February 6, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Latin American LGBT advocates visit U.S.

Michael K. Lavers, Alberto Moscoso Flor, Esteban Paulon, Diane Rodriguez, gay news, Washington Blade

A group of Latin American LGBT rights advocates toured the Washington Blade offices on Jan. 31 (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

The State Department has invited a group of Latin American LGBT rights advocates to the U.S. to meet with their American counterparts.

LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón; Alberto Moscoso Flor, executive director of the Civil Association for Social Development and Cultural Promotion of GLBT Freedom in Bolivia; Juan Fuentealba Álvarez of the Chilean It Gets Better Foundation; Paulina Torres Mora of “Beso Diverso” in Costa Rica; Deivis Ventura of the “Amigos Siempre Amigos” Network of Volunteers in the Dominican Republic; Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano, president of the Silueta X Association in Ecuador and Clauvo Velásquez of the Homosexual Community of Hope for the Loreto Region of Perú arrived in D.C. on Jan. 25 as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

The group met with former Human Rights Campaign President Elizabeth Birch, members of the Metropolitan Police Department and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer while in the nation’s capital. The advocates also toured the Washington Blade office on Jan. 31 where they met with this reporter and publisher Lynne Brown.

The group met with gay New York State Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell; Hetrick-Martin Institute CEO Thomas Krever; Adam Frankel of Human Rights Watch; staffers of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and All Out and gay blogger Andrés Duque while in New York.

The activists are scheduled to visit Texas and California before leaving the U.S. later this month.

“Our work is focused on showing other realities to LGBT kids and youth so they can have hope for the future and celebrate diversity,” Fuentealba told the Blade. “We believe that all players involved in the construction of our society play an important role in this goal. And newspapers, TV stations and the film industry, among others, are key elements on making a change.”

Rodríguez, a transgender woman who unsuccessfully sought a seat in the Ecuadorian Congress last year, filed a complaint against her South American country’s government with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights while in D.C.

She was able to receive an amended identity card without her birth name after she won a lawsuit in 2009, but it did not list her gender as female. Rodríguez told the Blade she was kidnapped for four hours in 2012 because of her advocacy efforts.

“I hope that the court will analyze my case and the case of transgender people who are coming behind me,” she said.

U.S. LGBT rights advocates who met with their Latin American counterparts welcomed the opportunity to do so.

“Human rights activism offers precious few opportunities to sit back, even just for an hour, and share information about the struggles and strategies of our peers,” IGLHRC Latin America and Caribbean Coordinator María Mercedes Gómez exclusively told the Blade, noting she and her colleagues discussed anti-LGBT violence in the region, bullying, access to health care and gender-appropriate identity cards during their meeting with the group on Wednesday. “We talked about the fact that those who are the most vulnerable to abuse are those who transcend and challenge prevailing gender roles — in other words, our struggle is not only about sexual orientation or gender identity, it is about the freedom of everyone to be who they are.”

“The State Department invited a remarkable group of young activists from across Latin America and the Caribbean, each a leader in his or her community,” added Beyer, who announced her candidacy against Maryland state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) late last month. “Their insights about common problems, derived from their own national experiences, were often diverse, and prompted some fascinating conversations.”

O’Donnell said in a press release his office released after his Feb. 3 meeting with the advocates that they discussed marriage rights for same-sex couples, anti-LGBT violence and efforts to curb bullying.

The New York lawmaker also talked about the important role he feels openly gay legislators can play in debates over the aforementioned issues. He highlighted his own experience with his fellow lawmakers during the 2011 debate on the Empire State’s same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law.

“That way someone is always around when legislation is being debated, not an outside person or group, but one of their own, a colleague,” said O’Donnell.

The State Department has previously invited Latin American LGBT rights advocates to the U.S.

Six Colombian activists visited D.C., Iowa and California last April. A group of LGBT rights advocates from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panamá, Costa Rica and México visited the U.S. in 2012.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and two Colombian advocacy groups – Colombia Diversa and Caribe Afirmativo – have organized two trainings over the last year designed to encourage LGBT people to become more involved in the South American country’s political process. These gatherings are part of the USAID-backed LGBT Global Development Partnership that will contribute $11 million over the next three years to activist organizations in Ecuador and other developing countries.

Two Cuban LGBT rights advocates – Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Díaz – met with Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and others last year while in the U.S.

A number of Russian LGBT rights advocates have visited D.C. and other U.S. cities in recent months ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that begin on Thursday in Sochi, Russia.

Latvian LGBT rights advocate Kaspars Zailitis is also in the U.S. on another State Department-sponsored trip.

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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