January 5, 2015 at 9:00 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
‘It’s okay to be gay’ in Mexico City

Mexico City, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MEXICO CITY — The crowd at Marrakech Salon, a popular gay bar in the heart of the Mexican capital, was boisterous on the night before Halloween as people danced to Gloria Estefan and other Spanish language pop stars. Many of these revelers eventually made their way to La Purísima, another bar across the street on Avenida de República de Cuba.

Inexpensive beers and margaritas were on tap on this cool fall evening as LGBT advocates from Mexico, the U.S., Cuba, Algeria and other countries who were attending the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Intersex Association (ILGA) World Conference danced. Hundreds of other patrons packed the crowded dance floor alongside them.

“One of the better things about living here is being in the big city,” Eli Nassau of Guimel, an LGBT Jewish group in Mexico City, told the Washington Blade during an Oct. 28 interview at a café in the city’s Roma neighborhood. “Like every other big city like New York or like Los Angeles, you have all sorts of people and there’s so much diversity, which makes it okay to be gay here in the city.”

Mexico City remains a refuge for many LGBT Mexicans.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the Mexican capital since 2010.

The Mexican capital in November became the first city in Latin America to allow transgender people to legally change their gender without a court order.

Mexico City’s comprehensive anti-discrimination law includes gender identity and expression and designates transphobia as a form of discrimination. Those convicted under the statute face up to three years in prison.

The Mexico City Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination — known by its Spanish acronym COPRED — enforces the anti-discrimination law and seeks to build support for the city’s LGBT residents through public education campaigns and other initiatives. It also operates a clinic for trans people and those with HIV/AIDS.

Mexico City’s subway system during the ILGA World Conference printed fare tickers with the group’s logo printed on them.

Mexico City, gay news, Washington Blade

A sign inside El MarraKech, a gay bar in Mexico City, reads it does not discriminate based on sexual orientation, race, physical ability, socioeconomic status or ‘any other reason.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Large signs highlighting the Mexican capital’s anti-discrimination law are prominently featured in many restaurants, bars and other businesses. Young same-sex couples holding hands and even kissing along Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City’s main thoroughfares, is not an uncommon sight.

“There is equal treatment when we pay attention to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, transvestite and intersex population,” Adriana Contreras Vera of Mexico City’s Secretariat of Social Development told the Blade during an Oct. 30 interview at the hotel where the ILGA World Conference took place.

ILGA Co-Secretary General Gloria Careaga Pérez noted Mexico City’s pro-LGBT laws and reputation are among the reasons she said her organization chose to hold its biennial gathering in the Mexican capital.

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

Violence, discrimination persist despite pro-LGBT laws

A report from Letra S and other local advocacy groups based on local media reports found that 143 LGBT people were murdered in Mexico City between 1995-2008. Activists also contend that police routinely subject LGBT people to abuse while in custody.

More than 80 percent of respondents who took part in a 2013 COPRED survey said discrimination “exists” among cross-dressers in Mexico City. Nearly three quarters of those who took part in the poll acknowledged trans people face discrimination.

COPRED President Jacqueline L’Hoist Tapia told the Blade that poverty “drives” discrimination in the Mexican capital. Nassau agreed, adding conservative religious attitudes and machismo continue to prove barriers to LGBT people in Mexico City and elsewhere in the country.

“Even though we have laws protecting (LGBT people,) the people in general are still a little behind. And this is Mexico City,” he said. “In the rest of the country, they’re still celebrating whether gays should be able to marry or whatever, so they’re farther behind. Society is catching up and getting rid of the ignorance, misconceptions.”

Mexico’s anti-discrimination law includes sexual orientation, but not gender identity and expression.

Lawmakers in the state of Coahuila in September overwhelmingly approved a bill that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

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 a number of other Mexican states have also sought legal recourse through the country’s judicial system to allow them to marry.

The Mexican Supreme Court last 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 a few months later filed a formal complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in D.C. after an official in the state where they live refused to allow them to marry.

