Friday, April 08, 2011

Peru: LGBT rights and this weekend's presidential elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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