LGBT rights advocates in more than 100 countries around the world will commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17 with a series of marches, workshops, performances and other events.
Identoba, an LGBT advocacy group in Georgia, is planning a flash mob in front of the country’s old Parliament building in the country’s capital, Tbilisi, on May 17 during which participants will make a rainbow flag with their T-shirts. Botswanan playwright and activist Kalvin K. Kol-Kes is staging his play “BUTCHered” inspired by Mart Crowley’s “Boys in the Band” that focuses on a group of friends who are predominantly lesbian.
Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) has scheduled a series of events across Cuba to commemorate IDAHO. Nicaraguan advocacy groups will march through the streets of Managua, the country’s capital, on May 17 to demand respect and what organizers describe as “dignified treatment” for LGBT people.
Washington National Cathedral in D.C. on May 17 will host a screening of the film “God Loves Uganda” and a panel discussion on the state of LGBT rights in the East African country. Thousands of people are expected to take part in a march for LGBT rights in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on the same day.
Zaque, an LGBT youth group in the Australian city of Ballarat in the country’s Victoria state will hold a number of events to commemorate IDAHO. These include the launch of a new iPhone app.
“For the young people of Zaque, IDAHO is important because it is a day for them to stand up and be proud and say that homophobia is not OK,” Ballarat City Councilor Belinda Coates told the Washington Blade. “It’s a celebration of who they are and allows them to be leaders and educators within the community.”
The Albanian LGBT advocacy group PINK Embassy will hold its second annual diversity festival in Tirana, the country’s capital that will feature exhibits with messages and posters the group’s general manager, Amarildo Fecanji, described to the Blade as a “short resume of what has been achieved so far.”
Fecanji’s group will also host panels that will examine media coverage of LGBT-specific issues and how they factor into Albanian politics and gay youth. Pink Embassy and other human rights organizations will also stage a diversity fair in the center of Tirana.
“Slowly but steadily May 17 is coming to be recognized as the gay day,” Fecanji told the Blade when asked how he feels IDAHO bolsters his group’s advocacy efforts in the southeastern European country. “That for people is an opportunity for society to sort of come together.”
IDAHO first took place on May 17, 2005, to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Organizers have subsequently added transphobia and biphobia to their mission.
This year’s IDAHO takes place against the backdrop of the recent extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in France, New Zealand, Uruguay and several Brazilian states that include Rio de Janeiro. Gays and lesbians can also now legally tie the knot in nine U.S. states and D.C. and will soon be able to do so in Delaware and Rhode Island.
Canadian and Dutch lawmakers earlier this year approved a transgender rights bills, but anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain pervasive throughout the world.
A report by the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender Women (REDLACTRANS) released earlier this year notes 61 trans women in Colombia have been reported murdered between 2005-2011. Honduran advocate José Pepe Palacios told the Blade in February while he was in the United States that at least 89 LGBT people in the Central American country have been murdered since the 2009 coup that ousted José Manuel Zelaya.
Identoba founder Irakli Vacharadze told the Blade violence against LGBT Georgians remains a serious concern. His group’s flash mob will last only 20 minutes because he said “it’s hard to guarantee” the security of those who will take part.
A group of men last week attacked a handful of people who protested the release of a video that showed men having sex with other men.
“This is the discourse in Georgia right now,” Vacharadze told the Blade from Tbilisi. “It’s so, so ugly that you can’t rationally, reasonably argue with that. It’s basically a fist coming in your face when you’re displaying your belongingness to the community.”
Vacharadze and other activists feel IDAHO only strengthens their advocacy efforts in spite of the threats they continue to face.
“I’m very happy with a day like May 17,” Kol-Kes told the Blade last Friday from the Botswanan capital of Gaborone. “It gives you a point when you can actively state something.”
Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force noted the march in the Puerto Rican capital on May 17 will coincide with the debate over three bills that would extend adoption rights to gays and lesbians; add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the island’s domestic violence laws and ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
A hearing on the adoption bill is scheduled to take place in the Puerto Rico Senate hours before the march.
“We are in a historic moment and this day will help in the education of our people about the need achieve equality,” Serrano said.
U.S. regains seat on U.N. Human Rights Council
Previous administration withdrew from body in 2018
The U.S. on Thursday regained a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, three years after the previous administration withdrew from it.
The U.S. won election to the council alongside Argentina, Benin, Cameroon, Eritrea, Finland, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, Paraguay, Qatar, Somalia and United Arab Emirates.
