their non-discriminatory policy towards gays and lesbians would remain intact. Chávez said that the issue was not under discussion since "each person has the right to determine what is best for their lives."

HONDURAS, EL SALVADOR & NICARAGUA: As EFE reports today, Raúl del Cid, Director of the Honduran Scouts Association said that they would also not determine membership based on a person's sexual orientation while Aníbal Abendaño, Director of the Support Unit for Scouts of El Salvador, also said that everyone age seven to twenty-one were welcome to serve as scouts regardless of gender or sexual orientation.  An unnamed source within the Nicaraguan Scouts Association also said that they would not discriminate against gay and lesbian scouts.

COLOMBIA: In 2003, the Colombian Constitutional Court took up a case filed by Edgar Eduardo Robles Fonnegra who argued that the Colombian Scouts Association had kicked him out for being gay.

The Court ruled in Robles' favor and said that it was unconstitutional for the Association to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

--- UPDATES ---

[July 21st, 2012] Panama's TVN Noticias reports tonight that Victor Winter seems to be looking for a way to take back his words in the face of mounting criticism and increased international media inquiries. There are no direct quotes but the television news web portal says that Winter now claims that La Prensa misinterpreted his words and all he meant to say was that gays involved with the Boy Scouts in Panama were expected to "behave correctly" and follow the values of the organization with respect to their contact with minors.  He denies that this means that gays would be immediately banned from the organization although his latest statements directly contradict the Association's norms and regulations as obtained and shown on La Prensa's website.

[July 22nd, 2012] Victor Winter now says that he will no longer be speaking to media and will refer all inquiries to the president of the Panamanian Boy Scouts organization Carlos Torres.

La Prensa has tried to reach Torres without success. They should demand information about the "reversion" programs the institution seems to be currently running according to Mr. Winters.

Interestingly in 2010 the World Organization of the Scout Movement designated Panama as the new headquarters of the Inter-American Scout Office. Mr. Torres, in addition to being the President of the Panamanian Boy Scouts organization, was also named the legal representative of the World Scout Bureau, Interamerican Region.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Christopher Bram on Emanuel Xavier

When the New York Times' Sunday Book Review ran a somewhat dismissive review of Christopher Bram's "Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America" back in February I was struck by couple of things that were not directly mentioned in the review.

The first was the striking similarity of the book's title and theme to that of of Jaime Manrique's 1999 "Eminent Maricones: Arenas, Lorca, Puig and Me".  Like Bram, Manrique writes about a number of gay writers that influenced his life.

The second was the apparent lack of diversity among the authors discussed in the book.

That's not necessarily a criticism. By those same standards you could say that Manrique's book also doesn't include African-American or Caucasian authors.

I raise the issue because Lambda Literary just posted a fascinating interview with Bram in which he touches on the Times' review, the state of the publishing business, straight authors who write gay-themed stories and what he calls the myth of The Violet Quill ("Christopher Bram: Charting the Outlaws").

He also addresses diversity in queer publishing by invoking the work of one of my friends.  Excerpt:
Lambda Literary: Gay is no longer exclusively defined as white, educated, effusively cultural, exclusively homosexual, an ever-expanding definition of queer. When you look at Lambda Literary Review, the annual awards, works that are selling, there’s a lot of sub-genre smash-ups of race, economic class, HIV status, disability, sex, gender. Are these current writers, same as Quill writers, all white, all male, providing readers with exactly the same source of comfort as those men did? Creating visibility? 

Bram: Yes, they’re providing the same as an earlier generation of gay writers. There’s some really wonderful stuff. I was just rereading poems by a terrific Puerto Rican poet, Emanuel Xavier. His Pier Queen collection was just reissued—it was originally published in the 90s. It’s verbal snapshots of a population we usually don’t hear about, mostly black and Hispanic kids who hung out at the piers in the West Village.

Lambda Literary: As I remember from those days, they would get off that last stop on Christopher Street, by the Lucille Lortel Theater which has lots of gay theatre names in stars on the pavement, go down to the pier at the street…Christopher Street was then what Chelsea is today… 

Bram: At Christopher Street, yes. Xavier’s poems were really strong when they first came out, but now they seem even better. They function as both history and literature. But there are other writers like Xavier telling new stories, stories that we haven’t heard before. There’s Rakesh Satyal, an Indian writer who did a terrific book called Blue Boy, about a young Indian-American boy in Cincinnati, Ohio, White’s hometown, an Indian-American boy’s own story. It’s a coming of age novel about his double identity as both a gay kid and an Indian kid. James Hannaham a couple of years ago did a really interesting book called God Says No about a born-again African American gay kid, who is a real fuck-up. It’s very funny and very painful. There’s all these great stories still to tell that haven’t been told yet.
I love the fact that Emanuel got name checked in the piece. He has been promoting the re-issues of a number of his books including "Pier Queen", "Christ-Like", "If Jesus Were Gay" and, coming soon, "Americano".

If you live in New York City, Emanuel will also be doing a reading and signing along with the legendary Kate Bornstein at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art on Wednesday, July 25th as part of their "Testimony: A Living Exhibition of Queer Youth" multi-media exhibition. For additional information click here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Alex Anwandter Interview

Photo: Alex Anwandter by Rocío Aguirre (posted by permission)

The amazing album "Rebeldes" by Alex Anwandter can be purchased on iTunes here
Original version and remixes of "¿Como puedes vivir contigo mismo?" can be downloaded for free after you join his record lablel's mailing list here
Follow Alex Anwandter on Twitter here
Follow Alex on Facebook here

When a young gay man named Daniel Zamudio was brutally attacked for being gay in Chile in March of this year and later died from the injuries he sustained, the outrage his murder elicited throughout Latin America was something I had never seen.  The closest thing to it was the way thousands of people reacted and went out to the streets after a similarly brutal attack against a young gay man in 1998 named Matthew Sheppard. Similarly, when Zamudio was mourned in a public burial on March 30th, thousands of people took to the streets of Santiago carrying rainbow flags and demanding justice.

