Friday, February 22, 2013

Ecuador: Rafael Correa apologizes to the LGBT community in nationally televised reelection victory speech

Rafael Correa's landslide victory on Sunday for his third and final term as president of Ecuador did not come as much of a surprise to observers of the region nor the president himself. Correa took to the airwaves less than an hour after the polls closed to declare victory, thank voters, commit himself to strengthening the populist economic policies that have defined his presidency and dedicate his win to ailing Venezuelan president and ally Hugo Chávez.

What few international observers have noted is that Correa also used a few moments during the 40 minute televised speech to apologize to the Ecuadorean lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community (Tip: Turn volume level down before watching this clip and turn YouTube annotations on for an onscreen translation).

My translation:
A few months ago I used a number of inappropriate words that were offensive to LGBT groups and for which I apologized in writing - and I stated I would apologize again after winning [the election] to make sure they knew I wasn't doing it simply for political gain.
Once again I'd like to express my apologies to those LGBT groups for some words that might have escaped me. Each one of us was born and grew up with stereotypes and stigmas and we have to fight against this type of - let's call it deformed - social upbringing, etcetera. But our commitment is to defend everyone's dignity and equality. We are diverse but never unequal.
And I was reminded of this by the leader of a GLBT group who I greatly admire a couple of days ago. You need a lot of courage to lead these type of movements. Let's offer them all our support and - on a personal basis - I offer my full respect and the effort and commitment to eliminate all types of discrimination in this country.
The incident in question occurred on July 28th of last year during one of the public semi-weekly marathon presentations Correa uses to "report back" to the Ecuadorean community - much like Fidel Castro and Chávez used to stage at the top of their game (Turn YouTube annotations on for an onscreen translation).

International human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have long criticized Correa for using his presidential powers to browbeat antagonist media outlets and curtail the right to freedom of speech and in this particular excerpt from the latter part of a four hour presentation Correa goes against one of his favorite targets: El Comercio.

That Friday, the paper had published an article claiming the Ecuadorian Olympic Committee had turned down a request from the president to accompany the Ecuadorean Olympic team to London and be part of their contingent during the opening ceremonies.

In the clip Correa calls the report "slanderous" and a "barbarity" and denies ever considering attending the games. But what truly draws his ire is an online comment made by a reader on El Commercio's Facebook page calling the president a fag: "The fag thought that faggotry was part of the Olympic games and thought he could bring a gold medal in homosexuality - which is his strength... Degenerate fag."

Never mind Correa is holding El Comercio for comments made from a Facebook reader based in Spain. What outraged members of the LGBT community in Ecuador was the president's response: "If anyone knows this gentleman let me know. And I'll invite him and only him to tell me these vicious things face to face. To see who's the real fag."

On August 2nd, El Comercio shot back by publishing an open letter signed by a number of LGBT-rights leaders under the name of the GLBT Alliance.  The group said they were disgusted by the comments made by the Facebook member but even more disappointed that someone they had supported and considered a friend of the community had responded to homophobic insults with just as homophobic a response. A translated excerpt:
We regret that a "revolutionary" president and those who are close to the government are still bound backward notions which keep them from reaching the heights of statesmanship of the caliber of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Barack Obama, Jose Luis Zapatero or Francois Hollande who have chosen jump on the train of history and time to bet on behalf of the rights of citizens regardless of their sexuality. Respectfully, Mr. President, we believe the GLBT community of this country and particularly those who voted for you are waiting for you to acknowledge our existence and are deserving of an apology.
That led to Correa's first apology on his next marathon "report back" session on August 4th, a week after his homophobic rant.

A translated excerpt:
I trust you know that there has been no other [Ecuadorean] government that has fought to guarantee GLBT rights as this one has done. That's why we've had to confront fundamentalist and ultra-conservative groups and will continue to do so. But if the president committed a mistake and you consider it as such I have no problem in saying I am sorry. These apologies will also be expressed in writing to the four organizations that signed this statement posted in the social networks.
And because you know there will be bad faith journalists who'll argue I am doing this because the election season is near, ladies and gentlemen, if I decide to run and the Ecuadorean people give me the privilege of winning the election with their vote, the next day after winning the election I will reaffirm this apology. I am extremely sorry if I overreached, I sincerely am sorry if I offended you. I do not deny that I harbor prejudice and stigma inside of me because we have all grown up in this society.
I remember the apology when it was reported last summer and how it struck me as sincere and groundbreaking for a Latin American head of state.

To his credit, Correa has appointed an openly lesbian woman to his presidential cabinet who has made it a point to combat homophobic so called "ex-gay" religious-based clinics.  Correa also vowed to combat Ecuadorean homophobia in reaction to the brutal murder of Ecuadorean immigrant José Osvaldo Sucuzhañay in the United States. He backed a new Ecuadorean constitution adopted in 2008 which banned adoption rights for gays and lesbians but granted them civil union rights.

