Thirty activists from across Colombia are attending a four-day training in the city of Cartagena designed to encourage LGBT people to become more involved in the country’s political process.
The program, which the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and the Colombian LGBT advocacy groups Caribe Afirmativo and Colombia Diversa organized, is the second to take place in the South American country as part of the USAID-backed LGBT Global Development Partnership that will contribute $11 million over the next four years to advocacy groups in Ecuador and other developing countries. Thirty activists attended the initiative’s first Colombia training that took place in Bogotá, the country’s capital, from May 30 – June 2.
Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute; Claire Lucas of USAID; National Democratic Institute Director Francisco Herrero and Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman who runs Bogotá’s social welfare agency, are among those who took part in a panel on Thursday that Colombia Diversa Executive Director Marcela Sánchez moderated on how out political leaders and officials can advance the Colombian and American LGBT rights movements. Jhosselyn Pájaro, a trans woman who ran for municipal council in the city of Arjona outside of Cartagena; Ramón Rojas, a councilman in the city of Chaparral in central Colombia and María Rachid, an Argentine lawmaker and LGBT rights advocate who led campaigns in support of the country’s same-sex marriage and trans rights laws that took effect in 2010 and 2012, also spoke.
“I will have the opportunity to build my capacity and be able to realize a good and better platform in regards to the next campaign,” Pájaro told the Washington Blade before the Cartagena training began. “To know how to implement a good strategy that will allow me to reach my voters is something that excites me greatly.”
The training is taking place roughly five weeks after two gay men in Bogotá became the country’s first legally recognized same-sex couple.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled gays and lesbians could seek legal recognition of their relationships within two years if lawmakers in the South American country failed to extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.
The Colombian Senate in April overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians.
The Constitutional Court’s June 20 deadline passed amid lingering confusion as to whether same-sex couples could actually marry in Colombia because the 2011 ruling did not contain the word “marriage.”
Sánchez and other LGBT rights advocates consider Carlos Hernando Rivera Ramírez and Gonzalo Ruiz Giraldo married after a Bogotá civil judge solemnized their relationship on July 24. Many notaries have said they will allow gays and lesbians to enter into a “solemn contract” that is similar to an agreement into which two people enter when they purchase a home together as opposed to a civil marriage.
Anti-LGBT violence in Colombia remains a serious problem in spite of efforts to extend relationship recognition to same-sex couples in the country.
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 Colombian women have been reported killed between 2005-2011.
Caribe Afirmativo, which works in Cartagena and other cities along Colombia’s Caribbean coastline, documented 79 LGBT residents in the region suffered “violent deaths” since the murder of the organization’s founder, Rolando Pérez, in February 2007. The group also noted 86 incidents of anti-LGBT police harassment during the same period.
Edgar Plata of Caribe Afirmativo, who uses art as a way to advocate in support of LGBT rights, and Alondra Márquez of the Santamaría Fundación, a group based in the city of Cali that advocates on behalf of trans women, discussed violence against LGBT Colombians during a D.C. panel on Aug. 22 that coincided with an Organization of American States meeting on human rights.
Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda told the Blade on Thursday that Colombian political parties have yet to include gay-specific issues in their platforms. He added LGBT Colombians who seek to enter politics lack support and money for their campaigns and face what he described as the traditional political class that “functions more like electoral businesses than an ideological process.”
Castañeda added he feels working with the media to create visibility for LGBT Colombians is also important.
“It is important to immediately begin to generate synergies with the parties; with the current elected officials to ensure they, without being LGBT, are open to the idea,” Castañeda said.
Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute President Chuck Wolfe, who spoke on a panel during the Bogotá training, applauded the Cartagena gathering and the LGBT Global Development Partnership.
“This groundbreaking training puts into action the U.S. government’s commitment to global LGBT equality,” he told the Blade. “We are excited to work with our partners in-country and at USAID to grow the domestic participation of the LGBT community in Colombia.”