April 8, 2015 at 11:30 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Former Dominican president responds to anti-gay slur controversy
Hipolito Mejia, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Dominican President Hipólito Mejía on April 8, 2015, appeared to apologize for using an anti-gay slur last week during a New Jersey speech. (Photo public domain)

Former Dominican President Hipólito Mejía on Wednesday responded to the growing controversy over his use of an anti-gay slur during a recent appearance in New Jersey.

“I have never meant to make fun of or belittle any human being who has been marginalized and harassed,” said Mejía in a statement that Acento, an online Dominican newspaper, published on its website. “If that was interpreted as an insult, I have no problem offering my apologies and reiterating that it wasn’t, nor is, nor would be my intention. That is not how I conduct myself.”

Mejía, 74, on April 3 told members of his party, the Modern Revolutionary Party, who had gathered in New Jersey that he would not allow campaign strategists to force him to wear a wig and sit “like a little faggot does.”

Acento reported the former Dominican president who was in office between 2000-2004 said the phrase he used during his speech was “a colloquial term” that LGBT rights advocates “misinterpreted.” Mejía also reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples that he highlighted during an April 2 event with anti-gay New York state Sen. Ruben Díaz, Sr., at his church in the Bronx.

LGBT rights advocates in the Dominican Republic along with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others had urged Mejía — who was in the U.S. to gain support for his likely 2016 presidential campaign — to apologize for his comments.

Mejía’s apology an ‘achievement’

Homophobia, transphobia, discrimination and even violence against LGBT Dominicans remains pervasive in the predominantly Roman Catholic and socially conservative Caribbean country. The nation’s constitution also defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

Local advocates with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years say their efforts have become more visible since gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster assumed his post in 2013. And they contend Mejía’s response to the controversy over his anti-gay comments is further evidence of this trend.

“President Hipólito Mejía’s apology is one more thing that proves the hard work that remains to be done in the Dominican Republic,” said Leonardo Sánchez, executive director of Amigos Siempre Amigos, an LGBT and HIV/AIDS advocacy group in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, in an audio statement sent to the Blade. “Human rights decisions for everyone are based on when our politicians and our public figures are educated and the proper and respectful use of language in an inclusive and respectful way [takes place.]”

Deivis Ventura of the Amigos Siempre Amigos Network of Volunteers was far more concise in his reaction to Mejía’s comments.

“The fact that Hipólito apologized is an achievement,” he told the Blade in an email from Santo Domingo.

Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigas, a trans Dominican advocacy group, dismissed Mejía’s statement as “excuses.”

“His reiteration that he does not agree with marriage equality confirms to us that he is not a presidential candidate that we can support because he will not guarantee our rights,” King told the Blade.

“A head of state should govern based on the laws and the Constitution, not religion,” he added. “Mr. Mejía here makes it clear that his religious beliefs factor into how he governs and this is not what we as a community want. We want equality and Mr. Mejía does not guarantee that to us.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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