June 3, 2013 at 7:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
30 Colombian LGBT activists attend training
Wilson Castañera, Colombia, Caribe Afirmativo, gay news, Washington Blade

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

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Roughly 30 activists from across Colombia attended a four-day training in the Colombian capital from May 30-June 2 designed to encourage LGBT people to become more involved in the country’s political process.

The program, which was coordinated by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, was the first to take place as part of the USAID-backed LGBT Global Development Partnership that will contribute $11 million over the next four years to advocacy groups in neighboring Ecuador and other developing countries.

Out Bogotá City Councilwoman Angélica Lozano Correa and Blanca Durán Hernández, mayor of the Colombian capital’s Chapinero district that has a large gay population, are among those who took part. They and others advocates from Colombia and the United States spoke about a variety of topics that ranged from campaigning as an openly LGBT candidate to fundraising and responding to opponents.

Lozano, Durán, Victory Institute President Chuck Wolfe, Francisco Herrero of the National Democratic Institute and Tatiana Piñeros, a transgender woman whom Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro in 2012 appointed to run the city’s social welfare agency, also took part in a May 30 panel on how out political leaders and officials can advance the Colombian and American LGBT rights movements. Marcela Sánchez, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a nationwide LGBT advocacy group, moderated this event that took place at a Chapinero hotel.

“We recognize the importance of strengthening capacities for those who want to become involved,” Sánchez told the Blade after the panel. “This is why we entered this alliance with the Victory Institute.”

The training, which is the first of its kind in the South American country, took place less than a month before gay Colombians can begin to legally register their partnerships.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled the country’s lawmakers have to extend the same benefits that heterosexuals receive through marriage to same-sex couples within two years. The tribunal’s deadline is June 20, but the Colombian Senate in April overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians in the South American country.

The court in 2009 ruled same-sex couples who live together must receive the same rights Colombian law affords to unmarried heterosexual couples. It also overturned the ban on openly gay soldiers in a separate ruling it issued the same year.

Colombia’s non-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation took effect in 2011.

Federíco Ruíz Mora of the Santamaría Fundación, a Cali-based group that advocates on behalf of trans Colombians, told the Washington Blade in April while he was in D.C. on a State Department-sponsored trip that he and other activists plan to seek legal protections based on gender identity and expression.

A report from the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender Women (REDLACTRANS) notes 61 trans women in Colombia have been reported murdered between 2005-2011. A separate report that Colombia Diversa released last month indicates 58 of the reported 280 LGBT Colombians who were murdered between 2011-2012 were killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Wilson Castañeda Castro, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an advocacy group that works in Barranquilla and other cities along the country’s Caribbean coast, told the Blade on Friday that police violence against LGBT Colombians remains a serious problem. Lozano said in a separate interview she hopes those who targeted, tortured and killed LGBT Colombians during the country’s armed conflict that began in the 1960s are held accountable in any peace settlement that could emerge from talks between the government and members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or FARC in Spanish) that continue to take place in Cuba.

Participants: Political involvement helps advance LGBT rights

Those who took part in the Bogotá training said it will help LGBT Colombians become more involved in their country’s political process as the movement grows stronger and more visible.

“One of the ways to make further advance our rights as an LGBT community is to win political office,” Durán told the Blade on Saturday. “To have groups of people learn about tools, to have the skills to conduct these campaigns to me is very important.”

Lozano admitted she was a bit surprised that such a program took place in Colombia, but she described it as “positive.”

“It is incredible to me that programs like this exist,” she said.

Castañeda noted his organization, like Colombia Diversa, is non-partisan. He agreed with Durán that it remains crucial for LGBT Colombians to become involved in the country’s political process.

“We become involved in every election to present the LGBT agenda to candidates,” Castañeda said.

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

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