The first training as part of a USAID-backed public-private partnership designed to promote LGBT rights around the world will take place in the Colombian capital from May 30-June 2.
Advocates from across Colombia are expected to attend the Bogotá training that is designed to teach participants how to become involved in the country’s political process. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice will conduct the four-day seminar with Colombia Diversa, a nationwide LGBT advocacy group, as part of the LGBT Global Development Partnership that will contribute $11 million over the next four years to activist groups in neighboring Ecuador and other developing countries.
Colombia Diversa Executive Director Marcela Sánchez on Thursday will also moderate a panel on the role out public officials play in the advancement of LGBT rights in Colombia and the United States. Bogotá City Council member Angélica Lozano; Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman whom Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro appointed last year to run the Colombian capital’s social welfare agency; Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute President Chuck Wolfe and Francisco Herrero, director of the Democratic National Institute, a group that encourages underrepresented groups to become involved in the South American country’s political process, are scheduled to take part.
“I hope there will be an opportunity to have a conversation about opportunities for LGBT people to be involved in their government,” Wolfe told the Washington Blade before he traveled to Bogotá.
The training will take place less than a week after Vice President Biden met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Bogotá during a six-day trip that also brought him to Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil.
Biden’s office did not return the Blade’s request for comment on whether the vice president discussed LGBT-specific issues with Santos. A senior administration official who briefed reporters before the trip said the Obama administration’s objective “is to work with our partners across the hemisphere to promote a hemisphere that’s middle class, secure and democratic.”
“They each have a government that share our democratic values, that are focused on delivering for their citizens and on working as partners to advance common interests across the region and around the world,” the official said.
Marriage debate provides training backdrop
The Colombian Senate in April struck down a bill that would have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.
The same chamber in 2007 defeated a measure that would have allowed gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions; but the country’s Constitutional Court in three separate rulings later that year and in 2008 extended property, social security and other rights to same-sex couples. The tribunal in 2009 ruled gays and lesbians who live together must receive the same rights that unmarried heterosexual couples receive under Colombian law.
The Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled the country’s Congress must pass legislation within two years that extends the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage to same-sex couples. They can legally register their relationships on June 20 if lawmakers fail to act on this judicial mandate.
Lawmakers in the South American country in 2011 also passed a new anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation.
Colombia was also among the countries that helped secure passage of the United Nations’ first-ever resolution in support of LGBT rights earlier in the same year.
Anti-LGBT violence remains pervasive
Colombia Diversa estimates 58 of the reported 280 LGBT Colombians who were murdered between 2010-2011 were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. A report from the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender Women (REDLACTRANS) notes 61 trans women in Colombia have been reported killed between 2005-2011.
Federico Ruíz Mora of the Santamaría Fundación, a group based in Cali that advocates on behalf of trans women, told the Blade last month while he and other Colombian LGBT rights activists and officials visited the United States that local police often exacerbate the problem.
USAID in 2009 began to work with the Colombian National Police on how to more effectively engage the country’s LGBT advocacy organizations. Law enforcement personnel from Colombia, Sweden and the United Kingdom took part in a 2010 seminar the agency and the Swedish Embassy co-sponsored on how police can better interact with LGBT Colombians.
Colombia Diversa and the Santamaría Fundación has also received USAID grants and other support to expand their efforts to document anti-LGBT violence and work with authorities to better prosecute the perpetrators.
Dan Baer, deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. State Department, acknowledged to the Blade during an interview on Tuesday that trans Colombians in particular face “very serious violence.” He added the Colombian government’s protection of freedom of association that allows LGBT advocacy groups and other non-governmental organizations to operate freely allows it to adequately respond to the problem.
“That makes a huge difference because you have the facts out in the open,” Baer said. “The challenge is just implementing policies that deliver full protections.”
While applauding the Colombian government’s efforts to address anti-LGBT violence, he conceded “there are more steps that they could take.”
“That’s a conversation that’s happening principally between domestic NGOs and the government,” Baer said. “There are very committed people I’ve met with in the Colombian government for whom this is a priority issue.”
Santos’ spokesperson Pedro Ignacio Camacho Ramírez told the Blade in an e-mail on Tuesday his country remains committed to protecting the rights of LGBT people.
“Colombia is a nation founded upon the inherent dignity of every human being,” he said. “In this sense, we understand that it is a priority for the country to move forward with the construction of politics and spaces that contribute to the development of the right to equality without discrimination in support of groups like the LGBTI community with special constitutional protection.”
Editor’s note: Blade reporter Michael K. Lavers will speak to training participants in Bogotá on Saturday.