Critics say he continues to oppose marriage equality legislation based on religious beliefs and has not worked hard enough to enforce existing gender identity laws that protect transgender individuals from discrimination. In July a number of LGBT-rights activists who organized an anti-homophobia rally in Guayaquil criticized the way government forces shut them down.

I hope Correa's seemingly sincere efforts mean there is an openness to address these and other issues in his last term in office. If so, we more than welcome his reiterated apologies to the LGBT community.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Report: Puerto Rican Supreme Court reaffirms same-sex adoption ban

Puerto Rico's El Vocero is reporting that the island's Supreme Tribunal will be backing an adoption ban for same-sex couples in a 5-4 decision to be announced later today.

El Vocero says that the ruling comes after a Puerto Rican woman sought to adopt her lesbian partner's daughter.  A current law "bans the adoption of a minor if the biological mother doesn't give up her rights unless the couple consists of a man and a woman", according to the paper.

The women had argued that Article 138 of the Civil Code was unconstitutional because it banned adoptions by same-sex couples.

Puerto Rico's best known openly gay man has responded on Twitter.

"So sad," writes Ricky Martin, "I see this as turning our backs on childhood. So many orphans who want the warmth of 1 home."
Puerto Rican activist Pedro Julio Serrano also released a statement:
With this nefarious decision the Supreme Tribunal of Puerto Rico fails once again to live up to it's constitutional obligation to grant justice to those who go to the courts as a last recourse in search of equality.  This decision goes against the constitution. The Constitution is clear: All citizens should be protected equally and their dignity should not be violated.  This decision violates, threatens and challenges two of the highest protections in our Carta Magna. Once again the Supreme Tribunal has failed the people of Puerto Rico.
Serrano calls on the Puerto Rican legislature to right the wrong that the Court has committed.

UPDATE #1: El Nuevo Dia is reporting that they also got advance notice of the ruling. They say that the court determined that such a ban was valid because the island's constitution "does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation" and accepted arguments presented by the legislature that the "traditional family" composed of a father, a mother and their children "best protected the well-being of minors."

The paper says that the Court's president Federico Hernández Denton disagreed with the majority ruling and in a minority opinion said that the decision was unconstitutional.

Three other dissenting judges said that they did not believe the Civil Code prohibited these type of adoptions and that they would have preferred if the state recognized "second parent adoptions".

UPDATE #2: You can download a copy of the ruling here (Spanish-only)


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Puerto Rican men give up Eagle Scout badges over Boy Scouts' discriminatory policies

Joining thousands of Boy Scouts in the United States who have turned in their merit badges and renounced their affiliation with the agency in protest of their discriminatory policies, three Puerto Rican men have followed suit and publicly renounced their Eagle Scout honors and badges.

In a statement addressed to the Puerto Rican chapter of the Boy Scouts of America and published today in El Vocero, the three former Boy Scouts - José Aníbal Herrero Acevedo, Juan Gabriel Marrero Delgado and Luis Salvador Herrero - urged the agency to change their ban on LGBT members.

My translation of their statement:
We have made the decision to renounce the Boy Scouts' highest honor to raise the alarm against an organization that refuses to accept members of the LGBT community as part of their membership. In Puerto Rico of the 21st century there is no room for intolerance, discrimination or homophobia and, as a result, we can no longer be part of an organization that promotes any of it.
Being a part of the Boy Scouts of America was a unique part of our lives and that's the reason we cannot simply stand with our arms crossed before an organization that has shut its doors to a significant part of the community.  We cannot continue wearing our Eagle Scout badges with pride unless the Boy Scouts eliminate their unjust policies and allow gays to openly participate in the organization.
The great experiences and memories of the time we spent in the troop last a lifetime and they must be available to everyone and not just a few. We call on other young Eagle Scouts from our troop and throughout Puerto Rico to join our efforts and to renounce their Eagle Scout rank until the Puerto Rican chapter of the Boy Scouts changes its discriminatory policy against the gay community.
The three men, currently in their 20's, were members of the same Guaynabo-based troop more than twenty years ago and have remained friends since then. Earlier today, Herrero took to Twitter to publicly announce their stand (in Spanish)...
Herrero also announced the launch of a Facebook page titled "No Discrimination in the Boy Scouts of Puerto Rico".

A certain someone preparing to fill a judge's seat in the Australian version of "The Voice" took notice. Ricky Martin thanked the three men in a tweet sent to his 8,000,000+ followers.
In October of 2012, the Georgia-based office of the national Boy Scouts of America released a public statement apologizing for 5,000 instances of sexual abuse committed against members of the Boy Scouts in Puerto Rico between the years of 1959 and 1988. The apology followed an Oregon court ruling that made the records public.

In July we took a look at the Boy Scouts in Latin America and their policy on LGBT members.  Surprisingly we only found out one Latin American country that banned gays from the Boy Scouts - Panama - and even they seemed to backtrack once the policy became public.


Monday, February 04, 2013

Latin American online LGBT media pioneer Gabriel Oviedo has died

SentidoG: Gabriel Oviedo, the founder and chief editor of the online LGBT news site SentidoG, has passed away in Buenos Aires at the age of 38.  Oviedo had been hospitalized since December from undisclosed "health complications" and died Thursday night according to a statement posted on the website.