Word of the vicious attack traveled mostly through social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter and one of the phenomenons I still remember was the number of music artists who helped to spread the word.

Ricky Martin got the ball rolling on March 25th when he took to his Twitter account to dedicate an award he had gotten from GLAAD to Zamudio as Zamudio still laid on a hospital bed.  Two days later, upon finding out Zamudio had passed away he simply wrote "Daniel Zamudio RIP" and sent it to the more than five million accounts that followed him at the time.

Others followed including openly gay singers Boy George, Andy Bell and Christian Chávez. Some Latin American bands and singers added their voices including Choquibtown, Gloria Trevi, Beto Cuevas, We Are The Grand, Maria Colores, Ana Tijoux, Javiera Mena and Alex Anwanter, the last six being from Chile.

For Anwandter in particular Zamudio's murder hit close to home.  Zamudio's parents revealed to media that Anwandter was Daniel's favorite singer and the singer himself said that he remembered online conversations he had with Daniel.  Performing at Lollapalooza Chile a week after Zamudio's death, Anwandter stunned the crowd by dedicating two songs at the end of the set to Daniel and introducing them with the following speech:
Midway through last year a guy very much like many of you sent me a very nice video. I spoke to him through online chats a few times, just a really great guy.  This year he was accosted at a park, they broke his legs, they extinguished cigarettes on him, they marked his stomach with swastikas. He was Daniel Zamudio.

Of course, this topic is incredibly relevant today. Let's hope we don't just leave it as some anecdote about what his favorite song was. Or a sense of revenge against the criminals who will be eventually judged. I just ask that we rise above and try to change something that is much greater and general about ourselves and our day to day lives.

We laugh at jokes about men with men and women with women, homophobic jokes on television, when we say fleto or we say maricón, so let's stop discriminating each other so that something like this will never happen again.
I wasn't sure I was going to bring this up. I wanted to write about the exceptional talent that Alex Anwandter is and his upcoming performances in Brooklyn and didn't want the Zamudio story to overshadow what might be an introduction to his work for many who stumble upon this post but ultimately felt that I would give additional context.

He'll be in New York as part of the annual Latin Alternative Music Conference and introduce his great new album "Rebeldes" to the U.S. market. It is currently available on iTunes for $7.99.

I was lucky to be able to send him a few questions on the eve of his NYC debut and get some thoughtful responses.

"Casa Latina / Latin House" - Alex Anwandter under the odiSEA moniker

Blabbeando: People in the United States love stories of artists who emerge from nowhere and become an overnight sensation. Obviously you have a long trajectory having recorded with different bands and under different names including Teleradio Donoso, Fother Muckers, and odiSEA. Now you arrive in New York under your own name, Alex Anwandter, with a striking sound that makes people take notice at first listen. How do you feel at this moment in your career? What are your hopes when you peform in New York?

Alex Anwandter: I'm really looking forward to it. Chile's so far away, so I feel I'm being invited to play with the big boys. I feel like the rookie who's gonna dazzle... hopefully!

Blabbeando: "Rebeldes" was released in Chile on October of 2011 and is only now being released in the United States. Are these the only planned performances in the United States or are there plans for a formal tour? And if that's the case will you still be promoting this material or are there ideas for a follow up?

Alex Anwandter: My idea is to come back before the end of year and do a somewhat more extensive tour. I'm always planning ahead though and am already working on two new records.

Blabbeando: In your production notes you say the video for your new single "¿Como puedes vivir contigo mismo?" is meant to be a homage to the seminal 1990 Jennie Livingston documentary "Paris Is Burning". How did that idea emerge?

"¿Como puedes vivir contigo mismo? / How can you live with yourself?" from the album "Rebeldes"

Alex Anwandter: I saw Livingston's documentary sometime ago and thought it was beautiful. People, women and men being themselves, beautiful and fun. At the same time, their backgrounds were very marginal. The sound of "¿Como puedes vivir contigo mismo?" is influenced mainly by Chicago House and 90's Euro-dance-ish house so I did relate it to the documentary and its soundtrack. But I also thought a tribute to the Livingston film would also allow me to further introduce something that practically doesn't yet exist in my country: Strong role models or icons that represent sexual diversity in mainstream media or pop culture.

In a way, I wasn't doing a tribute to the documentary in itself but rather to the original impact I believe it had back in the day: The validation of the lives of people who were being marginalized or discriminated against.

In other words, to date we still do not have a "Paris Is Burning" of our own and in that sense we are far behind. But I felt I could do something positive by producing this video and showing similar scenes to a country that doesn't have access to these type of images and still create a tribute to its artistic merit.  The recent hate-motivated torture and murder of a gay kid shows there is a tremendous need to accept our diversity.

Also, Jennie Livingston said she loved the video, which was very reassuring to me.

Blabbeando: Speaking of a queer underground life, you allude to the violent murder of Daniel Zamudio at the hands of a few young gang members.  And when it comes to Latin America, I have never seen a nation react in the way that Chileans repudiated his murder. Modern Chile, at least in my mind, continues to be a very conservative country but I cannot help but think that Daniel's murder created a tectonic shift in Chilean society, a great earthquake.  And I know that his death moved you deeply because you had some contact with him as one of your fans. On a personal level, how do you perceive the before and after in terms of Chilean society and what were your thoughts after dedicating him two of your songs at Lollapalooza?

