LIMA, Peru — Peru’s first openly LGBT congressman on Thursday said he does not consider himself a “pioneer.”
“I am the first Peruvian politician to have openly acknowledged he is not heterosexual,” Carlos Bruce told the Washington Blade as his driver drove him, an aide, two security guards, this reporter and another journalist to the Peruvian Congress for a vote. “In some ways I have become an example, but I don’t consider myself to be one.”
Bruce — a member of the centrist Possible Perú Alliance who represents Lima, the Peruvian capital — came out in May during an interview with a Peruvian newspaper. The congressman last September introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples in the conservative South American country to enter into civil unions.
Bruce earlier on Thursday took part in a panel on out elected officials during a three-day meeting of Latin American and Caribbean LGBT rights advocates that is taking place at a university in Lima’s Miraflores district.
He told the Blade he received “many insults” on social media networks after the newspaper published the interview with him and his two sons. He joked his staff the following day was worried about the reaction he would receive from passersby when he decided to walk to a restaurant a few blocks from his office to have lunch.
“To my surprise there was not one insult,” Bruce told the Blade. “To the contrary, there were people who came up to me to congratulate me.”
A member of Bruce’s security detail told the Blade the congressman has received death threats since he came out.
Coming out coincides with civil unions debate in Peru
Bruce is among a growing number of openly LGBT elected officials in Latin America.
Cristián Loyola González, a councilman from the Chilean town of Quilaco, on Monday came out as gay and announced he had left the conservative political party of which he had been a member. Angélica Lozano in March became the first out person elected to the Colombian Congress.
Benjamín Medrano last September became Mexico’s first openly gay mayor after voters in Fresnillo in the state of Zacatecas elected him.
Brazilian Congressman Jean Wyllys has represented the state of Rio de Janeiro since 2010. Chilean transgender activist Zuliana Araya in 2012 won a seat on the Municipal Council in the coastal city of Valparaíso.
Bruce came out against the backdrop of the ongoing debate over his civil unions bill in the Peruvian Congress.
“It was something that I felt long ago that had to be,” he said, referring to opponents of his proposal who have described homosexuality as a sickness. “In the discussion of the bill they have said everything, that is really nonsense, that is really making people ignorant and misinforming them.”
Bruce seeks to refutes this argument and other anti-LGBT sentiments in the text of his bill.
“The idea of civil unions for people of the same sex does not devalue, nor attack the traditional family,” it reads. “It also does not effect the capacity or liberty of heterosexual people to continue forming families.”
Bruce in his bill also argues civil unions “promote stability for partners of people of the same sex.”
“The institution that is proposed here gives emotional, financial and psychological stability to lesbian and gay partners and promotes stable and monogamous relationships, something that benefits society at the same time,” he writes.
Bruce conceded he is “not very optimistic” his bill will pass during this Congress, in part because conservative lawmakers remain in power.
A 2013 poll found 65 percent of Peruvians oppose any efforts to extend civil unions to gay and lesbian couples. President Ollanta Humana and Lima Archbishop Juan Luís Cipriani are among those who also oppose Bruce’s proposal.
Two of Ollanta’s opponents in Peru’s 2011 presidential election — Keiko Fujimori and Alejandro Tolero — have publicly backed the measure. Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, also supports the civil unions bill.
“I am satisfied by what we have achieved,” Bruce told the Blade. “In Peru this issue has been debated openly in high schools and universities, in homes, on television, and in the media.”
He acknowledged any effort to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples would prove difficult in Peru. Bruce nevertheless said passing the civil unions bill would send a strong message to Peruvian society.
“It would show this union of partners does not mean that society is going to fall and that we live in Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said.
Bruce told the Blade he and other supporters of his bill are also watching the movement for expanded relationship recognition for same-sex couples in marriage and other unions in the U.S. and in other Latin American countries with “great enthusiasm.”
“The fact that the world is moving forward helps,” he said. “Our country will also soon move forward.”