Since its initial launch at the end of 2001, SentidoG became a go to source for Spanish-language international LGBT news and quickly gained a readership well beyond the Argentine borders.

Last year SentidoG was officially designated by the Buenos Aires City Council as a "Social Site of Interest" and Oviedo received honors "for his journalistic work and for his commitment to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans issues; as well as the dissemination of content that promoted rights for all and strengthened the fight against discrimination".

Cesar Cigliutti and other members of the Argentine Homosexual Community (CHA) who worked closely with Oviedo over the years and accompanied him on that special occasion released a brief statement mourning his loss and championing his work on behalf of the LGBT community.

The Argentine LGBT Federation (FALGBT), who are sometimes at odds with the CHA, also released their own statement.  "Gabriel's passing is an important loss for the movement, particularly for the drive and effort that led to the launch of one of the most important LGBT news portals in the world," said FALGBT president Esteban Paulón.

Controversy: In past years, Oviedo and SentidoG were not immune to controversy. While most of the site's content is original, Oviedo sometimes would post copyrighted content from other sites including material from the The Bilerico Project in the United States.

SentidoG's lax copyright policies led to confrontations with a rival Argentine LGBT news site called AG Magazine which broke out into the open in 2008 when their director Martín Peretti Sciolli accused Oviedo of stealing their material and their design.

The rough patch between both online publications seemed to have disappeared four years later when AG Magazine publicly congratulated Oviedo on SentidoG's and their 10th anniversary.

In his own words: During the decade that Oviedo spent at the helm of SentidoG, Argentina went from approving same-sex civil unions in 2002, to approving marriage equality in 2010 to passing the most progressive gender identity law in the world in 2012.

Last June he sat down with editors of the weekly Página/12 LGBT news supplement "Soy"and spoke of those ten years.

Oviedo said that SentidoG began as an online radio station with the idea of providing support for the civil union bill which was still in its infancy at the time and that it soon grew into something else.

He took the U.S. publication The Advocate as a reference and launched SentidoG. There were other sites such as in Spanish and the monthly Argentine publication NX but he felt there was a need for a news site that provided content updated on a daily basis. "Today any jerk can launch a blog and believe it's a news network," he said.

Oviedo said that over the years he'd begun to characterize SentidoG's coverage as being queer rather than LGBT and argued he tried to stay away from the overt consumerist angle of other LGBT publications but admitted that what usually drew the most readers was sex and eroticism which is why they sometimes featured features such as "The Gods of Rugby".

A year earlier Oviedo had also sat down with Verónica Dema of La Nación who interviewed him for a blog she runs on LGBT issues called Boquitas Pintadas.  Dema asked Oviedo to share the high point and low point of his run at SentidoG, and she caught his response on camera:

The high point - Passage of the marriage equality law in 2010:
The story that was the most beautiful to me - because I lived through it while being there - was the passage of the marriage equality law.  I was outside [congress] in one of the tarps at the same instant the vote came in and it was a truly emotional moment. We truly crossed over to being legally recognized and it felt as if we had stepped out of the closet completely.
The low point - Having to report on hate crimes against the LGBT community:
It is always sad and it always saddens me when I have to report a hate crime - directly or indirectly. Directly when a hate crime takes actually place or indirectly when the State has exclusionary policies that lead some to commit suicide; that's a hate crime by omission. And Argentina has experienced tremendous change - particularly since last year. But when one stops to think - and I've discussed this with my friends - that only thirty years have passed since we went through an extremely bloody military coup in which people were taken away for - four hundred people were disappeared simply due to their sexual orientation - to think that twenty years after the coup ended you saw the passage of a marriage equality bill! For those people who survived it was truly an incredible story.
In a few words, that summarizes the improbable and moving path to equality for the Argentine LGBT community: From a repressive and bloody dictatorship to marriage equality and beyond.

When news broke of Oviedo's passing on Twitter last week, the response might have even surprised him.

From Argentina came reactions from SentidoG, CHA, FALGBT, AG Magazine, Peek G and renown journalist Osvaldo Bazan...
From the International LGBTI Association (ILGA) and All Out...
From Spain the online LGBT news site Dos Manzanas, the LGBT Statewide Federation (FALGBT) and FALGBT member Toni Poveda....
From Mexico, condolences from CODICE, Foro No Heterosexual, trans rights activists Patty Betancourt and Código Diverso producer Gabriel Gutierrez Garcia...
From Chile, the online lesbian magazine Rompiendo el Silencio...
From Ecuador, Proyecto Transgénero...
From Paraguay, SomosGay and LGBT rights activist Simón Cazal...
From the United States, trans rights activist Veronica Onassis...
And the reactions continue. A true testament to Gabriel's work and how far it reached.

As for the highlight of his journalist career, here is a video of the reaction outside congress when the marriage equality law passed.

Everyone breaks out into chants of "Equality! Equality! Equality!"