June 23, 2015 at 6:00 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay U.S. ambassador, husband prioritize human rights

Wally Brewster, Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster, left, and his husband, Bob Satawake, at their official residence in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on June 19, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster was looking out over the driveway of his official residence shortly after 6 p.m. on June 19 when he noticed the Pride flag flying over it had become caught around the flagpole.

The decision to also hang it from the facade of the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, sparked controversy among some religious leaders in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. Brewster said the fact that other foreign governments decided to fly it over their respective embassies in the Dominican Republic for Pride month shows the LGBT rights movement continues to gain traction in the country and around the world.

“I see it progressing and it gives me great hope,” Brewster told the Washington Blade during an interview at his home with his husband, Bob Satawake. “You can see it happening here in the Dominican Republic.”

Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

A rainbow flag hangs on the facade of the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo)

Dominican advocates with whom the Blade has spoken since President Obama nominated Brewster two years ago credit the former Human Rights Campaign board member and his husband with making the country’s LGBT rights movement more visible.

Brewster and Satawake — who frequently appear in the Dominican press — have met with local LGBT rights advocates several times since they formally assumed the post in late 2013.

Special U.S. Envoy to Promote Global LGBT Rights Randy Berry earlier this month keynoted a Pride month reception that Brewster and Satawake hosted at their official residence. Dennis and Judy Shepard, Miss Dominican Republic World 2008 Geisha Montes and two prominent Dominican lawmakers — Minou Mirabal Tavárez and Victor Gómez Casanova — were among those who attended the “Breakfast for Equality with Ambassador Brewster” event.

Brewster and Satawake last month spoke to 1,100 women who were in Punta Cana on an Olivia Cruises vacation. The company, which caters to lesbians and their families, had rented out an entire Club Med resort in the resort city.

Brewster and Satawake on June 19 attended a press event in Santo Domingo’s Old City that highlighted a new LGBT tourism campaign launched by the Center for Integrated Training and Research, a Dominican advocacy group known by the Spanish acronym COIN, and ProActividad, an economic empowerment program. Victor Terrero, executive director of the Dominican Republic’s National Council on HIV and AIDS, COIN Executive Director Santos Rosario, COIN Medical Director John Waters and Marriott International Vice President of Multicultural Affairs Apoorva Gandhi spoke at the gathering alongside Brewster.

Brewster and Satawake spoke with the Blade shortly before a group of LGBT journalists from the U.S. and Latin America who were in the Dominican Republic to report on the tourism initiative arrived at their official residence for a reception.

“One of the key things that I want to continue to focus on as Bob and I have is to show that we’re a loving couple and we are gay,” said Brewster as Satawake listened. “We are out there talking about relationships, talking about our faith and really representing the American people in a way that I think continues to promote our values.”

Brewster and Satawake spent their first winter in the Dominican Republic in 2004 after Moises Alou, a player for the Chicago Cubs who lived next door to them in the Windy City, invited them. They bought a home in Juan Dolio, a small beach town about 30 miles east of Santo Domingo, in 2008.

The two men were well-established in their respective careers before Obama tapped Brewster to represent the U.S. in the Dominican Republic.

Brewster is a former senior executive for General Growth Properties, which is one of the largest commercial real estate and land development firms in the U.S. He started his own consulting firm — SB&K Global — after leaving the company.

Satawake owned the Chicago Luxury Group, which he described as a “private luxury real estate” business. He was affiliated with Sotheby’s International Reality.

’Haters did us a favor’

Obama’s decision to nominate Brewster to represent the U.S. in the Dominican Republic sparked outrage among the country’s religious leaders, most notably Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo who described him as a “faggot” during a 2013 press conference.

Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Vatican’s envoy to the Dominican Republic, cited the country’s Constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman as the reason he did not invite Satawake to diplomatic reception last year with President Danilo Medina and his wife, Cándida Montilla de Medina.

Okolo was forced to postpone the event after a number of ambassadors said they would not attend. It eventually took place at a Santo Domingo hotel with Satawake and Brewster in attendance.

“From day one, Bob and I were embraced by President Medina, the first lady and his administration,” Brewster told the Blade. “We’ve continued to grow that relationship and I think there has been a shared appreciation for the efforts that both our countries are making together.”

