September 12, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Latin American LGBT activists visit the U.S. on State Department-sponsored trip

Laura Bronzino of Argentina and Jaime Parada in Chile in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Nine Latin American activists continue to tour the United States on a State Department-organized trip that is part of its ongoing efforts to promote human rights for LGBT people around the world.

Jaime Parada of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in Chile; Laura Bronzino, president of the Misiones LGBT Association in Argentina; Henry Peralta, general director of the LGBT Equality Foundation in Bolivia; Marcela Sánchez, executive director of Colombia Diversa; Brazilian Congressman Jean de Matos; Francisco Madrigal of the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights in Central America in Costa Rica; Efraín Soria, president of the Equity Foundation in Ecuador; José Lopéz, vice president of Comunidad Cultural de Tijuana LGBTI in México and Panamanian activist Augustín Rodríguez  began their trip in D.C. on Sept. 4. They met with Human Rights Campaign staffers, former HRC President Elizabeth Birch, Council for Global Equality President Mark Bromley, transgender activist Dr. Dana Beyer and gay Maryland state Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City,) representatives from the Justice Department, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other federal agencies, human rights groups and non-governmental organizations while in the nation’s capital. The group also discussed the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers at the Pentagon.

The activists met with staffers and representatives from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Harvey Milk High School, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York City Anti-Violence Project and Gay Men’s Health Crisis while in the Big Apple from Sept. 8-12.

The group is scheduled to meet with representatives of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, Equality California, the Transgender Law Center, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and COLAGE while in the Bay Area from Sept. 12-16. Activists are also slated to meet with the University of Louisville’s Office of LGBT Services staffers and PFLAG members while in Kentucky from Sept. 16-19. And they are scheduled to meet with members of the Unity Coalition and Walker Burttschell, a former Marine infantryman who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2003, in Miami before they leave the country on Sept. 22.

“I am tremendously happy for this experience that I will live,” said Parada in a press release his organization released before he arrived in the United States on Sept. 1. “It will be a big help in amplifying and perfecting my fight for the human rights of [Chile’s] sexual diversity. Without a doubt, the experiences and knowledge that I will gain will benefit sexual minorities.”

 

Latin American countries expand rights to LGBT citizens

The trip comes nearly a year after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed in a Geneva speech that “gay rights are human rights.” President Obama on the same day directed government agencies to consider a country’s LGBT rights record in the allocation of foreign aid.

Central and South American countries have also begun to expand rights to their LGBT citizens.

Same-sex couples in Mexico City have been able to marry and adopt children since 2010 — the Mexican Supreme Court ruled the same year that the country’s 31 other states must recognize them. Gays and lesbians have been able to enter into civil unions in the Mexican state of Coahuila since 2007.

Ecuador and Uruguay also allow civil unions for same-sex couples. Colombia also recognizes these relationships, but gays and lesbians will automatically receive full marriage rights in June 2013 if the country’s lawmakers do not act upon a court ruling that orders them to legislate the matter.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández signed her country’s same-sex marriage law in 2010, while neighboring Uruguay is widely expected to become the next Latin American country to allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. São Paolo and several other Brazilian cities and states have recognized hundreds of same-sex civil unions in response to a 2011 ruling from the country’s Supreme Court.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera pledged ahead of the country’s 2010 presidential election that he supports civil unions for same-sex couples. He introduced a civil unions measure last year, but it has stalled in the Chilean Congress.

“Marriage is uncertain,” Parada told the Blade. “It will undoubtedly be one of the most important points in the next presidential election, but it is very uncertain what will happen in that regard.”

 

Lawmakers pass transgender rights, anti-hate crimes bills

In addition to marriage, attitudes towards anti-LGBT discrimination and other issues in Latin America continue to change.

Piñera in July signed an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination bill that had languished for seven years. Chilean lawmakers passed the measure in response to four self-described neo-Nazis who allegedly beat Daniel Zamudio to death in a park in Santiago, the country’s capital, because he was gay.

Parada noted to the Blade that Santiaguïnos marched in the streets nearly every day to show their solidarity with Zamudio in the days and weeks after the brutal attack that left him in a coma. He ultimately succumbed to his injuries, but Parada noted the media coverage that surrounded Zamudio’s death highlighted efforts to combat anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in the country.

“It started a small ‘click’ in the people’s minds,” he said. “This case was an earthquake of a loss of a human life, but it was a point of inflection.”

In neighboring Argentina, Fernández in May signed a law that allows people who have not undergone sex-reassignment surgery to legally change their gender without a doctor or judge’s approval. It further mandates public and private health insurance plans to cover SRS, hormone therapy and other trans-specific treatments without additional premiums.

Bronzino, who is from northeastern Argentina near Iguazu Falls, acknowledged the same-sex marriage and gender identification laws to the Blade. She stressed that anti-LGBT police violence and discrimination remain problems.

Bronzino further noted that a lot of people have yet to benefit from these new legal protections.

“Equality has taken root in this country and the LGBT gender change,” she said. “But in Misiones they are not relevant. Only 15 equal marriages and 13 LGBT gender changes [have taken place.] That is not a large number of people.”

 

Activists: Trip proves Clinton’s commitment to global LGBT rights

The State Department did not return the Blade’s request for comment on the trip, but those who met with the activists applauded their efforts.

“They’re a great group of people who are all very active in their countries,” said Mónica Trasandes, GLAAD’s director of Spanish language media. “There is so much going on in Latin America now — Mexico and Central and Latin America. It’s wonderful and exciting to see that.”

“It was a pleasure to support the work of the State Department and all of the committed activists visiting the U.S. hoping to take lessons learned from our movement and apply them for positive change in their home countries,” added HRC spokesperson Michael Cole-Schwartz.

Beyer, who met with the activists in Annapolis after she returned from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, further described the trip as proof what she said is the former First Lady’s ongoing commitment to LGBT rights.

“Secretary Clinton came out and said LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights,” she told the Blade. “She wasn’t just talking. She’s made it real. This is an implementation of that policy of treating LGBT rights as human rights.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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