"Como Una Estrella / Like A Star" from "Rebeldes'. Allegedly Daniel Zamudio's favorite song.

Alex Anwandter: Unfortunately, Daniel became both a milestone and a martyr. It is really very sad that someone has to die, specially a kid that his whole life ahead of him, to make a country move forward on these issues.

I realize there has to be a long process of cultural change that might even last decades.  To go from a society that widely embraces a homophobic and discriminatory sense of humor where effeminate hair-dresser sketches still dominate popular 'comic' shows to one that will respect equal rights will probably take some time.

I guess we are moving forward and that's something that should be appreciated but, at the same time - and we found out in the worst possible way - it's something that you cannot take your eye off for even a second or else someone might die.

On a more personal note, his death was very shocking to me because I knew him and also because I kept thinking it could have been a friend of mine or anyone who was dear to me. It was also incredibly intense to me when his brothers told me how much my music had meant to him and how they played my songs to him while he was dying and urged me to keep on speaking on behalf of people like Daniel. It's something that in a really tragic way makes me think that my job actually matters and that I should never stop fighting again discrimination.

Blabbeando: To end, a recent tweet of yours: "I already loved Frank Ocean, but now... ‪#superlove". Anything you want to add that is longer than 140 characters?

Alex Anwandter: Not really! I think he's a great artist and he did a very beautiful thing opening up like that. I like him more now because he did something that he himself found very hard to do and wrote a beautiful letter about it. I don't care that he "came out" or is gay or bisexual. He can fall in love with anyone and he'll still be amazing.

End note: And that, as they say, is the end. I truly appreciate Alex taking some time to answer these questions and leave you with one last video from the first single of his current album.

"Tatuaje / Tattoo" from "Rebeldes"


Sunday, July 08, 2012

US Embassies in Latin America celebrate LGBT pride

Photo: Members of the US Embassy in Panama participate in the annual Sexual Diversity March that took place in Panama City on May 25th of 2012 (From the Embassy's flickr photo account).

[NOTE: Updated on July 18th, 2012. Latest updates at the bottom of this post]

It would be hard to overstate just how amazingly LGBT-friendly the US State Department has been under the leadership of Hillary Clinton even as she prepares to depart later this year.

I first took note of the changes at hand in January of 2011 when the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras took the highly unusual step to publicly put pressure on the Honduran government to investigate an increasing number of attacks and murders committed against dozens of transgender women throughout the nation.  That was soon followed by a Statement by President Barack Obama himself and offers from the State Department to provide intelligence and legal assistance.  It all culminated with Honduran authorities grudgingly announcing that they had launched a special hate crimes unit in November of that year.

Then came that extraordinary speech Secretary Clinton gave before the United Nations human rights office in Geneva in which she most memorably proclaimed 'gay rights are human rights' and made commitments to fight discrimination against members of the LGBT community throughout the world.

There was also the protracted fight over the confirmation of Mari Carmen Aponte as US Ambassador to El Salvador which some sought to derail in part because she had published a local essay in a Salvadorian newspaper applauding the Central American nation for the steps it had taken to prevent discrimination against its LGBT citizens.

That essay was published on June 2011 during pride month following directions from the State Department for embassies to be visible on LGBT human rights issues on a local level.

This year in her pride month remarks, Secretary Clinton made it a point to highlight the diplomatic work being done by US Embassies and Missions throughout the world on LGBT issues:
United States Embassies and Missions throughout the world are working to defend the rights of LGBT people of all races, religions, and nationalities as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy. From Riga, where two U.S. Ambassadors and a Deputy Assistant Secretary marched in solidarity with Baltic Pride; to Nassau, where the Embassy joined together with civil society to screen a film about LGBT issues in Caribbean societies; to Albania, where our Embassy is coordinating the first-ever regional Pride conference for diplomats and activists to discuss human rights and shared experiences. And through the Global Equality Fund that I launched last December, we have strengthened our support for civil society and programs to protect and promote human rights.
With such strong public commitment from the State Department and Hillary Clinton it is no surprise Ambassador Aponte felt in her right and duty to be visible on the issue last year.

This year a number of US Embassies throughout Latin America felt the same way.

HONDURAS: On June 20th, US Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske tweeted "The US Government supports the Honduran LGBT community in their fight for equality and respect #humanrights #LGBTpride" on her Twitter account (she also sent the message in Spanish).

Critics of US support for Honduran president Porfirio Lobo Sósa quickly jumped on the comment and asked if US police and military funding to Honduras would be conditioned on ending killings against members of the LGBT community to which she indirectly replied "Many Honduran ‪#LGBT‬ have repeatedly told me how much they appreciate USG support of SVU which has arrested 12 ppl connected to LGBT murders."

It turns out that on the same day Ambassador Kubiske sent those tweets she was holding a public LGBT pride month event in which she reiterated some of the warnings her predecessor Hugo Llorens had given the Honduran government a year and a half earlier.

Here is a translated excerpt of her comments that day as reported by La Tribuna:
Honduras has serious issues towards the LGBT community because it does not respect their rights and for us that is a key issue. That's the reason why several officials from United States have come to Honduras to ascertain that investigations of these crimes are done in an effective and prompt manner... All vulnerable groups need protection and when crimes are committed against them they deserve an investigation and a proper judicial process.
El Heraldo also quoted the Ambassador as saying the following:
We certainly acknowledge the advances made during the previous year but we have to keep in mind that the number of violent attacks against the LGBT community have continued to increase, unfortunately.
La Tribuna also noted Interim Director for the USAID office in Honduras Ken Seifert was a guest of honor "announced" he was gay and read excerpts from his published novel "The Rising Storm".

