“I think that it would be good,” Noël David Guerrero, who uses the name Catalina when he dresses as a woman, told the Washington Blade on Thursday during an interview at a ranch along Río Yaque del Norte, which flows from Pico Duarte, the highest mountain in the Dominican Republic. “[Tourism] will be a great focal point for the LGBT community.”
Guerrero was among the LGBT rights advocates from the nearby cities of La Vega, Jarabacoa and Puerto Plata in the Cibao region who had gathered at the ranch for a two-day workshop that took place as part ProActividad, an economic empowerment program.
The Center for Integrated Training and Research, a group known by the Spanish acronym COIN that has fought the AIDS epidemic in the Dominican Republic and throughout the Caribbean since the 1980s, launched ProActividad as part of its ongoing efforts to respond to what it describes on its website as “a lack of expectations, opportunities and the economic situation.”
COIN is based in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, which is roughly 100 miles southeast of the ranch at which Guerrero and other local advocates had gathered. It is working with government officials and travel industry representatives to promote LGBT tourism and gay rights in the Caribbean country.
LGBT Dominicans ‘proud’ of gay U.S. ambassador
Guerrero, 22, lives in La Vega.
He told the Blade that he feels people in his region have become “more conscious” and “more tolerant” since he became an advocate five years ago. Guerrero pointed out that LGBT people in his region “feel more comfortable” going to hospitals where they once may have been discriminated against.
“Here in Cibao we have seen very big changes that you would not have seen before,” he told the Blade.
He said increased awareness of LGBT-specific issues and an increasing amount of information about them has contributed to these changes.
“It’s something powerful,” said Guerrero.
Guerrero told the Blade that gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, have also helped to raise awareness of LGBT-specific issues in the conservative and predominantly Roman Catholic country.
“He is a capable person who studied to prepare himself and he is doing the work,” said Guerrero. “The community is proud that we have him as an ambassador.”
Guerrero acknowledged that Brewster has faced criticism over his ambassadorship — Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archbishop of Santo Domingo in 2013 described him as a “faggot” after President Obama announced his nomination. Guerrero told the Blade that violence, transphobia and homophobia are among the most serious challenges that he and other LGBT Dominican advocates continue to face.
Guerrero said he nevertheless remains optimistic.
“We are all looking for the same thing: To eliminate negative things in order for us to build something positive,” he said.