The council in recent years has emerged as a champion of LGBTQ rights around the world, even though Cuba and other countries with poor human rights records are among the 47 countries that are currently members. Venezuela and Russia are also on the council.
Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first of more than two dozen anti-government protests that took place across Cuba on July 11, remains in custody and faces eight years in prison. The Washington Blade last month spoke with several Venezuelan LGBTQ activists who said persecution forced them to flee to neighboring Colombia.
Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ rights and the Kremlin’s close relationship with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov continue to spark criticism around the world.
Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley during a 2018 press conference that announced the U.S. withdrawal from the council noted Cuba and other countries “with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights record” are members. Haley also said the council has a “chronic bias against” Israel.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday in a statement said LGBTQ rights will be one of the U.S.’s focuses once it officially rejoins the council on Jan. 1.
“Our initial efforts as full members in the Council will focus on what we can accomplish in situations of dire need, such as in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen,” she said. “More broadly, we will promote respect for fundamental freedoms and women’s rights, and oppose religious intolerance, racial and ethnic injustices, and violence and discrimination against members of minority groups, including LGBTQI+ persons and persons with disabilities. And we will oppose the council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country.”
President Biden in February issued a memorandum that commits the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
The previous White House tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a campaign that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, but many LGBTQ activists in the U.S. and around the world have questioned its effectiveness. The Washington Blade in August filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department that seeks Grenell’s emails around his work on the decriminalization initiative.
“The President and Sec. Blinken have put democracy and human rights—essential cornerstones of peace and stability—at the center of our foreign policy,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday after the U.S. regained a seat on the council. “We have eagerly and earnestly pursued these values in our relationships around the world.”
“We will use our position to renew the council’s focus on the core human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.N. Charter, which undergird the council’s founding,” added Price at the beginning of his daily press briefing. “Our goal is to hold the U.N. Human Rights Council accountable to the highest aspirations of its mandate and spur the actions necessary to carry them out.”
HRC global workplace initiative expands to Argentina, Brazil
Program based on Corporate Equality Index
The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday announced its initiative to promote LGBTQ equality in workplaces around the world has expanded to two South American countries.
The initiatives, which are based on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, have three specific objectives for the businesses that take part. They are the adoption of non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation and gender identity, the creation of employee resource groups or “diversity and inclusion councils” and “engagement in public activities to support LGBTQ+ inclusion.”
“Argentina is one of the most advanced countries in terms of rights for the collective of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and non-binary people in the region,” said Instituto de Políticas Públicas LGBT+ President Esteban Paulón in the press release. “However, the formal equality achieved does not always transform into real equality of opportunities. We believe that in the corporate sphere there is a great opportunity to achieve the equality that we dream.”
HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index is the blueprint for Equidad AR and Equidad BR. Similar indexes have been launched with LGBTQ rights groups in Chile and Mexico.
“An index that recognizes inclusive companies and practices is a must to push forward and accelerate LGBTI+ inclusion in Brazil,” said Instituto + Diversidade Executive President Joao Torres.
Thursday’s announcement comes less than two months after HRC fired then-President Alphonso David after his implication in the sexual harassment scandal around now former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Joni Madison is HRC’s interim president.
LGBTQ Venezuelan migrants in Colombia struggle to survive
People with HIV again suffering from Kaposi’s sarcoma
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Edgar García and his partner, Dannys Torres, on Oct. 3, 2018, used a canoe to cross the Arauca River that marks the Venezuela-Colombia border.
García was a member of the board of directors of Alianza Lambda de Venezuela, a Venezuelan LGBTQ rights group, before he fled Venezuela. Torres worked as a hairdresser in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.
The couple now lives in Rafael Uribe Uribe, a working-class neighborhood in Bogotá, the Colombian capital.
Torres continues to work as a hairdresser. García most recently worked for a telecommunications company.
“We are settled here in Bogotá,” García told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 during an interview with him and Torres that took place at a shopping mall near their home. “You have your life here.”
García and Torres are two of the more than 5.4 million Venezuelans who the Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela say have left their country as of November 2020 because of its ongoing economic and political crises.
Statistics from the Colombian government indicate there are currently more than 1.7 million Venezuelans in the country. More than 50 percent of them live in Bogotá and the departments of Norte de Santander, Atlántico and Antioquia.
Colombian President Iván Duque in February announced the country would legally recognize Venezuelan migrants who are registered with the government.