USAID, as I wrote last month, is on the verge of launching an LGBT Global Development Partnership Initiative.

COSTA RICA:  US Ambassador to Costa Rica Anne Andrew celebrated an LGBT pride "roundtable" on June 27h inviting several Costa Rican LGBT advocates to her residence for breakfast.

On the Embassy's online site, Ambassador Andrew also highlighted the 2008 wedding of Cynthia Wang to an unnamed female partner and runs an essay from Ms. Wang on the meaning of LGBT pride.

Ms. Wang is the current Vice Consul in the American Citizen Services section of US Embassy in Costa Rica.

An excerpt from her essay:
Since we moved to Costa Rica my wife and I have felt extraordinarily well received. Some of our most intimate friends are ticos [ed. - a diminutive term for Costa Rican].  We feel a deep love and respect for this country and its culture and at a moment in time in which Costa Rica is debating LGBT rights let us hope that tolerance, compassion and a commitment to protecting human rights - a Costa Rican tradition - will also be reflected in public policies.  Here is hoping that the Costa Rican government and its civil society extends protections to all citizens, whether they be gay or heterosexual.
Two days before the breakfast roundtable Ambassador Andrews also posted the following video on YouTube under the Embassy's account...

CHILE: My friend Michael K. Lavers covered it for The Washington Blade just so I wouldn't have to and thus:
Jason Jeffreys of the U.S. embassy in Santiago spoke at the Gay Liberation and Integration Movement’s annual Equality and Human Rights for Sexual Diversity March. Jacqueline Vera, whose son Daniel Zamudio was brutally beaten to death in a downtown Santiago park in March, Education Minister Harold Beyer, a number of presidential candidates and lawmakers and Jon Benjamin, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Chile, were among those who also participated.

“As the Human Rights Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, one of a number of policy objectives that Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton has determined is the concept of equal protections for all, including the international LGBT community,” Jeffreys told the Blade. “I wanted to participate because I wanted to share with Chile the fact that the [U.S. government] stands with them in this regard.”

Jeffreys, whose boyfriend is Chilean, added that Zamudio’s death affected him personally. He attended candle light vigils and marches and spoke with Chilean politicians about what he described as the importance of anti-discrimination laws. Jeffreys also delivered a letter on behalf of the U.S. ambassador to Chile, Alejandro Wolff, to Zamudio’s family at his funeral.

“I jumped at the chance to be able to speak at this event to continue with this support,” he noted.
Chilean lawmakers in April passed an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination bill that had languished for seven years. President Sebastián Piñera and other leading politicians backed the measure in the wake of Zamudio’s death.
Apparently that is a grande latte cup in his hand. Are there Starbucks in Chile? Oh, and he only spoke in English according to the Embassy's website. ¡Inglés sin barreras!

Earlier in June, the Embassy also posted a podcast conversation with Julio Dantas, coordinator of Todo Mejora (the Chilean version of the It Gets Better Project) and Fulbright scholar Jenn Lerner who, according to the site, is conducting research on gay life in Chile.

PANAMA: If I hadn't asked my friend Augutín Clement, I probably would have missed this one.  It turns out that on June 25th the US Embassy in Panama actually sent a contingent to participate in Panama City's annual pride march.

In the description accompanying a photo from the event the embassy stated the following:
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have asked embassies throughout the world to promote and defend all human rights. Members of the US Embassy and their families participated in the Gay Pride March in Panama to celebrate diversity, promote tolerance and support the fight against HIV/AIDS.  This was the US Embassy's first official participation in support of this initiative in Panama.
"The US Embassy rocked," says Augustín, "They had shirts that said 'Estamos Unidos' ['We Are United'] and as they went by people shouted 'Long live, Obama! Long live equality!' It was truly moving."

That's a photo of Agustín, his hubby César Pereira and Duty Chief of Mission John Law as featured on the embassy's flickr account.

Johnathan D. Farrar, the current US Ambassador to Panama, did not join the contingent but he did invite Augustín to the embassy's July 4th celebration in honor of his advocacy for LGBT rights in Panama.

ECUADOR: A number of embassies not mentioned in this post did not necessarily actively participate in local pride events or held pride events of their own but added pride proclamations from Obama and Clinton on their websites as was the case with the US Embassy in Ecuador. Unlike those other unmentioned countries, they also went a step further.

On June 22nd, the embassy also released a statement by Ambassador Adam E. Namm in which he applauded Obama and Clinton for their pride month declarations and highlighted the embassy's role as one of several "co-sponsors of the GLBTI Pride Week activities in Quito" (others include UNAIDS and several local and national government agencies).

La Républica says that embassy staff participated in the inauguration of this year's film festival and a conference on human rights and the LGBT community.  In addition the paper says that the embassy promoted a "High Heel Race" in which men tried to outrun each other while wearing high heels.

The event is similar to annual events that take place in Washington, DC. and Madrid, Spain.  According to the paper, the embassy said that the event was meant to make people think about the role of social gender norms.  El Comercio has a photo gallery.

Interestingly, while it didn't receive as much media attention as Mari Carmen Aponte, Ambassador Namm was also among a number of Obama diplomatic appointees whose confirmation was blocked by Senate Republicans for months on end.  The lynchpin was Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio who also had a large role in keeping Aponte's appointment in check until it became politically unsustainable for him to continue voting against their confirmation.

