May 29, 2014 at 10:52 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Colombian vice president discusses LGBT rights at U.N.

Angelino Garzón, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón (Photo by Neil Palmer; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón on Wednesday discussed his country’s LGBT rights record during a meeting at the U.N. in New York.

Charles Radcliffe, senior human rights adviser for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Washington Blade that he and Garzón spoke about the progress he said the South American nation has made towards LGBT rights in a “really committed way.” He said the Colombian vice president also highlighted “the need for global action to push all governments to do more.”

“It was an excellent meeting,” Radcliffe told the Blade.

Garzón has met with LGBT advocates on numerous occasions since taking office in 2010.

Lawmakers in the South American country in 2011 passed an anti-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation. Garzón the following year announced a new strategy on behalf of the Colombian government designed to improve the way authorities investigate anti-LGBT crimes.

“We live in a democracy, therefore we must respect human rights,” said Garzón during the 2012 announcement. “We cannot talk about human rights if we do not respect the LGBTI community.”

The Colombian Constitutional Court has extended property, social security and other rights to same-sex couples. The tribunal in 2009 ruled gays and lesbians who live together must receive the same rights that unmarried heterosexual couples receive under Colombian law.

Colombia is among the countries that helped secure passage of the U.N.’s first-ever resolution in support of LGBT rights in 2011.

Former Bogotá City Councilwoman Angélica Lozano in March became the first out person elected to the South American country’s Congress. She is among those who attended two Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute trainings designed to teach Colombian LGBT rights advocates how to become more involved in their country’s political process that took place in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, and Cartagena last year.

Garzón’s office did not return the Blade’s request for comment.

He and Radcliffe met slightly more than a week after Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples ahead of the first round of the country’s presidential election that took place on May 25.

The Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled same-sex couples could legally register their relationships in two years if lawmakers did not pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.

The Colombian Senate in April 2013 overwhelmingly rejected a same-sex marriage measure.

A handful of gay couples in Bogotá and other cities have exchanged vows since the Constitutional Court’s deadline passed last June. Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has challenged the rulings that allowed them to marry.

The Impact Litigation Project at American University Washington College of Law and the New York City Bar Association last month filed briefs with the Constitutional Court in a case brought by two gay couples challenging Ordóñez’s efforts to nullify their marriages.

Dr. Zayuri Tibaduiza, an advisor to Garzón, told the Blade last May during an interview in Bogotá the government respects both the Constitutional Court’s ruling and the Senate’s vote against the same-sex marriage bill. LGBT advocates in the South American country have repeatedly criticized Santos’ administration for what they maintain is its silence during the same-sex marriage debate.

Garzón, who is slated to leave office in August, said before the Constitutional Court’s deadline that judges and notaries should not refuse to formally recognize the relationships of same-sex couples because of “conscientious objections.”

“One cannot govern the state by conscientious objection,” he said as El Espectador, a Colombian newspaper, reported. “When one is a public servant, he has to comply with the law even if he does not agree with it.”

Colombian LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade has spoken over the last year have indicated discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in particular remain pervasive in many parts of the country.

Wilson Castañeda Castro, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBT advocacy group that works along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, told the Blade last May during an interview at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute’s Bogotá training that trans people with whom his organization works face homelessness because of anti-trans violence and discrimination. He said life for LGBT Colombians who live outside the capital remains difficult because they lack visibility and support from local officials.

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

Tatiana Piñeros, a trans woman appointed by Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro in 2012 to run the city’s social welfare agency, acknowledged during a panel that took place before the first Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute training in Colombia that discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment and education remains a challenge. She nevertheless stressed that “bit by bit” people are growing more comfortable with trans people as they become more visible in Colombia.

“In this moment I feel more empowered,” said Piñeros. “I am allowed to be an equal person. It can be done because I believe it.”

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

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