January 20, 2016 at 12:44 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
First LGBT member of Guatemala Congress takes office

Sandra Morán, gay news, Washington Blade

Sandra Morán is the first openly LGBT person elected to the Guatemala Congress. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Morán)

The first openly LGBT person elected to Guatemala’s Congress took office last week.

Sandra Morán, a lesbian woman who is a member of Convergencia, a left-leaning political movement that advocates on behalf of indigenous Guatemalans and other underrepresented groups in the Central American country, was sworn in on Jan. 14.

Her inauguration took place in a square outside the Congress building in Guatemala City.

“It is the first swearing in of the people,” Morán told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview from Guatemala City.

Voters in Guatemala City elected Morán to Congress last September. She is one of 158 members of the Guatemala Congress who took office on Jan. 14.

Morán, 56, in 1981 sought exile in neighboring Mexico amid Guatemala’s civil war. She lived in Nicaragua and Canada before returning to Guatemala in 1994.

Morán over the last two decades has become a prominent figure within the Guatemalan women’s and feminist movements. She has also publicly supported LGBT-specific issues in the Central American country.

Morán told the Blade there was a “positive reaction” to her campaign among LGBT Guatemalans because it was the first time there was a congressional candidate “who is like them.”

“When I won (the community) was truly very happy,” she said. “There would finally be a representation in the Congress from a sexually diverse background.”

LGBT Guatemalans face poverty, discrimination, violence

Morán told the Blade that poverty is among the “general problems” that lesbian, gay, bisexual and especially transgender Guatemalans face.

She said discrimination and violence against trans and lesbian women remains pervasive in the Central American country. Morán also noted to the Blade that anti-LGBT attitudes persist among many Guatemalan families and trans people are unable to legally change their gender.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and five other members of Congress last year in a letter that urged the U.S. Agency for International Aid to fund advocacy efforts in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador cited examples of the Guatemalan government’s inadequate response to anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. These include the Guatemalan Public Ministry’s refusal to investigate a lesbian woman’s allegations of domestic violence against her partner because it said “domestic violence only applied to heterosexual couples.”

President Jimmy Morales was sworn in as the country’s next president on the same day that Morán took office.

Guatemalan voters last October elected the former comedian with no previous political experience in the wake of a corruption scandal that forced then-President Otto Pérez Molina from office.

Morales, an evangelical Christian, opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples. He has also indicated his opposition to abortion in the Central American country.

“We say that he unfortunately represents a popular exclusion,” Morán told the Blade.. “He is racist, is sexist, is homophobic.”

Vice President Biden is among those who attended Morales’ inauguration.

Morán’s election ‘a step forward’

Guatemalan advocates said Morán will bring attention to LGBT-specific issues within the Congress.

“It is an advance, a step forward,” Stacy Velásquez, a trans rights advocate in Guatemala City, told the Blade earlier this week in an email. “Now we have an openly LGBTI assemblywoman, who is specifically a lesbian and a feminist, in the Congress who represents us.”

A former Guatemalan gay activist with whom the Blade spoke on Wednesday agreed.

“Having a lesbian woman and a feminist in Congress is a big advantage,” said the activist who asked the Blade not to publish their name. “She’s been very open. I frankly admire her openness.”

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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