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Colombia LGBT activist discusses challenges

Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda Castro attended Bogotá training

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Wilson Castañera, Colombia, Caribe Afirmativo, gay news, Washington Blade

Wilson Castañera, Colombia, Caribe Afirmativo, gay news, Washington Blade

Wilson Castañeda Castro of the Colombian LBGT advocacy group Caribe Afirmativo. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia – An advocate from Colombia’s Caribbean coast told the Washington Blade on Friday that discrimination and violence continue to pose a serious threat to the region’s LGBT residents.

“The Caribbean is a region of a high cultural diversity,” Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda Castro said during the USAID-backed Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice training that he and roughly 30 other activists from across the country are attending in the Colombian capital of Bogotá. “You find a very pluralistic cultural dynamic, but it goes against the recognition of sexual diversity.”

Friends of a gay activist of Cuban descent who was murdered in Cartagena in 2007 founded Caribe Afirmativo after his death.

The organization that also works in the cities of Barranquilla, Valledupar, Urabá, Sincelejo and Montería documents the impact that violence and the armed conflict that began in Colombia in the 1960s has had on the region’s LGBT population. It also seeks to educate the public about sexual minorities, organize LGBT people and highlight homophobic and transphobic politicians.

“The governments in these areas are very homophobic governments,” Castañeda said. “This agenda seeks commitments from them with respect to the LGBT community.”

He said his group continues to confront the sexual exploitation of young gay men of Afro-Caribbean descent due to increased tourism in Cartagena and Santa Marta. Caribe Afirmativo also works with many transgender women who have been displaced because of violence and those who have been threatened because they are open about their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

“It is a region full of challenges,” he said.

Castañeda further noted he feels the centralized Colombian government does not understand “this is a dynamic country made up of many regions.” He added life for LGBT people who live outside Bogotá remains difficult because of a lack of support from local officials and a lack of community engagement and visibility.

“We have not found a government that will help us address these goals,” Castañeda said.

Castañeda criticizes government for remaining silent on LGBT issues

The country’s highest court in 2011 ruled same-sex couples can legally register their relationships in two years if Colombian lawmakers don’t pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage. The tribunal’s deadline is June 20, but the Colombian Senate last month overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

Colombian lawmakers in 2011 passed a new anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation.

Colombia is also among the countries that helped secure passage of the United States’ first-ever resolution in support of LGBT rights in the same year.

Castañeda acknowledged to the Blade that LGBT-specific advances have taken place over the last four years. He also criticized President Juan Manuel Santos’ government for remaining silent on same-sex marriage, anti-LGBT violence and other issues.

“It is inconsistent that the government wanted to remain silent when we are talking about the vulnerability of rights,” Castañeda said.

Castañeda, who visited D.C. and two other U.S. cities in April with a group of other Colombian LGBT rights advocates on a State Department-sponsored trip, noted the strong ties between the two countries. He added he and other advocates can continue to learn from LGBT rights advocates in the United States.

“In Colombia the LGBT community remains one of the most marginalized communities,” he said. “The U.S. visit allowed us to see first-hand experiences, situations, specific examples of people and institutions and organizations. We can take some of what we experienced [there] and apply it here in Colombia.”

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European Union

Gay US ambassador to Hungary marches in Budapest Pride parade

David Pressman has criticized government’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown

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U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman marches in the Budapest Pride parade on June 22, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Pressman's X account)

U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman on Saturday marched in the annual Budapest Pride parade.

Pressman, who is gay, posted to his X account pictures of him holding an American flag while standing behind a banner that read “United States embassy.” Pressman on Sunday spoke at Budapest Pride’s Family Pride Event that took place at his official residence.

“We’ve gathered for a celebration of families, of freedom, and of love — all things that are increasingly under attack for LGBT people in Hungary,” he said.

Pressman in his speech referenced a joint statement from 35 countries that expressed “serious concern about the targeting of LGBTQI+ people in Hungary, and called for the government to eliminate its discriminatory laws, policies, and practices.”

The U.S., Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, North Macedonia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Ukraine signed the statement alongside the U.S. and the General Delegation of Flanders, the Austrian Cultural Forum Budapest, the British Council, the Czech Centre, FinnAgora, Institut Français, Goethe-Institut, Instituto Camões and Instituto Cervantes.