Sources in Colombia with whom the Blade has spoken say there are likely many more Venezuelan migrants in the country than official statistics indicate. Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV remain disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and violence and often lack access to health care and formal employment.
A report the Red de Movilidad Humana LGBTI+—a network of advocacy groups in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala and Mexico—published with the support of the U.N. Refugee Agency notes sex trafficking and even death are among the myriad threats that LGBTQ migrants from Venezuela face once they enter Colombia. The report indicates they also face discrimination in shelters because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual violence and a lack of access to the Colombian judicial system.
Trans woman left Venezuela ‘in search of a better quality of life’
Vanesa, a 25-year-old transgender woman from the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, came to Colombia eight years ago “in search of a better quality of life.”
She told the Blade on Sept. 14 during an interview at Fundación de Atención Inclusiva, Social y Humana (FUVADIS)—an organization in Barranquilla, a city in Atlántico department that is near the mouth of the Magdalena River in northern Colombia, that serves Venezuelan migrants—she entered Colombia near Maicao, a city in La Guajira department via an informal border crossing known as a “trocha.” Vanesa said she was nearly kidnapped.
“The people who were standing on the sides (of the “trocha”) who ask you for money were supposedly security,” she said. “There was no security. They left me there because I was trans. They said a lot of ugly things. They assaulted me, including one (man) who was not going to let me go. They wanted me to kidnap me or have me there to do whatever they wanted to me.”
Vanesa said a woman helped her escape.
“The experience was horrible,” she said.
Vanesa traveled to Cartagena, a popular tourist destination that is less than two hours southwest of Barranquilla, and began to work at her friend’s hair salon. Vanesa told the Blade that her friend’s mother “never liked me because … she is a Christian.”
Vanesa now lives in Barranquilla and supports herself through video chats. Vanesa also competes in local beauty pageants and is able to send money to her mother in Venezuela.
“I work here,” she said. “I am relatively well off.”
Andy, a trans man from Venezuela’s Maracay state, left Venezuela four years ago with his partner and their daughter. Andy, like Vanesa, entered Colombia via a “trocha” near Maicao.
“I migrated because the situation was becoming worse and worse each day,” Andy told the Blade on Sept. 14 as he attended a workshop that Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ group in northern Colombia, organized at a Barranquilla hotel.
Caribe Afirmativo has opened three “Casas Afirmativos” in Barranquilla, Maicao and Medellín that provide access to health care and other services to Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV/AIDS. Caribe Afirmativo also operates several “Casas de Paz” throughout northern Colombia that support the implementation of an LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that came into force in 2016.
Andy said his work in Venezuela allowed him to learn how “to sell whatever product,” but he told the Blade he struggled to find a job once he arrived in Colombia.
Andy told the Blade that he, his partner and their daughter now have stable housing in Barranquilla. Andy said he also has received a job offer in Medellín, the country’s second-largest city that is the capital of Antioquia department.
Jesús Gómez is a 33-year-old gay man from Venezuela’s Trujillo state in the Venezuelan Andes that are close to the country’s border with Colombia.
He previously worked with Venezuela Diversa, a Venezuelan LGBTQ advocacy group, and accepted a position with the municipality of Chacao that is part of Caracas. Gómez, whose mother was born in Colombia, also joined a student protest movement against the government.
Gómez fled to Colombia and is pursuing his asylum case with the help of UNHCR.
“I feel bad emotionally, but I am well-off compared to other people,” he told the Blade on Sept. 16 during an interview at a hotel in Cúcuta, a city in Norte de Santander department that is a few miles from the country’s border with Venezuela. “I am working to help other people who are in the same situation.”
Gómez in December is scheduled to graduate from nursing school. He also works with Fundación Censurados, a Cúcuta-based HIV/AIDS service organization that works with Venezuelan migrants, and has supported other organizations in the area that serve them.
FUVADIS Executive Director Luis Meneses, like Gómez, was an LGBTQ activist in Venezuela.
Meneses, who is from Venezuela’s Zulia state, in 2010 unsuccessfully ran for Venezuela’s National Assembly. Meneses in February 2018 fled to Colombia because of the “political persecution” he said he suffered.
“Discrimination and prejudice against me began when I came out to defend LGBTI rights,” Meneses told the Blade on Sept. 14 during an interview at his office.
