May 31, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Colombia panel examines impact of out politicians, officials
Bogota, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Panelists discussed how out politicians and officials can advance LGBT rights in Colombia and the U.S. during a panel in the Colombian capital on Thursday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia—More than 150 people attended a panel discussion in the Colombian capital on Thursday that discussed how out politicians and elected officials can advance the LGBT rights movement in Colombia and in the United States.

Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute President Chuck Wolfe; lesbian Bogotá City Councilwoman Angélica Lozano; Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman whom Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro last year appointed to run the city’s social welfare agency and Francisco Herrero, director of the National Democratic Institute, which encourages underrepresented groups to become involved in the South American country’s political process, were panelists. Marcela Sánchez, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a nationwide LGBT advocacy organization, moderated the panel.

Wolfe said the most basic reason he feels it is important for LGBT people to become involved in the political process is because there are some people “who think that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is something wrong.”

“The basic premise of serving in public office means you represent people,” he said. “They see you as a fellow person who represents you and other elected or appointed officials also have to work with you and they begin to say there’s nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender.”

Lozano, who served as the mayor of Chapinero, a district of Bogotá that has a large gay population, from 2005-2008, was an activist before she decided to enter politics. She stressed anti-LGBT attitudes persist, but out elected officials have a responsibility to effectively communicate messages that counter homophobia and transphobia.

“The focus in our community and on our rights is not only in how they think about them,” Lozano said. “It is how they are communicated with their public that wants to claim it.”

Piñeros acknowledged trans people continue to face barriers in education and employment and religious and moral stigmas. She stressed that “bit by bit” people are becoming more comfortable with trans people as they grow more visible.

“In this moment I feel more empowered,” Piñeros said. “I am allowed to be an equal person. It can be done because I believe it.”

The panel took place at the start of a four-day USAID-sponsored training the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice will conduct with Colombia Diversa that is designed to teach participants how to become involved in the South American country’s political process.

The Bogotá gathering will also take place against the backdrop of Colombia’s same-sex marriage debate.

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 Colombian Senate last month overwhelmingly rejected a gay marriage bill, and the tribunal’s deadline is June 20.

Sánchez told the Washington Blade after the panel that the Victory Institute and Astraea training is important because it will allow participants to strengthen their capacity to run a political campaign, develop their message and raise funds. She added she feels it will further empower them to become more involved in Colombian politics as lawmakers continue to debate LGBT-specific issues.

“[The training] is an informational event for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people that are interested in accessing or participating in politics out of the closet,” Sánchez said.

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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