Ambassador Samm started serving in his current diplomatic position on May 31st, a year after the seat had been vacated.

EL SALVADOR: Finally, while Ambassador Aponte returned to El Salvador on June 30th and a bit late to celebrate LGBT pride, it was particularly gratifying to see her receive such a warm welcome despite claims from certain US Senators that she was not welcome there.

It is also particularly satisfying to see some of the most homophobic conservative religious elements in El Salvador and the United States recoil in frustration.  I won't translate this piece but will leave a link here for posterity.

Thank you, Madam Secretary Hillary Clinton.

--- UPDATES ---

MEXICO: On July 12th the US Embassy in Mexico invited a number of guests to the embassy and presented their entry into the "It Gets Better" project.  The video went live on YouTube on July 16th.

On their Facebook page, the embassy described the video as follows:
The US Embassy in Mexico has supported members of the LGBT community.  In this video we have included representation from the art, business and government worlds (including members of our Embassy).  All have come together to give an anti-bullying message to be shared with the It Gets Better Project.
And on the embassy's blog they host a post by my friend Enrique Torre Molina about the video's launch which includes a cute photo of Enrique hanging out with Gabriel Gutierrez Garcia and other friends at the event ("The Embassy Gets Better" - Spanish).

SPAIN (not part of Latin America, of course, but part of Ibero-America): On July 17th, 2012, the US Embassy in Spain held a historic first meeting with some of the top leaders of the LGBT movement in the country.  They included Pedro Zerolo, Carla Antonelli, Augustín López, Raúl Garcia, Toni Poveda and Boti G. Rodrigo, the current president of the Spanish State LGTB Federation (FELGBT).

On their Facebook page, the embassy posted additional images and described the meeting as follows:
Ambassador Alan D. Solomont met with leaders of the LGBT community in Spain at his residence on July 17th. They had a conversation about the history of LGBT rights in Spain, their successes and their challenges during the last few years and on how the Embassy can continue supporting human rights.  Participants showed enthusiasm for recent comments made by President Obama in favor of gay marriage in the United States and suggested steps the United States might take to support LGBT rights - particularly in countries were those communities suffer great persecution. Referring to comments made by Secretary Clinton in Geneva in December of 2011 that "gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights", the Ambassador expressed his wish that this roundtable would only be the beginning of closer relationship between the Embassy and LGBT groups in Spain.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Ecuadorian police use force to break up anti-homophobia rally in Guayaquil

Just as I pushed 'post' on that last story about an Ecuadorian court ruling allowing a lesbian couple to register their civil union in the nation's Civil Registry, I was alerted to a number of Tweets sent by a participant at a protest against homophobia that took place earlier today in Guayaquil, Ecuador:
  • "Municipal police are KICKING us out of the rally against homophobia"
  • "Municipal police tried to take away one of the cameras we used at the rally against homophobia"
  • "An hour earlier there was a pastor holding a Bible trying to convert us. He wasn't thrown out."
My friend Silvia Buendía also posted photos of the police intervention on her Twitter account including the one I posted here.

The protest had been announced earlier in the week the Ecuadorian press had written about it as well so it shouldn't have taken the police by surprise.

Protest participants were rallying against comments made by a visiting Argentinian "bioethics psychologist expert" named Jorge Scala who made several derogatory comments about the Ecuadorian LGBT community.

Speaking at an event titled "Gender Equality: The Destruction of the Family", Mr. Scala alleged that "under gender ideology we cannot complement each other; everything is worthy and valid: Marriage, prostitution, bestiality, having sex with dead people."

He also stated that children raised by same-sex couples actually lacked a true parent because "a million gays won't amount to a single man and a million lesbians won't amount to a single woman."

Apparently in past visits to Ecuador the good "psychologist" has also claimed he can cure people from homosexuality.

"It's the second year that this self-described faith-healer from the church has said such things," said Lía Burbano, president of the Ecuadorian Lesbian Association who participated in the rally.

Police did step in eventually and were able to shut down the rally arguing that organizers had not received permission to stage it.  Organizers, who noted that the San Francisco Park in which he rally took place was a public area argued that they had the right to congregate in a public space.

Supposedly, Ecuador's 2008 constitution was the first one in the Latin American region to enshrine language that made it unconstitutional to discriminate against individuals based on sexual orientation.  There is still a long way from those constitutional principles to the street.

UPDATE: Video of the protest and the police disruption...


Ecuadorian court says Civil Registry must accept civil union registrations from same-sex couples

When Ecuador adopted a new constitution in September of 2008, it included recognition of civil unions for same-sex couples which were purported to extend all the rights afforded to heterosexual marriage couples. Except it didn't quite do that.

It didn't include, for example, the right for same-sex couples to adopt children or allow a same-sex couple to register as co-parents of children raised by one of the partners.

A Bristish lesbian couple living in Ecuador certainly found out the hard way and have been fighting an increasingly visible and lengthy battle to register their Ecuador-born daughter as their own ("One baby, two moms equals controversy in Ecuador", AFP, May 31, 2012).

Apparently what the 2008 constitution allowed same-sex couples to do was to go to a notary and register their partnership for the purpose of securing a number of patrimonial and inheritance rights.  Now comes word that it didn't event allow same-sex couples to register their partnership with the nation's Civil Registry which determines, among other things, the number of married and divorced heterosexual couples in the country or those engaged in a civil union. It also provides couples ID's that specifically say they are registered as such with the government agency.

Now, as La Hora reported on Wednesday, a Pichincha district court has ruled in favor of a lesbian couple seeking to register their civil union with the Civil Registry since 2010 and ruled the Registry must recognize same-sex couples ("Court: Same-sex unions will be recognized").

