Monday, August 22, 2011

Warning: This banner might induce transgender threesomes (UPDATED)

  • UPDATE: La Prensa reports that a number of unknown individuals identified themselves as members of the Free Expression Foundation to get past security and removed the banner overnight on August 22nd of 2011. The matter is under investigation by university authorities.
In January of this year United States president Barack Obama took the highly unusual step of publicly calling on the Honduran government to step up its investigations of a series of brutal murders committed in recent months against the LGBT community - and particularly against transgender women.  The statement was quickly followed by Honduran press reports that the U.S. Department of State, under Hillary Clinton, had committed to send trained personnel to investigate the murders.

I am not aware of additional information on efforts by the United States to assist Honduras in the investigate these crimes but a week ago members of the Honduran LGBT community staged a protest outside the Honduran Congress in Tegucigalpa once again calling for justice.

In such an environment you might think a campaign calling for respect for diverse communities might be welcome with open arms. Instead, a pro-diversity campaign organized by students at the National Autonomous University of Honduras has drawn the ire of some parents and faculty members who allege that a prominently placed banner promotes immoral behavior.

"I want the authorities in charge of making the banner visible to university youth to remove it for the sake of the mental health of the students - it does nothing more than to promote homosexuality among students" said María Antonia Cruz, identified by La Tribuna as the mother of two students attending their first semester at the university.

Editors at La Prensa, covering the story in yesterday's paper, stated rather matter-of-factly "This banner invites men to have relations with men, women with women and there is even an image of a threesome, which shows a man dressed like a woman grabbing the hands of two men."

Responding to the outrage and irresponsible press coverage, a representative of the non-profit student organization that developed the campaign said it only was meant to promote tolerance and that, while the focus of attention had been placed on a banner that alluded to sexual diversity, it was one of five different banners, including one promoting racial tolerance and another promoting and end to violence in sport events.

"Students are deeply engaged in their campaign because it's about tolerance, respect," said Angela Valladares of the Free Expression Foundation as quoted in Tiempo, "Young people have raised their voice [in favor of] tolerance, choice and respect".

The banner in the middle of the controversy shows a lesbian couple and a gay couple holding each other with a transgender woman in the middle holding the hands of a man and a woman.  A legend on the top of the banner reads "Freedom starts with the respect of differences; you decide if you want to free."  It hangs prominently from the side of a university building.

The banner promoting racial and religious tolerance shows five young women each holding a heart in their hands.  The legend reads "It's not the skin that makes you different, but what you hold inside; we are more than 7 ethnicities and 2 religions - we are what we can do with our minds."

Interviewed by La Tribuna on the decision to leave the banners up despite the protests, the university's director defended the student-led campaign.

"In this country I think we sometimes lack profundity in the analysis, and institutional functions are debated and misunderstood because the role of the church is one thing and that of the University is another" said Julieta Castellanos.

Castellanos said the University did not function as the church nor did it exist to preach the gospel.


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