Meneses in August 2018 launched FUVADIS, which receives support from groups that includes UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. FUVADIS provides health care, antiretroviral drugs and a host of other services to Venezuelan migrants with HIV/AIDS and other populations that include sex workers. Vanessa and nearly 900 other FUVADIS clients are LGBTQ.
“We cannot work for the migrant population by only giving them humanitarian assistance,” said Meneses. “It’s also about guaranteeing access to their rights.”
Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS die because of lack of medications
The New York-based Aid for AIDS International estimates more than 10,000 Venezuelans with HIV have left the country in recent years. Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs.
The Venezuelan government has also targeted HIV/AIDS service organizations.
Members of Venezuela’s General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence in January raided the offices of Azul Positivo, an HIV/AIDS service organization and arrested President Johan León Reyes and five other staff members. Venezuelan police on Feb. 15, 2019, raided the offices of Fundación Mavid, another HIV/AIDS service organization in Valencia, a city in Carabobo state, and arrested three staffers after they confiscated donated infant formula and medications for people with HIV/AIDS
Deyvi Galvis Vásquez, a doctor who is the manager of prevention and testing for AIDS Healthcare Foundation Colombia on Sept. 17 during an interview at AHF’s Cúcuta clinic showed the Blade pictures of Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS in Colombia who had cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma.
“The conditions are of extreme vulnerability,” said Galvis.
Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a Medellín-based group that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, during a Sept. 13 interview with the Blade in his office echoed Galvis. Cardona added stigma specifically against Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS is one of the myriad issues he and his colleagues confront.
“The issue of the elimination of HIV also implies not only an issue of communication and prevention, but also an issue of effective attention,” said Cardona. “We have our conservative culture, an idea that the Venezuelans who are coming are going to give us HIV.”
“This is totally discriminatory,” he added.
Cardona, like those inside Venezuela with whom the Blade has spoken, said there are no services in the country for people with HIV/AIDS.
“There are many Venezuelan migrants with HIV who enter Colombia, because they are going to die if they don’t,” he said.
AHF operates clinics throughout Colombia
AHF operates other facilities in Bogotá and in the cities of Bucaramanga, Yopal, Valledupar and Ríohacha. The organization, along with the Colombian Red Cross and the government of Santander department, in March began to distribute condoms, food and water and offer rapid HIV tests to Venezuelan migrants who travel through Páramo de Berlín, a high plateau in the Colombian Andes through which a highway between Cúcuta and Bucaramanga passes.
AHF, among other things, offers migrants rapid HIV and syphilis tests and counseling for people who test positive. AHF also provides lab tests, formula for children of mothers with HIV and health care with an “interdisciplinary health care team.”
AHF Colombia Country Program Manager Liliana Andrade Forero and AHF Colombia Data Manager Sandra Avila Mira on Sept. 20 noted to the Blade during an interview at AHF’s Bogotá clinic that upwards of 2,000 migrants currently receive care from the organization. They also pointed out that 1,952 of them are taking antiretroviral drugs the Brazilian government donates.
Galvis noted to the Blade that many of AHF’s patients also have access to mental health care and social workers.
“AHF’s policy is to reach out to everyone,” he said.
Pandemic has made migrants even more vulnerable
Galvis, Fundación Censurados Director Juan Carlos Archila and other Colombian HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade spoke say the pandemic has made Venezuelan migrants with HIV/AIDS in the country even more vulnerable.
Lockdowns prevented sex workers and others who work in the informal economy from earning money. A “pico y género” rule implemented by Bogotá Mayor Claudia López that allowed women to leave their homes on even days and men to leave their homes on odd days sparked criticism among trans activists.
Archila, who is a nurse, on Sept. 16 told the Blade during an interview at a Cúcuta hotel the pandemic has also left Censurados in a precarious situation.
“We endured practically two years with the doors closed, with expenses increasing,” he said. “The need of people who come to us for the issue of HIV remains, and yet we are all trying to cope with the situation.”
Andrade noted AHF’s Bogotá was closed for several months at the beginning of the pandemic because of the city’s strict lockdown.
The pandemic also forced FUVADIS to close its offices in March 2020, but Meneses told the Blade the organization was able to see a handful of patients at a time. He said “basic humanitarian assistance” that included hygiene kits and food were among the things that FUVADIS was able to provide its patients during the pandemic.
“Understanding how the situation for the LGBTI community, people with HIV, the migrant population and the refugee population is, we could not allow (our services) to shut down,” Meneses told the Blade.
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