For now the ruling only applies to María Belén Gómez Salgado and Daniela Alcántara - the lesbian couple who went to court to demand equal access to civil union rights.

La Hora says that an LGBT-rights non profit organization called the Equality Foundation is urging other couples who have entered into civil unions to do as Ms. Gómez and Ms. Alcántara did and go to the courts instead of waiting for the law to adopt the court's ruling.

Image: A lesbian couple participate in a May 17th "kiss-in" honoring the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Caught on camera: Police disrupt LGBT pride caravan in the Dominican Republic

[UPDATED POST as of 7/5/12: For the latest, go to the bottom] The number of LGBT pride month marches, rallies and events taking place in throughout Latin America to coincide with the anniversary of the the Stonewall riots of 1969 in New York City has grown exponentially each year making it difficult to keep a tally of all events.

Those that stand out in my mind this year were the pride marches in Spain, where advocates await a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of their marriage equality law (Spain's El Pais is predicting that the court will let the law stand as is);  Mexico City, in which what had been a single event in past years split into two different marches; Chile, where tensions also surfaced between two leading LGBT-rights organizations over their sponsorship of separate parts of the event; and Colombia where advocates from three different cities - Bogotá, Medellín and Barranquilla - made a concerted effort to highlight the issue of matonéo or 'bullying'

And then there is this (partial translation below)...

Pride in the Dominican Republic has a relatively short and rocky history. Some say there have been pride-related events going back to 2001 but during the first few years most of them consisted of academic gatherings, art exhibitions and roundtables.

Pride didn't truly go public until 2006 when an estimated 250 people took over the Duarte Park in downtown Santo Domingo although media didn't catch wind of what would become an annual event until the next year.

In the meantime Amigos Siempre Amigos (ASA), which had put together some of the earlier pride forums finally took to the streets in 2008 with a "pride caravan" which has also become an annual event.

This year, ASA announced that he caravan would take place on July 1st and would conclude with a concert featuring more than 20 performers.  They also said that the theme of this year's carava would be "Strengthening Dominican democracy towards full inclusion of all citizens."

Unfortunately, as Imágenes Dominicanas reported on Monday, the caravan almost never left the starting line.

Before the caravan got going, several people were seen carrying a couple of large rainbow-colored flags made to look like the Dominican flag.  Police authorities who were monitoring the event took issue with the flags and said they showed a lack of respect for the country and for its patriotic symbols.  Allegedly, the police confiscated the flags but  the crowd refused to leave without them.  The police finally agreed to return the flags as long as organizers agreed not to show them.

None of the photos or videos I have seen of the event show the flags in question so it appears the organizers heeded the police warning but once the caravan got going demonstrators were stopped once again as police this time asked that all Dominican flags be removed, rainbow-colored or not.

In the video I posted above ASA member Deivis de Jesùs Ventura Peña argues with the police about his right as a citizen to carry the Dominican flag,  Here is a partial translation of his arguments to the police officer:
It's exactly because we are citizens of this country that today we are reaffirming - in our own special style - the rights established by the Constitution of the Republic that also belong to us. Nobody can keep us from using our flag in an event that is meant to defend our human rights because it would be like telling is we are not Dominicans.  We are Dominicans! I usually carry my ID card, which nowadays seems to be the fashionable thing to do, and it says I am a citizen of this country. So tell me, in what way have we disrespected you.
The officer in charge never gives him a reason and keeps repeating that the flag be taken down.  As the video progresses you can see ASA's director Leonardo Sánchez, in black, and other members of the crowd demand the police officer take out a copy of the Dominican constitution and show them where it says that they cannot carry the flag.  As a number of journalists look on, the officer finally relents and lets the marchers continue with the flag.

The caravan finally completed its route and my friend Monaga, who blogs from the Dominican Republic, reports that the rest of the rally and the concert was a resounding success.

I actually found out about the confrontations as they were happening taking place via Puerto Rican transgender rights activist Samantha Love and tweets from @No_Homophobia_RD.

It's interesting to note that Max Puig, a former Minister of Labor and the Environment under former president Leonel Férnadez, tweeted a photo of one of the confiscated rainbow Dominican flags with a hashtag that read "We are all Dominican" in Spanish.  Mr. Puig quit the Fernandez government in 2010 accusing the president of corruption and launched an unsuccessful presidential campaign.  During that campaign he met several times with members of the LGBT community and promised to include them in his policies should he be elected president.

Hate from the pulpit: That same day Hoy reported that Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez had held a press conference after his Sunday church service and exploded in anger when asked if he felt the church was discriminatory towards the LGBT community.

Hoy said the Cardinal expressed regrets for anyone in the gay community who might feel marginalized or mistreated by the Catholic church but then said the church had a right to take certain stands based on its longevity in the island as opposed to up and coming groups wanting to change how things were done.

In what the paper described as angry tone, the Cardinal said "Hold on a second, hold on! The Catholic church has been here for more than 500 years, whoever tries to come now let them try to join us".

He then stopped taking questions and went back inside his church.

The Cardinal is no stranger to vitriolically homophobic outbursts and actions. In 2007 during an interview with El Nacional, he referred to gays as "maricones" or faggots.

Unsurprisingly, he also has deep influence over the island's government and police authorities. In April of 2010 I wrote about a police crackdown against gays and lesbians gathering at Duarte Park following a homily in which the Cardinal deplored an alleged set of "aberrations" he said took place in the park on a daily basis.

