October 29, 2014 at 5:59 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Global LGBT rights conference opens in Mexican capital

ILGA World Conference, Mexico City, Mexico, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Cuban LGBT rights advocates attend a panel on Oct. 28, 2014, before the ILGA World Conference officially began in Mexico City. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MEXICO CITY — A global LGBT rights conference that formally opened on Tuesday in the Mexican capital has drawn hundreds of advocates from 50 countries.

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Jessica Stern, Ty Cobb of the Human Rights Campaign, Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley and Chloe Schwenke of the D.C.-based Freedom House are among the nearly 500 people who are attending the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) World Conference in Mexico City. Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, is also in the Mexican capital with a delegation of more than a dozen LGBT rights advocates from the Communist country.

“ILGA is a way to connect with other LGBTI activists from all over the world,” Basu Guragain of the Federation of Sexual and Gender Minorities Nepal told the Washington Blade. “We can get an idea about what is going on around the world regarding LGBTI rights.”

Tamara Adrián, a Venezuelan trans advocate who is running for ILGA co-secretary general, said two of her goals during the conference are to connect with younger trans activists and to “enforce” connections between activists in different regions of the world.

Caleb Orozco, co-founder of the United Belize Advocacy Movement, an HIV/AIDS advocacy group, told the Blade he hopes the gathering will allow him to highlight U.S. religious organizations that support efforts defending the English-speaking Central American country’s anti-sodomy law. Orozco added the conference also provides an opportunity to raise awareness of efforts to extend rights to LGBT people in Belize and throughout the Western Hemisphere.

“The meeting space is about an opportunity to build alliances and share experiences,” he said.

The Cuban delegation later this week is expected to formally announce it will seek to host the 2016 ILGA World Conference in their country.

Supporters of Mariela Castro, who is director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, are quick to note that she has spearheaded a number of efforts over the last decade to promote acceptance of LGBT Cubans and to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS on the island. These include a condom distribution campaign and the country’s national health care system offering free sex-reassignment surgery to trans Cubans.

Mariela Castro was also president of the local committee that organized an ILGA conference on the island in May that LGBT rights advocates from Latin America and the Caribbean attended.

Cuban-born Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is among those who frequently criticize Mariela Castro and her father’s government over its human rights record.

ILGA Co-Secretary General Gloria Careaga Pérez told the Blade on Tuesday she feels “it would be great” for Cuba to host her organization’s biennial global conference in 2016.

“Cuba is making very important changes and they want to go forward,” she said, noting efforts to add sexual orientation to the country’s labor law and the government’s work with families on LGBT-specific issues. “They have really interesting proposals that we (in Mexico) haven’t worked with.”

Gathering ‘a boost’ for Mexican LGBT activists

The conference is taking place against the backdrop of lingering global outrage over Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act and other anti-LGBT laws that have taken effect in Nigeria and several other nations over the last year. Russia’s LGBT rights record that includes a law banning the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors overshadowed the 2014 Winter Olympics that took place earlier this year in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Homosexuality remains criminalized in more than 70 countries around the world. Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran are among the nations in which those found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual acts face the death penalty.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry and adopt children in Mexico City since 2010. The Mexican capital’s comprehensive anti-discrimination law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

“This is an open city, a gay-friendly city,” Careaga told the Blade.

She said the Mexican capital’s pro-LGBT laws and initiatives are among the reasons ILGA decided to hold its biennial global conference in the city. Careaga said she feels Mexico City officials can do even more to advance these issues.

“We still have not seem as many public policies as we would like to see,” she said, noting the discussions around public policy and other issues that took place before the conference officially began. “We want to push our government and specifically the city to come with a real plan of action, not only with some wording on the legal framework.”

Progress on LGBT-specific issues has also taken place outside Mexico City and on the national level, but at a slower pace.

Lawmakers in the state of Coahuila last month overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage bill.

The Mexican Supreme Court in recent years has struck down gay nuptials bans in Baja California and Oaxaca. Same-sex couples in Colima, Quintana Roo and other Mexican states have also sought legal recourse through the country’s judicial system to allow them to marry.

The Mexican Supreme Court in January ruled same-sex spouses of those who receive benefits under the country’s social security system must receive the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. A gay couple who hopes to marry in Mexico in May filed a formal complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in D.C.

Benjamin Medrano in September 2013 became Mexico’s first openly gay mayor after voters in Fresnillo in the state of Zacatecas elected him.

Mexico’s anti-discrimination law includes sexual orientation, but mistreatment and violence against LGBT Mexicans remains pervasive throughout the country.

The Committee to Protect Journalists notes more than 70 reporters and others who work for media outlets have been killed in Mexico since 1992, with drug cartels and organized crime syndicates committing the majority of these murders.The nationwide outrage over last month’s disappearance of 43 college students in the state of Guerrero has dominated Mexican media during the ILGA conference.

Luis Ángel Tenorio Cruz, National Regeneration Movement, Mexico City, Guerrero, gay news, Washington Blade

Luis Ángel Tenorio Cruz of the National Regeneration Movement, a Mexican political party, takes part in a protest in Mexico City’s main square on Oct. 26, 2014, against the privatization of the Mexican oil industry and the disappearance of 43 students last month in the state of Guerrero. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Schwenke told the Blade on Tuesday she feels it is difficult for Mexican LGBT rights advocates to gain attention for their efforts amid ongoing concerns over the missing college students, the persecution of journalists and other issues in the country. She nevertheless said she supports the decision to hold the conference in Mexico City.

“There’s a range of really pronounced human rights issues that are not being solved anytime soon,” said Schwenke. “It’s really hard for LGBTI people in that space to get their issues taken seriously. [The conference] has been a good boost for them.”

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

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