April 3, 2017 at 9:42 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay U.S. ambassador’s departure from Dominican Republic leaves void

Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster speaks before a Pride march in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on July 3, 2016. (Photo courtesy of James “Wally” Brewster)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Activists in the Dominican Republic who attended an LGBT conference in their country’s capital this past weekend say former U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster’s departure has left a deep void.

Rosalba Karina Crisóstomo, a lesbian activist who is the executive director of Comunidad de Lesbianas Inclusivas Dominicanas, is among the more than 300 people from across the region who attended the conference that the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute co-sponsored with Diversidad Dominicana, a Dominican advocacy group, and Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBT organization that works throughout northern Colombia.

Crisóstomo told the Washington Blade on Saturday that Brewster “has had a big impact in the country.”

“The Dominican Republic is a country controlled by religious Catholics,” said Crisóstomo. “Wally came here to the Dominican Republic and helped us with development and in doing that he highlighted all of the discrimination that exists towards the LGBT community in the country.”

Brewster’s absence ‘certainly felt’ in Dominican Republic

Then-President Obama nominated Brewster, who is a former member of the Human Rights Campaign’s board of directors, to represent the U.S. in the Dominican Republic in 2013.

Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, frequently appeared together at public events and in the Dominican media. They also met regularly with LGBT rights advocates.

Brewster and Satawake attended a candlelight vigil in Santo Domingo’s Parque Duarte — which is a popular gathering place for LGBT Dominicans — last June after the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Brewster and Satawake also participated in Santo Domingo’s Pride parade that took place a few weeks later.

The two men attended the June 2015 launch of an LGBT tourism campaign that took place in Santo Domingo’s Old City.

Brewster and Satawake helped secure a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development that supported efforts to promote LGBT participation in the Dominican Republic’s political process. They also helped pave the way for the Santo Domingo conference, which is the largest LGBT-specific gathering that has ever taken place in the country.

“Surely we miss Ambassador Brewster here,” Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute CEO Aisha Moodie-Mills told the Blade on Friday after she spoke at the conference’s opening plenary. “His absence is certainly felt in the Dominican Republic.”

Brewster officially stepped down on January 20 when President Trump took office. The new administration has yet to nominate anyone to succeed him.

Yimbert Féliz, president of Voluntariado LGBT Dominicano, an advocacy group that works throughout the Dominican Republic, told the Blade on Friday that his organization has not had “any type of” support from the U.S. Embassy since Brewster’s departure.

French Ambassador to the Dominican Republic José Gómez on March 30 hosted a reception for conference participants at his home. Officials from the U.S. Embassy and USAID were among those who attended.

“The ambassador and his husband’s departure from the country has affected us,” Féliz told the Blade, referring to Brewster and Satawake.

Brewster: Dominican activists ‘impacted our lives’

Religious leaders and politicians regularly attacked Brewster and Satawake during his ambassadorship.

Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, the former cardinal of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo, repeatedly used anti-gay slurs to describe Brewster. A group of Dominican intellectuals and religious leaders last year urged President Danilo Medina to declare Brewster “persona non grata” because of a U.S.-backed education initiative they claimed would “turn our adolescents gay.”

A member of the Dominican congress in 2016 described those who support Brewster and defend him as “faggots.”

Lupita Raposo, a transgender woman and activist from La Romana, a city in the eastern part of the country that is near the resort of Casa de Campo, told the Blade during the reception at Gómez’s home that Brewster and Satawake helped challenge stereotypes about LGBT people in the Dominican Republic in spite of the backlash they received.

“[He is] a person who is openly part of the LGBT community but conservative,” said Raposo.

“The image that we still have of the community in the country is not one of a conservative community,” she added. “But we have many people in the LGBT community who are conservative.”

Wally Brewster, Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster, left, and his husband, Bob Satawake, at in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in June 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Raposo told the Blade the Catholic Church in the Dominican Republic and the cardinals within it can have more power in the country because Brewster and Satawake are no longer challenging them. She also said Dominican LGBT rights advocates are afraid they will lose U.S. support.

“There is fear that all of the progress we have seen will be erased with a simple decision that Trump can take,” said Raposo.

Brewster on Saturday told the Blade he is “proud” of the Dominican LGBT activists and their continued efforts “to advance their fight for equality.”

“We are honored to have worked with such amazing human beings and we are proud to always be part of their journey,” said Brewster. “They impacted our lives and we hope we made a difference in theirs.”

Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

Deivis Ventura, left, a prominent Dominican LGBT rights advocate, raises the rainbow flag over the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic on June 4, 2016, with then-U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake. (Photo courtesy of Bob Satawake)

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

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