Officers with the Paraguayan National Police clashed with members of Somosgay and Lesvos — two LGBT advocacy organizations in the landlocked South American country — in Asunción as they protested President Horacio Cartés’ decision to oppose a proposed OAS declaration that would have indicated support of “diverse families.”
A video that Somosgay posted to YouTube shows protesters waiving rainbow flags before police in riot gear approached and struck some of them with batons. The clip also shows two journalists who appear to have been injured during the confrontation.
Sergio López of Somosgay told the Washington Blade during a Skype interview from Asunción on Monday that a pregnant woman was among those injured.
“We suffered repression by the national police,” said López.
The clashes took place as a much larger group of anti-gay protesters gathered outside the hotel where the three-day OAS meeting began on Tuesday under the banner “development through social inclusion.”
A police spokesperson acknowledged to a Paraguayan radio station that clashes took place between the officers who were protecting the anti-gay protesters and the LGBT rights advocates. He said members of Somosgay and Lesvos provoked the officers to respond.
“Some 60 gay people appeared out of nowhere,” said the spokesperson as Hoy, a Paraguayan newspaper, reported. “We spoke with them, they understood, they passed and we again asked them to disperse but they did not want to do so. We insisted a lot, spoke with them a lot, we then sent in a platoon to divide them, but they became aggressive when the blue helmets (riot police) came.”
López described the protest to the Blade as “peaceful.”
Caribe Afirmativo, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group whose members are attending the OAS meeting in the Paraguayan capital, was quick to condemn the police.
“Caribe Afirmativo rejects the attacks by the police who victimized our colleagues with the organization Somosgay of Paraguay a few hours ago,” said the group on its Facebook page. “They were protesting in a peaceful way in front of the venue where we are meeting.”
Esteban Paulón, president of the LGBT Federation of Argentina, told the Blade that a member of his organization is attending the OAS meeting in Asunción. It remains unclear whether she attended the protest.
“We emphatically reject these acts of homophobic violence in Paraguay,” Paulón told the Blade.
LGBT Paraguayans lack basic legal protections found in neighboring Argentina and other South American countries.
López and Somosgay CEO Simón Cazal petitioned a Paraguayan judge to register their Argentina marriage, but she denied their request last year.
Somosgay in 2013 opened Paraguay’s first men’s health clinic in Asunción, but Cazal told the Blade the landlocked South American country has limited resources to combat HIV/AIDS among at-risk groups. Discrimination and violence against trans Paraguayans remains pervasive.
An OAS spokesperson declined to comment on the clashes.
A member of an anti-LGBT group earlier on Tuesday posted a picture to Facebook from a forum that said “groups from the gay and abortion lobby attack and offend while our life and family delegation presents our document.” López told the Blade that he and other advocates had planned to meet with officials to discuss the protest.
The OAS adopted an anti-discrimination resolution that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression during its 2013 meeting that took place in Guatemala.
Caribe Afirmativo called upon the OAS to condemn the clashes between police and protesters. The group also urged the Paraguayan government to punish the officers who were involved.
“Unfortunately the Paraguay of President Cartés casts a negative light over a continent that wants to advance towards more equality,” said Paulón. “We clearly support the organizations Somosgay and Lesvos and we commit our resources to built together with them an egalitarian Latin America.”