During the meeting with reporters this past Sunday and before his outburst the Cardinal was celebrating a decision by authorities to shut down several bars in the Santo Domingos' historic Colonial neighborhood.  There have been several efforts by police authorities to shut down a number of gay bars in the zone as well.

To date, I have yet to see any of the presiding Dominican governments raise a finger to counter the Cardinal's attacks against the Dominican LGBT community nor do I expect any of the police authorities that disrupted the march to be ever reprimanded or penalized for violating the LGBT community's human rights in plain daylight and as captured in camera.

UPDATE: Apparently the issue of the rainbow-colored flag has enraged a number of influential leaders and media personalities eliciting apologies from the event organizers.  Dominican Today reports that the incident has "sparked a wave of criticism in the media" and suggests that it's a "gaffe" that might "hobble a fledgling movement."

They also say that the Dominican constitution does have a clause that says "the design of the nation’s flags is unalterable."

On Tuesday, El Nacional said that even the organizers of the event were distancing themselves from the controversy over the rainbow colored flag telling a reporter that it wasn't their idea and that they could not control what participants were carrying with them on the day of the event even if they had wanted to.

ASA president Leonardo Sánches says that he not only asked the individual who brought the flags to put them away but also said that he had asked the person to leave the caravan.  Sanchez is quoted as saying that sometimes you had to "sacrifice some for the benefit of all".

On the other hand Sanchez defended ASA's Devis Ventura once again saying that the flag he was carrying was a Dominican flag which any citizen should have the right to show,

El Nacional also identifies Gióniver Castillo Santana as the person who designed the rainbow-colored flag and says that he continues to defend his decision and his right to show it.  He argues that his new design does not attempt to replace the Dominican flag and is actually a brand new flag that incorporates elements from different flags in the same way the current Dominican flag was inspired on the Haitian flag which was inspired, in turn, on the French flag.

He pointed out others have used individual elements of the Dominican flag for their own purpose without eliciting such an outcry including vendors who have put the flag's centerpiece coat of arms on key chains, t-shirts or decals used to decorate vehicles.

And, finally, on his Facebook page, Castillo posted the following message (excerpt):
The point of all this was that instead of giving activists more energy and valor it did the opposite and made them fearful. In a cowardly way, they wanted to destroy my flag instead because I had the balls to show it without fearing what could happen or what might happen to me... If the Dominican LGBT community is afraid of confrontation, of debating others and putting themselves at risk we will not achieve a thing.  Many years from now we will finally have equal rights, not because we fought for them but because the countries that surround us will already have them and from the political pressure from those among which we will be the only ones missing.
Extra: From Acento, their Spanish-language report on the caravan and their video report which includes interviews with transgender-rights advocates from Trans Siempre Amigas (TRANSSA).

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

In emotional ceremony, Argentinian president hands out new ID cards to transgender individuals

Photo: Several transgender leaders from Argentina received brand new government ID's at a ceremony officiated by president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in celebration of passage of a groundbreaking gender identity law.  Among them, Kalym Adrian, holding the white and rainbow-colored flag of the Argentinean LGBT Federation (YouTube screen capture).

Last week I was talking to a reporter about the marriage equality and gender identity laws in Argentina when she asked about my coverage of those stories on this blog over the years.  I told her that when I began to write about them it was a way to share my excitement at the fact that these tremendous advances were taking place in Latin America and because there was so little coverage of them in English-language media.  But then I joked that there was no point in writing about them anymore because media powerhouses such as The Associated Press and Reuters had caught wind of what they were missing out on and were now on the Latin American LGBT beat on a regular basis.

I bring this up because there was an incredibly moving ceremony that took place yesterday at the Argentinean government palace in Buenos Aires, better known there as The Pink House, and I thought I'd have the English-language exclusive today.  Except those pesky upstarts at the AP were all over it overnight and beat me to it ("Argentine leader proudly delivers new identity cards to transsexuals, saying equality matters").

So, yes, as the AP reports, Argentinean president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner celebrated passage of the world's most progressive gender identity law by inviting a number of transgender leaders and personally handing them their new identity cards.  The law was adopted by the Argentinean congress in May by a vote of 55-0 and became law last month after getting the president's signature.  It allows transgender individuals to change their name and gender on government documents without having to prove that they have undergone gender reassignment surgery or need for court approval as had been the case before. It also grants government health coverage for transgender individuals who want to undergo a gender reassignment surgery.

Here is video of President Fernandez de Kirchner's comments at the event as posted on the government's YouTube page (in Spanish):

If you see lots of children in the room it's because the Argentinean president also signed a presidential decree yesterday which put an end to a legal loophole that kept same-sex parents who began raising children before the 2010 marriage equality law passed from registering as co-parents of those children.  If I understand correctly, the decree gives same-sex parents that weren't covered by the marriage equality law a full year to legally register their children as their own.

During her speech and before an image of Eva Perón, the president seemed to tear up a couple of times as she repeatedly invoked her husband Nestor Kirchner's name as having been key in securing passage of the marriage equality law.  Her husband, a former Argentinean president himself, died in October of 2010.

"Today is a day of tremendous reparation," the president said at the start of her speech, "today we do not shout for liberation but instead we shout for equality, which is just as important as freedom."

Referring to Kalym Adrian, who was sitting in the front row holding the flag of the Argentinean LGBT Federation (FALGBT), the president then stated that Mr. Adrian had known he was a man as early as when he was four years of age and said that it was only now at 42 years of age that he was finally being recognized for who he was. "He has waited all his life!" someone shouted from the audience which the president acknowledged by repeating "All his life".

