April 1, 2017 at 9:35 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Dominican government officials speak at LGBT conference

Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

More than 300 people from across Latin America and the Caribbean attended a conference in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, this weekend that sought to bolster LGBT and intersex political engagement. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — More than 300 activists from across Latin America and the Caribbean attended a conference in the Dominican Republic that focused on bolstering LGBT and intersex political engagement in the region.

Dominican Minister of Women’s Affairs Janet Camilo told participants at the beginning of the conference — which took place at a hotel in the country’s capital of Santo Domingo — on Friday that everyone “should be equal under the law and in society.” She also stressed President Danilo Medina’s government is “doing everything possible to build and fight for equality, for an inclusive society for everyone.”

“This fight is not only your fight,” said Camilo after she highlighted a bill in the Dominican congress that seeks to promote equal rights for women. “This fight is that of all Dominicans who believe in equality, inclusion and equal rights.”

Rosanna Marzán, executive director of Diversidad Dominicana, a Dominican LGBT advocacy group, opened the conference by acknowledging the International Day of Transgender Visibility. She then directed participants to hold a moment of silence for the trans men and women in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere in the Caribbean and Latin America who have been killed over the last year.

“It is important for us to have these discussions here in the Dominican Republic,” said Marzán.

Dominican Congresswoman Jacqueline Montero and Victor Terrero, executive director of the Dominican Republic’s National Council on HIV and AIDS also spoke at the beginning of the conference. Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute President Aisha Moodie-Mills encouraged participants to run for office in their respective countries.

“We know that our community’s voices are not often at the table and they’re not often heard,” she said. “When we are not there having conversations in the public policy context then what happens is that we say we end up on the menu and people start legislating around us and they start making decisions about our lives and about issues that affect us.”

‘Representation is power’

The Victory Institute; Diversidad Dominicana and Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBT advocacy group that works throughout northern Colombia, organized the two-day conference.

Costa Rican Vice Minister of the Interior and Police Carmen Muñoz, Aruban Senator Desiree de Sousa, Uruguayan Congressman Martín Couto, Guatemalan Congresswoman Sandra Morán, Mexican Congressman Benjamín Medrano and Venezuelan Assemblywoman Tamara Adrián are among the dozens of openly LGBT politicians and officials who attended. Luis Larraín, a prominent Chilean LGBT rights advocate who is running for a seat in the country’s congress, and 18 activists from Haiti are among the more than 300 people from 35 countries who traveled to Santo Domingo for the conference.

Luis Larraín, gay news, Washington Blade

Luis Larraín, the former president of Fundación Iguales, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, announced last month that he is running for the country’s congress (Photo courtesy of Luis Larraín)

The conference is the largest LGBT-specific gathering that has ever taken place in the Dominican Republic.

“Representation is power,” Moodie-Mills told the Blade on Friday after she spoke at the conference’s opening plenary.

She also acknowledged that “being visible” in Latin America and the Caribbean “isn’t always safe for LGBT people.” Camilo in her remarks highlighted rates of anti-LGBT violence and violence against women remain high in the Dominican Republic.

“To have so many folks . . . who have come together with the courage and the conviction to be seen, to make sure that they are able to share their ideas and to drive policy in ways that are meaningful and to even themselves decide to run for office is extremely inspiring and encouraging,” Moodie-Mills told the Blade. “It really gives me hope about the future.”

Founder of Venezuela opposition party attends conference

The conference took place less than three months after former U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster, who is openly gay, resigned. It began two days after the Venezuelan Supreme Court ruled the country’s National Assembly no longer had the power to legislate.

The U.S. is among the countries that condemned what Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro described as a “self-inflicted coup d’état.” Gay Venezuelan Assemblyman Rosmit Mantilla, founder of the opposition Popular Will party who was arrested in May 2014 during protests against the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, and released from prison last November, attended the conference.

Adrián is also a member of Popular Will.

Editor’s note: Washington Blade International News Editor Michael K. Lavers presented a workshop on the media at the conference on Friday. It is part of the Blade’s year-long reporting project that focuses on Latin America.

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

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