Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dominican Republic: U.S. Ambassador and husband meet Dominican LGBT advocates

U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James "Wally" Brewster and his husband Bob Satawake (center) meet with LGBT and human rights advocates from the Caribbean island (photo taken from the Ambassador's Instagram account)

James "Wally" Brewster, who is still listed as a member of the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign and who gained national visibility as one of the gay men who raised the most funds for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign has been on quite a charm offensive since he took the U.S. ambassadorship duties in the Dominican Republic a month ago.

This is a marked change from the silence he observed during the nomination process as a number of religious leaders in the Dominican Republic criticized the nomination of an openly gay man for the diplomatic post.  Leading the charge was Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez who called the then-nominee a 'faggot' on national television...

...but once the nomination was secured Brewster faced the criticism head on and introduced himself to the Dominican public with a video in which he included his husband Bob Satawake...

Brewster and Satawake also became the first same-sex married couple to grace the cover of the Dominican high society magazine Ritmo Social in an exclusive interview published on January 25th.
Ritmo Social: You have worked with the gay community and human rights. Can you talk about your experiences in those areas?
Brewster: It's our belief that every person has the inherent right to to a dignified and transparent life without the far of being pursued or discriminated. We firmly believe that each person has value and that the entire world should have an opportunity to contribute to the common good. We have worked with different types of organizations who serve marginalized communities and grant them equal access and development opportunities. As people of faith we take into account our responsibility to bring growth opportunities to others as many other people have granted us both.
RS: The Dominican Republic is, on the whole, a Catholic country and some people believe that it's not right to send a gay man - and on top of that an out activist - to represent the U.S. as a Dominican Republic ambassador. What is your opinion?
Brewster: We both have felt welcomed by the Dominican Republic for many years and since my arrival as an ambassador that has not changed. I was nominated by President Obama to represent his government and the North American people as a reflection of our country, its diversity and its mission. I am committed to serve that ideal. President Obama was aware of our knowledge of the Dominican Republic and knew we would work diligently to advance the extraordinary relationship between our people and our countries.
RS: Let's talk about your relationship with your husband Bob...
Brewster: Bob and I met, as many other couples, when we were in our twenties. We have gotten older and shared our lives together learning from each other.  We are very fortunate to have loving parents and, even though my mother is no longer with us, we treasure the love she gave us every day.  Our parents have been extremely understanding and offered us great support all these years we have been together.  In October we celebrated our 25th anniversary together and, thanks to the leadership of President Obama, we were able to legally marry in Washington, DC, surrounded by our families and many of our friends from the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. We live life day to day and we thank God every day for the blessings he has given us.

Ambassador Brewster meets with Dominican LGBT leaders: As the nomination process was taking place and as the State Department and Brewster himself kept quiet on the attacks he was receiving from conservative religious leaders in the island, some of his strongest supporters were members of the Dominican LGBT community who were thrilled about the nomination.  But considering Brewster's privileged life in the United States I often wondered if the new ambassador would acknowledge their support or engage them in any significant way.

Today, just a month after taking the diplomatic post and in a sign that he will be a strong ally to the Dominican LGBT community he welcomed them to a reception at the embassy which included his husband.

Among the LGBT leaders who attended the reception were Leonardo Sánchez of Amigos Siempre Amigos (Friends Always Friends), Chris King from the transgender rights organization TRANSSA, LGBT rights advocate Harold Jimenez, and Reverend Wilkin Lara from the ICM Church in D.R.

There has been no official statement from the Embassy on the meeting nor a full list of attendees but photos of the meeting were sent out through the Embassy's Twitter account and the ambassador's Instagram account.

Conservative religious leaders still fuming about nomination, get support from U.S.-based religious websites: A small number of very vocal conservative religious leaders in the Dominican Republic remain furious that a gay man is now the U.S. ambassador.

On Friday, even before today's meeting with LGBT leaders, Reverend Luis Rosario staged a press conference to say that the arrival of the new ambassador and his husband sent an "extremely negative message" to the Dominican people.

"It's a very sad state of affairs we are living at this moment," Rev. Rosario added, "and it makes our nation seem like a great hospital for the sexually ill."

Last year right-wing U.S.-based religious sites such as CNS News gave credence to homophobic threats warning Brewster would be forced to leave the Dominican Republc or else run the risk of being attacked. CNN also picked up on the so-called "Black Monday" protests against Brewster's nomination which never actually materialized (those were also promoted to no avail by conservative U.S. conservative sites such as LifeSite News).

If anything it mobilized Dominican LGBT advocates such as Giónver Castillo who hung this rainbow flag outside his balcony to protest the calls for a "Black Monday."

During the 2012 Dominican pride parade Castillo was stopped several times by police authorities for carrying a flag he made in which he changed the colors of the Dominican flag to resemble the rainbow flag.  Authorities threatened to stop the parade unless Castillo handed the flag over to them since they considered the rainbow colored Dominican flag an affront to the nation's patriotic symbols.

Parade organizers who were afraid that they would be forced to stop the celebrations before the evening's cultural events agreed with the authorities and distanced themselves from having any role in the creation of the flag. Castillo was not among the leaders who attended today's reception but some of the parade organizers did.

Cardinal López Rodriguez, who called Brewster a "faggot," asks Dominicans to be respectful of the new ambassador: Nevertheless in a sign that religious conservatives are losing support for their vitriolic and homophobic language against the ambassador, on January 14th, just a week before Brewster took the diplomatic seat, it was Cardinal López Rodriguez - the same man who called Brewster a "faggot" last year upon hearing of the nomination - who urged church goers to show respect for the new ambassador.

Note: This is an re-edited version of the original post that went up on February 11th, 2014.

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