Noting that the average age at which transgender individuals die in Argentina is 32, the president argued that part of it was due to the stress of being repressed and ignored and being denied legal rights. She said she hoped this law would change all that.

"I do not want to use a word that bothers me greatly: Tolerance. No. I do not believe in 'tolerance'. To tolerate is to say I'll allow you to be because I have no other choice", she said, "I want to talk about equality and I want to talk about all of you who will now have the same rights I have enjoyed from the moment I was born and the rights that so many millions of Argentinians have enjoyed from the moment they were born.  This is the society we want."

She later added "There is nothing new under the sun and let's see if we all can agree on that.  All these issues we are acknowledging today in a legal way are nothing new. They stem from the history of humanity and it's time for us to accept that reality is not how we'd like to be if I think in a certain way or someone else wants it to be but that reality is what it is."

The President then alluded to the days of the dictatorship when children were taken away from families and the Mothers of the Plaza began their silent protests to get their children back and championed a history of peaceful protests in Argentina in demand of human rights.  She compared it to the history of non-violent demonstrations by the Argentinian LGBT community and began thanking the LGBT activists and organizations present in the room until Alex Freyre shouted out "And those who are missing as well!"

Alex and José Maria Di Bello, who became the first same-sex couple to marry in all of Latin America when a court in Tierra del Fuego granted them a license in December of 2009, were sitting in the audience wearing their trademark red-ribbon sashes in memory of all those lost to HIV and AIDS.

The president took note and recognized that the fight for human rights sometimes left people feeling worn out but said that she was grateful for the altruistic efforts by some to not only fight for their rights but also the rights of others.

"It's better to have lived a worn out life than to always live like a flower or a butterfly without having achieved a thing," she said.

She finally closed by apologizing to people like Mr. Adrian for having had to wait for almost forty years to finally be recognized.

In the room, along with Alex and José, Kalym and members of the FALGBT were also Marcela Romero, Coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People (RED LACTRANS), Alejandro Iglesias, who revolutionized how people in Argentine felt about transgender individuals through his participation in the hugely popular Argentinean edition of "Big Brother", members of the Argentinean Association of Travesti, Transsexual and Transgender Individuals (ATTTA), Husbands César Cigliutti and Marcelo Suntheim who lead Comunidad Homosexual Argentina (CHA) who laid some of the groundwork for the gender identity law in the during the last decade, Diana Sacayan who leads the Anti-discrimination Movement for Liberation (MAL) and who was a recipient of one of the ID's handed out by the president, Maria Rachid, Esteban Paulón, María José Lubertino and so many other individuals who have played such integral parts in getting these laws passed.

The Argentinean fight for LGBT equality has not come without internal community tensions and ongoing differences between organizational leaders but it was a beautiful thing to see so many women and men I so admire sitting in that room at yesterday's event. I have covered their awesome work from afar and even met some of them during the past few years and I cannot tell you how much pride I have for them right at this moment.  Bravo!

Side-note: During her speech, president Fernandez de Kirchner held a puppet version of herself which she dubbed "Cristinita". She joked that some of her critics had called a witch in the past and that perhaps the puppet should carry a broom.

The puppet was one of many created one of the lesbian couples who received a co-parenting certificate - including puppet versions of Nestor Kirchner and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. The president said they would be offered for sale at government chambers.

Shamefully, in their coverage of the event, Spain's EFE treated the reason for the ceremony as a side note and focused mostly on the president's joke about the puppet ("Argentine president presents her doll 'Cristinita'").

Extra: Video of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner handing out new ID's to transgender leaders as well as co-parent certificates to a number of lesbian couples.


Monday, July 02, 2012

Fidel Castro embraces widow of lesbian singer Sara González

In writing about Mariela Castro's recent visit to the United States I left a couple of stories about Cuba on the back burner.  This is one of them.

When former Cuban president Fidel Castro emerged from his self-imposed seclusion in February to promote the first two volumes of his autobiography most international reports focused on the six hours it took Castro to present the tomes and their combined length of 1,000 pages.

Those reports were based on an online article posted by On February 4th by Cuban newspaper Gramma and most of them seemed to skip over another passage I have taken the liberty to translate:
Diana Balboa, the ashes of whose partner Sara González will be scattered over the waters of Havana Bay on Saturday, joined Fidel on the stage at his request.  He put his arms around her and championed her dedication and care towards the iconic Cuban trova singer during the months her intense battle with cancer lasted. "I know you were courageous", said Fidel, to which she replied "She was the courageous one, Comandante. She showed a lot of valor and, as long as she was lucid, she was mindful of her work and her patriotic Cuban identity - and she did rest in peace, she did not experience a tragic end".
Sara González was one of the founders of the nueva trova music movement in Cuba and among the few that remained in Cuba in support of Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. She was also mercilessly mocked by Cuban critics outside the island for her support of the Castro government.

In Cuba, more than a few people took note of the Gramma 'outing' of Ms. González and Ms. Balboa's long term relationship in February including Cuban blogger Mayktel who wrote about the ash-scattering ceremony on his blog.

Five months later, the incident has been all but forgotten but it still sticks out in my mind in light of Fidel being called one of the biggest homophobes in the history of the world.

I found it striking that Fidel made a point of acknowledging Ms. Balboa's relationship with Ms. González and I wanted to leave and English-language record of the exchange.

There are some amazing images of Ms. González in the following YouTube video with a background soundtrack of her singing "Su Nombre Es Pueblo". It includes an image of Ms. González (in blue) and Ms. Balboa (in red) at the 1:14 minute mark.  She is also shown standing next to Mariela Castro at the 1:46 minute mark.