Gay Peruvian Congressman Carlos Bruce, out Long Beach (Calif.) Mayor Robert Garcia, lesbian Argentine lawmaker María Rachid and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Chair Tracy Robinson are among those who spoke at the gathering that took place at Cayetano Heredia University’s campus in Lima’s Miraflores neighborhood. Activists from Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Spain and the U.S. attended the meeting that took place from Sept. 4-6.
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute co-organized what it previously described as the “first-ever gathering of LGBT political leaders” from the region alongside Promsex and Caribe Afirmativo, LGBT advocacy groups from Peru and Colombia respectively.
Peruvian LGBT rights advocates earlier in the week attended a separate conference in Lima.
“Those who attend these meetings are definitely able to open many doors and seek out many allies,” said Promsex Director Susana Chávez on Sept. 4 as she welcomed advocates to the meeting.
Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute President Chuck Wolfe told the Washington Blade on Tuesday his organization was “honored and excited” to co-organize what he described as a “groundbreaking conference.”
“The LGBT community is global, and there is a growing need for out people around the world to become engaged as public leaders in their own communities,” he said. “We’re expanding our leadership training at exactly the right moment, and I think the tremendous response to this conference is evidence of that.”
Gathering to ‘increase’ gay political leadership
The Lima meeting took place against the backdrop of the expansion of LGBT rights and legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples throughout the region.
Same-sex couples are able to legally marry in 19 states and D.C., Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico City, French Guiana, the French islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy and the Caribbean Netherlands that includes the islands of Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius.
Lawmakers in the Mexican state of Coahuila on Sept. 1 overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage bill.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in May publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples ahead of his country’s presidential election. A handful of same-sex couples have exchanged vows in the South American nation since July 2013, but Colombian Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has challenged these unions in court.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet last year backed nuptials for gays and lesbians during her election campaign. Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has also spoken out in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples on the Communist island.
The Ecuadorian government is in the process of implementing a law that will allow same-sex couples to legally register their civil unions. Lawmakers in Peru and Chile are also considering the issue.
The Colombian Constitutional Court late last month ruled gays and lesbians can legally adopt the biological children of their same-sex partners if they meet certain requirements. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2012 ruled in favor of lesbian Chilean Judge Karen Atala who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband because of her sexual orientation.
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2012 signed what many advocates describe as the world’s most progressive transgender rights law that allows trans people in the South American country to legally change their gender on official documents without surgery and an affidavit from a doctor or another medical provider. A bill that would allow trans Chileans to legally change their name and sex without sex reassignment surgery advanced in the country’s Senate earlier this year.
Cuba in 2008 began offering free sex reassignment surgeries to trans Cubans under the country’s national health care system.
LGBT rights advocates who oppose the country’s government maintain less than 30 people have undergone the procedure. They have previously told the Blade the Cuban National Center for Sexual Education that Mariela Castro heads determines who is eligible to receive it.
Angélica Lozano, a former councilwoman in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, earlier this year became the first openly LGBT person elected to the Colombian Congress. Jaime Parada Hoyl in 2012 became the first out political candidate elected in Chile after he won a seat on the municipal council in Providencia, a wealthy enclave of Santiago, the country’s capital.
Bruce, who came out in May amid the debate over his bill that would allow Peruvian same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, told the Blade during a Sept. 4 interview he feels the Lima meeting is “going to help ensure” that his country “continues evolving” on LGBT rights.
“Events like this of course are going to help increase more leadership of people who are gays and lesbians and in a way that will allow them to be who they are as they take part in politics,” he said.
The Lima conference also took place ahead local and regional elections that will take place in Peru next month.
Miluska Luzquiños, a trans advocate from the Peruvian city of Lambayeque, told the Blade during a Sept. 5 interview the upcoming vote provides an opportunity for LGBT people to become more involved in the country’s political process. She stressed she feels the Peruvian people, the politicians who represent them and their respective parties will become more supportive of LGBT issues if advocates publicly support the reduction of rural poverty and other issues.
“If we continue to empower ourselves in political leadership positions, we will see a favorable result for the entire society,” said Luzquiños.
Advocates combat rampant anti-LGBT discrimination, violence
Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.
United Belize Advocacy Movement, a Belizean HIV/AIDS group, in 2010 challenged the Central American country’s law that criminalizes homosexuality. Javed Jaghai, a Jamaican gay rights advocate, late last month withdrew his lawsuit against the island’s anti-sodomy law because of concerns over his personal safety and that of his family.
A gay Mexican couple seeking the right to legally marry in their country in May filed a formal complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Three gay Chilean couples seeking marriage rights last November filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The murder of a cross-dressing teenager outside the Jamaican resort city of Montego Bay last summer sparked outrage among the island’s advocates. They, along with their counterparts in Honduras and other countries in the Western Hemisphere have repeatedly criticized their respective governments’ response to anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.
Sergio Urrego, a gay Colombian teenager, committed suicide last month at a Bogotá mall.
Media reports indicate administrators of the high school Urrego attended allegedly subjected him to anti-gay discrimination after his teacher saw a picture of him on his cell phone of him kissing his boyfriend.
Number of Caribbean advocates at meeting ‘pretty small’
Carl Greams, a Guyanese LGBT rights advocate, told the Blade during a Sept. 6 interview that he feels he and others from the region’s English-speaking countries can learn from the efforts of their Latin American counterparts.
“Latin America is actually way ahead of us in terms of progress that they have made, in terms of laws that have been changed, in terms of the openness of the gay community, in terms of political leadership,” he said. “There’s a lot to take away there for us.”
Kenita Placide of United and Strong, a St. Lucian LGBT advocacy group, questioned why there were only a handful of people from the region’s English-speaking countries at the Lima meeting.
“It’s a bit unfortunate that Caribbean participation seems to be so little,” she told the Blade. “Compared to the number of persons from Latin America, the Caribbean is pretty small.”
Placide nevertheless said she feels the gathering provided her and other Caribbean LGBT advocates the opportunity to network with their Latin American counterparts and learn from them.
“It gives me personally an understanding of how Latin America is able to push through certain issues,” she told the Blade. “It’s also a fact that they’re more advanced than the Caribbean in terms of activism, so there’s a lot to learn from that and a lot to take home.”