February 17, 2015 at 7:06 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT advocate participates in Colombia peace talks

Wilson Castañera Castro, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Wilson Castañera , on right, on Feb. 11 took part in ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that are taking place in Havana, Cuba. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Castañeda/Caribe Afirmativo)

The head of a Colombian advocacy group last week took part in peace talks between his country’s government and a rebel group.

Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda was among the six Colombian human rights advocates who participated in a meeting between representatives of President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that took place in the Cuban capital of Havana.

“We do not want a post-conflict period to generate closets where people are once again stigmatized, made invisible and continue living in fear,” he said during the Havana meeting, noting LGBT Colombians should be explicitly included in any potential peace accord. “As Colombians we hope to leave the closet behind, to be able to live without fear of difference.”

2011 law acknowledges LGBT victims of conflict

Members of the FARC, paramilitaries and the Colombian army have frequently targeted, displaced or even killed LGBT people during the decades-long conflict that began in the 1960s.

Castañeda during the Havana meeting pointed out that violence against gays and lesbians within the Colombian army and the FARC took place as a way to address what he described as a “lack of discipline” within their respective ranks. He added commanders frequently made other accusations against their subordinates as a way to cover up this abuse.

Castañeda also said both sides of the conflict controlled those who lived under their control by enforcing ideas of “decency,” “morality” and “normality.”

“They have exposed and subjected people and organizations from the LGBT sector to various forms of violence,” said Castañeda.

A 2011 law that Santos signed as a way to compensate the millions of Colombian landowners who lost their land during the conflict acknowledges LGBT victims.

Congresswoman Angélica Lozano, a former member of the Bogotá City Council who is the first openly LGBT person elected to the Colombian Congress, is a lawyer who once advised Íngrid Betancourt Pulecio whom members of the FARC kidnapped in 2002 during her presidential campaign.

Lozano told the Washington Blade during a 2013 interview in which she described the peace process that a gay man from the countryside had the Spanish word for “faggot” carved into his stomach.

“We hope that the peace process holds those responsible for committing these atrocities and recognizes the victims of forced displacement and torture,” she said as she spoke with the Blade at her office in the Colombian capital.

LGBT rights gaining traction in Colombia

The Colombian Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled that same-sex couples could 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 statute that would have allowed gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

A handful of same-sex couples in Bogotá and other cities have exchanged vows since the Constitutional Court’s deadline passed two months later. Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has challenged the rulings that allowed them to marry.

Santos last May during his re-election campaign publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples. An advisor to then-Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón told the Blade during a May 2013 interview in Bogotá that the government respects both the Constitutional Court’s ruling and the Colombian Senate’s vote against a same-sex marriage bill.

The New York City Bar Association and the Impact Litigation Project at American University Washington College of Law in D.C. last April filed briefs with the Constitutional Court in the case of two same-sex couples who challenged Ordóñez’s efforts to nullify their unions.

A judge on the Constitutional Court on Wednesday is scheduled to rule whether same-sex couples can adopt children in Colombia.

Colombia co-sponsored a resolution against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted last September. Dozens of advocates since 2013 have attended a series of U.S. Agency for International Development-backed trainings designed to increase LGBT participation in the country’s political process.

Castañeda in previous interviews with the Blade criticized the Santos administration for what he described as its silence on marriage rights for same-sex couples, violence and other issues. The advocate during his remarks at the Havana meeting said anti-LGBT rights abuses stem “in large part” from the fact the Colombian Constitution does not explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in its anti-discrimination provisions.

“This legal silence has allowed that officials, public officials, democratically elected representatives and society in general to promote hate speech that is based on stereotypes and prejudices,” said Castañeda.

The FARC in a statement it released after last week’s meeting in Havana said LGBT Colombians have been “repressed and brutalized” by the country’s government. The guerrilla group also defended its own record towards the aforementioned population.

“We reject any type of discrimination or stigmatization,” reads the statement. “We consider the fight against homophobia is legitimate and necessary. The building of the New Colombia, based on peace with social justice is a collective creation that incorporates the different shades and nuances that characterize our diverse and pluralistic country. The LGBTI community will have the recognition that it deserves and its role in the district scenarios will be real and active.”

Lina Cuéllar, director of Sentiido, an LGBT website she co-publishes in Bogotá, described the Havana meeting in which Castañeda participated as “a key moment.”

“Wilson Castañeda, as the representative of the LGBT population, has the opportunity to make the people conscious of the fact that a significant number of LGBT people have suffered in flesh and blood the consequences of being gay, lesbian or trans in places where this is considered part of a moral degradation,” Cuéllar told the Blade.

Cuéllar added the government and the FARC’s wiliness to “recognize LGBT people” in the peace process is “also an important step.”

“The challenge is not only to accept the invitation, but also to establish commitments that are in fact going to be accomplished in the post-conflict years,” she told the Blade. “The peace talks are one of the stages of a wider and very complex process. If there are not any real structural changes, the various parties (in the conflict) will re-victimize in the post-conflict years and the victims will remain victims and not contribute to society.”

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

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