“On the occasion of the 29th Budapest Pride Festival, we the undersigned embassies and cultural institutes express our full support for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community in Hungary and their rights to equality and nondiscrimination, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and freedom from violence, among others,” reads the statement. “Respect for the rule of law and universal human rights are the foundations upon which democratic states are build. International human rights law is grounded on the broad premise that all individuals have the same rights and freedoms without discrimination.”

Pressman in his speech said the Family Pride Event took place “at a time when democracy itself — in this country and around the world — is confronting unprecedented and serious threats.”   

“I’d like to talk with you this afternoon about freedom and democracy; and about those who instrumentalize love to undermine both,” said Pressman.  

“The fact that LGBT people and democracy are both under increasing attack is no coincidence,” he added. “Those who seek to undermine democracy, traffic in fear; and, tragically, few currencies of fear continue to hold more value than the love in this community.”  

Pressman further noted “posters all over Budapest during this political season fixated on you,” referring to LGBTQ Hungarians.  

“It’s why your parliament adopted laws aimed at you, and your government is now implementing those laws to target you,” he said. 

(Video courtesy of the u.s. embassy in hungary’s youtube page)
The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, on April 4, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Pressman has been a vocal critic of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and of his government’s crackdown against LGBTQ rights that has grown worse over the last decade.

The U.S. ambassador in 2023 reiterated these criticisms during a Budapest Pride reception.

Budapest Pride spokesperson Johanna Majercsik earlier this month told the Washington Blade that Pride “is a particularly important event in Hungary.” (The Blade in April traveled to Budapest, and interviewed Majercsik and other Hungarian activists.)

“Despite being a full member of the European Union since 2004, the Hungarian government has systematically reduced the rights of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Majercsik. “The government apparently doesn’t want to stop there, inciting people against our community, and making references about passing new anti-LGBTQ laws in the future (calling them child protection laws).”   

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India

Transgender Indian parliamentary candidate vows to continue fight for equality

Rajan Singh, 26, is from New Delhi

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Rajan Singh ran for India's parliament (Photo courtesy of Rajan Singh)

The storm that was India’s general elections has finally settled, leaving behind a landscape transformed by democratic choice. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, clinched a decisive victory with a majority in parliament with 293 seats. The daily hum of life is returning to normal as the country resumes its rhythm amid the sweltering heat of summer.

Beneath the surface of political triumph and routine, however, there lies an overlooked narrative: The story of the transgender community. In the vibrant tapestry of this election, trans people remained a subtle but significant thread. A few trans people for the first time boldly stepped into the political arena, running for office and asserting their right to representation.

Rajan Singh, 26, was the youngest trans candidate.

She hails from New Delhi, the bustling heart of the nation. Singh secured 300 votes and lost the election, but as the first and youngest independent candidate to run in the recent general elections, her story is one of ambition and audacity. In a political landscape dominated by well-established parties and seasoned politicians, Singh’s decision to enter the fray as an independent was both bold and inspiring.

With her soft and humble voice, Singh told the Washington Blade that even after 75 years of independence, India still lacks even 75 public restrooms dedicated to the trans community. She highlighted a stark reality: There is no platform available for trans people who want to raise their voice on important issues.

Singh expressed her frustration and disappointment, pointing out the irony in India’s highly regarded constitution. 

“Our constitution begins with ‘We, the people of India,'” she said, “Yet in these 75 years, that ‘we’ has never truly included us.” Her words shed light on the ongoing struggle for recognition and equality faced by the trans community in a country that prides itself on its democratic values and inclusive ethos.

“That was the main reason I decided to fight in the 2024 general election,” said Singh. “I am the first, youngest candidate from India’s capital, New Delhi. When I was born in 1997, my identity was male. In 2022, the government certificate indicated I was transgender, and in 2024, the Election Commission of India (ECI) issued a certificate stating me as third gender. When I apply for a government job, I become ‘others.’ so one person has four identities. Most strikingly all these identities are not mine. I identify as a trans woman and no one recognizes my feelings and identity.”

Singh told the Blade that when she filed her nomination for the election, her primary goal was to bring the real identity of the trans community to the center stage of the country. She explained her candidacy was a means to breathe life into the identity of her community, asserting that if people had acknowledged the trans community’s presence over the past 75 years, they would have been granted the same rights as other citizens.

With a voice tinged with pain, Singh told the Blade that if the trans community had been truly recognized as alive, there would have been moments when people saw the community speaking out. 

