May 31, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Colombia LGBT activist discusses challenges

Wilson Castañera, Colombia, Caribe Afirmativo, gay news, Washington Blade

Wilson Castañeda Castro of the Colombian LBGT advocacy group Caribe Afirmativo. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – An advocate from Colombia’s Caribbean coast told the Washington Blade on Friday that discrimination and violence continue to pose a serious threat to the region’s LGBT residents.

“The Caribbean is a region of a high cultural diversity,” Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda Castro said during the USAID-backed Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice training that he and roughly 30 other activists from across the country are attending in the Colombian capital of Bogotá. “You find a very pluralistic cultural dynamic, but it goes against the recognition of sexual diversity.”

Friends of a gay activist of Cuban descent who was murdered in Cartagena in 2007 founded Caribe Afirmativo after his death.

The organization that also works in the cities of Barranquilla, Valledupar, Urabá, Sincelejo and Montería documents the impact that violence and the armed conflict that began in Colombia in the 1960s has had on the region’s LGBT population. It also seeks to educate the public about sexual minorities, organize LGBT people and highlight homophobic and transphobic politicians.

“The governments in these areas are very homophobic governments,” Castañeda said. “This agenda seeks commitments from them with respect to the LGBT community.”

He said his group continues to confront the sexual exploitation of young gay men of Afro-Caribbean descent due to increased tourism in Cartagena and Santa Marta. Caribe Afirmativo also works with many transgender women who have been displaced because of violence and those who have been threatened because they are open about their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

“It is a region full of challenges,” he said.

Castañeda further noted he feels the centralized Colombian government does not understand “this is a dynamic country made up of many regions.” He added life for LGBT people who live outside Bogotá remains difficult because of a lack of support from local officials and a lack of community engagement and visibility.

“We have not found a government that will help us address these goals,” Castañeda said.

Castañeda criticizes government for remaining silent on LGBT issues

The country’s highest court in 2011 ruled same-sex couples can legally register their relationships in two years if Colombian lawmakers don’t pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage. The tribunal’s deadline is June 20, but the Colombian Senate last month overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

Colombian lawmakers in 2011 passed a new anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation.

Colombia is also among the countries that helped secure passage of the United States’ first-ever resolution in support of LGBT rights in the same year.

Castañeda acknowledged to the Blade that LGBT-specific advances have taken place over the last four years. He also criticized President Juan Manuel Santos’ government for remaining silent on same-sex marriage, anti-LGBT violence and other issues.

“It is inconsistent that the government wanted to remain silent when we are talking about the vulnerability of rights,” Castañeda said.

Castañeda, who visited D.C. and two other U.S. cities in April with a group of other Colombian LGBT rights advocates on a State Department-sponsored trip, noted the strong ties between the two countries. He added he and other advocates can continue to learn from LGBT rights advocates in the United States.

“In Colombia the LGBT community remains one of the most marginalized communities,” he said. “The U.S. visit allowed us to see first-hand experiences, situations, specific examples of people and institutions and organizations. We can take some of what we experienced [there] and apply it here in Colombia.”

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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