President Enrique Peña Nieto met with LGBT rights advocates during his presidential campaign.

Benjamin Medrano in 2013 became Mexico’s first openly gay mayor after voters in Fresnillo in the state of Zacatecas elected him. Mexico is among the countries that voted for a resolution against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted in September.

The National Council to Prevent Discrimination — known by the Spanish acronym CONAPRED — coordinates the country’s anti-discrimination policies and programs with government agencies. The body is also able to force individuals, private groups and government agencies and officials to pay compensation in discrimination cases.

Luis Perelman Javnozon, a prominent sexuality educator and Mexican LGBT and Jewish advocate who sits on the CONAPRED Consultative Assembly, said the debate in the Mexican Congress about amending the country’s Constitution to include “sexual preference” in its human rights guarantees was a “very difficult and very tortuous” process. He told the Blade the Peña administration largely supports their efforts in support of expanding rights to LGBT Mexicans in spite of some resistance.

“We are pushing society from many different groups and trenches,” said Perelman.

Luis Perelman Javnozon, Eli Nassau, Guimel, Mexico City, gay news, Washington Blade

Luis Perelman Javnozon, left, talks with Eli Nassau of Guimel, an LGBT Jewish group in Mexico City, at a café in the Roma neighborhood of the Mexican capital on Oct. 28, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Advocates with whom the Blade spoke in Mexico City said LGBT migrants from Central America who are in the country remain vulnerable to discrimination and abuse.

Ender Manuel Martínez, an LGBT rights activist from El Salvador, said guards at two detention facilities subjected him to sexual harassment and demanded “sexual favors” from him in exchange for better food.

Migrantes LGBT, gay news, Washington Blade

Migrantes LGBT, a group that advocates for LGBT migrants in Mexico, works out of the Casa Espacio de los Refugiados in Mexico City’s Ramón López Velarde Park. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Julio Campos Cubías, general coordinator of Migrantes LGBT, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT migrants, told the Blade that lesbian and trans women often smuggle drugs into the U.S. for drug cartels that work around Tijuana. He said many of these migrants agree to transport narcotics because they do not have money to pay smugglers — known as “coyotes” in Mexican Spanish — bring them across the border.

Campos told the Blade the Mexican government needs to do more in support of LGBT migrants who enter the country.

“The institutions do not have the capacity to support us,” he said. “There are no specific spaces for this community.”

Careaga during the ILGA World Conference conceded Mexico City’s government can do more to advance LGBT-specific issues in spite of the comprehensive laws that are already in place.

“We still have not seem as many public policies as we would like to see,” she told the Blade. “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.”

Kidnapping of 43 students ‘tip of the iceberg’

LGBT rights advocates are among those who continue to take part in protests in Mexico City against the murder of 43 college students who disappeared in September as they traveled to Iguala in the state of Guerrero to protest a conference the wife of the town’s mayor had organized. Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said during a November press conference that authorities believe they found the burned remains of the missing students in trash bags that had been thrown alongside a river.

“It’s been going on for a long, long, long time, but they couldn’t keep it down,” Nassau told the Blade as he discussed the missing students who are known as the “43 normalistas” in Mexico. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg and it’s sad.”

Ricardo Baruch, an LGBT rights advocate who is completing his pHd at the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca, told the Blade during the ILGA World Conference that many people from Mexico City have stopped traveling to the city because of the ongoing drug violence.

There were once half a dozen gay bars and clubs in Cuernavaca, which is about two hours outside of Mexico City. Pool parties at people’s weekend homes were once commonplace, but Baruch told the Blade he is reluctant to attend them because the use of cocaine and other drugs is common.

He said Mexican authorities once raided a safe house a block from his home where the cartels stored drugs and held people they had kidnapped.

“We get caught in the middle,” Baruch told the Blade.

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

Luis Ángel Tenorio Cruz of the National Regeneration Movement takes part in a protest in Mexico City’s main square on Oct. 26, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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

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