“There would have been a time when we had a leader to represent us, a chief minister, and even a prime minister,” she said. “But there is no one for the transgender community.”

During her interview with the Blade, Singh shared a slogan she coined for her election campaign: “Sauchalay se Sansad Tak” or “From the toilet to parliament.” This slogan encapsulated her mission to elevate the trans community from the margins of society to the heart of the nation’s decision-making process.

Singh told the Blade only a few trans people voted in the last election. However, this time, however, 228 trans individuals cast their votes in Delhi, a significant increase fueled by the community’s belief that someone was finally standing up for them.

“I was manhandled and threatened on the streets just for announcing my candidacy in the 2024 General Elections,” said Singh. “I was told ‘Chakka’ (a slang word for trans people), I was told how could we fight in election. When I went to the cops to file a First Information Report, they did not file my report. On April 29, Delhi High Court provided me heavy police protection and with that I went to file my nomination for election. If High Court would not have given me the police protection, I would not have been able to file my nomination.”

She told the Blade that society has been conditioned to view the trans community as only beggars and prostitutes, a misconception that is far from the truth. Singh emphasized these stereotypes have long overshadowed the diverse and significant contributions of trans people. Her campaign sought to challenge these harmful narratives and showcase the true potential and worth of the trans community. 

While talking to the Blade, Singh said India’s trans community has not seen much progress in the last 75 years. She acknowledged Modi has taken some steps for the community, notably with the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2019, which has increased awareness among ordinary citizens.

Singh, however, emphasized these efforts are not enough and much more work needs to be done. With great hope and determination, she called on the prime minister to establish a National Transgender Commission. This, she argued, would provide the necessary platform and resources to address the ongoing challenges faced by the trans community, ensuring their rights and dignity are fully protected and promoted.

“The world has seen for the first time in the last 75 years, that during the prime minister’s swearing-in ceremony this year three transgender people were invited,” said Rajan. “I was one of them.”

With immense pride and positivity, Singh stated this is not a loss for her or the community. She views it as a significant victory. For the first time, the trans community voted for one of their own. It marked the historic moment when a trans individual’s name appeared on the Electronic Voting Machine, an integral part of India’s voting system. This election symbolized a newfound self-respect and empowerment, as members of the trans community proudly pressed the button on the EVM, voting for representation and a brighter future.

“We will prepare and fight for the establishment of National Transgender Commission in the country,” said Singh. “We will pressure those political parties who will support the creation of the National Transgender Commission and basic services for the community, we will support them. I will again fight the election.”

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India, and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

French President Emmanuel Macron has described pro-trans policies as ‘ludicrous’

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

FRANCE

French President Emmanuel Macron faced backlash after describing pro-transgender policies proposed by his political rivals as “ludicrous” during a World War II commemoration on June 18.

Macron criticized the left-wing New Popular Front’s proposal to simplify legal gender changes, saying, “There are completely ludicrous things, like going to change sex in town hall.”

Opposition leaders quickly condemned Macron’s remarks. Jean-Luc Melenchon, a left-wing party leader, called the comments “outrageous” on social media.

The controversy comes as France prepares for national elections on June 30, with Macron’s Renaissance party facing pressure from both far-right and left-wing coalitions.

UNITED KINGDOM

The UK Labour Party, favored to win the July 4 election, released a manifesto with limited LGBTQ commitments, disappointing trans rights advocates.

Labour pledges to strengthen hate crime laws and ban conversion therapy, including for trans individuals. However, the party will maintain requirements for medical diagnosis in legal gender changes and support single-sex spaces that may exclude trans people.

The manifesto reflects ongoing debates in British politics over trans rights, fueled by activist groups and high-profile figures like author J.K. Rowling.

Labour leader Keir Starmer’s attempts to balance competing views have drawn criticism from both trans rights supporters and opponents.

PHILIPPINES

During a virtual synod, Jack Lorenz Acebedo Rivera, a Filipino student, urged Pope Francis to stop using offensive language against the LGBTQ community.

The request came after Francis reportedly used a derogatory Italian term translated as “faggotry” in closed-door meetings, criticizing its prevalence in Catholic institutions.

The pope’s reported language sparked protests, including at Rome’s Pride March on June 16. The Vatican issued an apology for the first instance but hasn’t addressed subsequent reports.

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