The two men declined to specifically discuss López with the Blade, but Satawake said “the haters did us a favor.”

“They put this conversation on the front page of the newspapers,” he told the Blade, noting the lack of positive coverage of LGBT issues in the Dominican press before Obama nominated Brewster.

Satawake said Dominican culture is not one “of hate at all.” Both he and Brewster told the Blade throughout the interview that many Dominicans apologized for the way that López and others categorized them.

“There were a lot of people that stood up and said ‘No, no, no, no, no, this is not what our country is about. This is not what our people are about,’” said Satawake. “I don’t think we facilitated that. I think they facilitated that.”

Brewster welcomes pope’s moderate tone

The U.S. is the Dominican Republic’s largest trading partner, with nearly $14 billion worth of trade each year between the two countries. The Dominican Republic is also part of a free trade agreement that includes the Central American nations of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Brewster told the Blade that expanding business opportunities, fighting corruption, improving the country’s education system and energy infrastructure and combating racism and violence against women and girls are among his non-LGBT priorities as ambassador.

Brewster earlier this month joined the five other openly gay U.S. ambassadors, Berry and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Robert Holleyman who publicly said a controversial pan-Pacific trade agreement would expand rights to LGBT people in the countries that ratified it. He also told the Blade that he welcomes Pope Francis’ more moderate tone towards LGBT Catholics and other hot button social issues.

“My hope is that everyone — and I do believe this — puts love first,” said Brewster. “That’s what I think of when I think of what God speaks to me about everyday is putting love first. That is what I hope that he continues and it seems he continues to promote.”

Wally Brewster, Dominican Republic, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster on June 19, 2015, speaks about LGBT tourism in the country during a press event in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Brewster spoke to the Blade two days after the deadline for migrants to register with the Dominican government passed. He downplayed media reports that suggest Medina’s plan to legalize undocumented immigrants — the majority of whom are from neighboring Haiti — would lead to mass deportations of Haitians from the country.

“Don’t believe the press you’ve seen in the last couple of days,” said Brewster during the Santo Domingo press event in response to the Blade’s question to Terrero about the issue. “There’s some sensational press out there.”

’We’ll never stop working for human rights’

Brewster told the Blade that he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a “positive decision” in the same-sex marriage cases it heard in April.

“Hopefully the Supreme Court ruling will be one that we’re all going to be happy with,” added Satawake.

Satawake told the Blade that any decision the U.S. Supreme Court may issue against nuptials for gays and lesbians would not have an adverse impact on him or Brewster.

He conceded he is “concerned” that some countries may use a ruling against same-sex marriage as “an excuse to discriminate against LGBT individuals and to justify their adverse opinions.” Satawake told the Blade he feels confident that this situation will not come to pass in the Dominican Republic.

“This country is moving forward,” he said. “Conversations are taking place in the (Presidential) Palace here all the time about equality. It’s not specific to LGBT equality, but let there be no mistake, that is part of the collective when they are having that conversation.”

Brewster told the Blade in response to a question about his future once he leaves his post that he and Satawake will continue “to give it 100 percent.” He also applauded Obama for allowing “a married LGBT couple to represent us in the Western Hemisphere for the first time.”

“We know now that we never thought we would have the opportunity as a gay couple — a married gay couple especially — to represent the United States here,” said Brewster.

Brewster told the Blade that he and Satawake will likely return to the private sector once they leave the post in Santo Domingo. He said they will “continue to work for human rights around the globe.”

“We know there’s great things in the future,” said Brewster. “But we’ll never stop working for human rights.”

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

2 Comments
  • They have been such a great presence in our country. Very thankful for everything they have done for human rights and US-DR relations in this country. Let’s hope future ambassadors follow their lead on LGBT rights.

  • He surrendered all claim to be a leader on LGBT rights when the shilled for the TPP to give a special trade deal to countries like Brunei (death penalty for gays) or Malaysia (20 years in jail) without any demand they repeal these anti-gay laws. I guess we can appreciate that he is sometimes on the side of gay rights, but that might be hard to explain if you are a gay Malaysian in jail rather than a LGBT cruise patron at Club Med.

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