July 11, 2015 at 8:46 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Paraguayan LGBT advocate attends meeting with Pope Francis

Catholic, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis on July 11, 2015, met with the head of a Paraguayan LGBT advocacy group and representatives of other civil society organizations in the South American country. (Photo by Jeon Han; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The head of a Paraguayan LGBT advocacy group on Saturday attended a meeting with Pope Francis in the capital of his South American country.

Somosgay Executive Director Simón Cazal was among the representatives of 1,600 Paraguayan civil society organizations who met with the pontiff in Asunción.

Cazal told the Washington Blade during a Skype interview after the meeting that Francis did not “directly” refer to LGBT-specific issues, but “he did mention others in which they are included.” Media reports indicate the pontiff was sharply critical of Paraguayan Catholic officials.

“There are no people of first, of second or third class,” said Francis, according to a tweet that Cazal posted to his Twitter account after the meeting. “Dignity is for everyone.”

“The local church insisted on talking about the family and other conservative issues,” Cazal told the Blade, referring to Francis’ visit to the South American country. “He distanced himself from this discourse and highlighted diversity in its place.”

“The pope’s speech was very productive,” added Cazal.

The Paraguayan Episcopal Conference last month invited Cazal and other LGBT rights advocates to attend the meeting. The activist told the Blade that he was the only advocate who accepted the invitation.

“I am not worried about the opinion of the other activists,” Cazal told the Blade, responding to a question about any potential backlash his organization could face from other Paraguayan LGBT rights advocates over his decision to attend the meeting with Francis. “I think that each person in their context should be able to have the freedom to adopt what they believe are the best strategies. In our case, we are very satisfied with ours.”

The meeting took place during Francis’ trip to South America that has included stops in Ecuador and Bolivia.

Cazal is the first LGBT rights advocate who has attended a meeting with Francis; but Saturday’s event is not the first time the Argentine-born pontiff has met with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Francis in March met with 10 gay, transgender and HIV-positive prisoners in the Italian city of Naples. A trans man from Spain had a private meeting with Francis at the Vatican in January after telling him in a letter that some of his fellow parishioners rejected him after undergoing sex-reassignment surgery.

Members of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that works with LGBT Catholics, in February received VIP seats at a general audience with Francis in St. Peter’s Square that coincided with Ash Wednesday.

Francis — who is the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires — was among the most vocal opponents of Argentina’s same-sex marriage law that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed in 2010.

The pontiff earlier this year backed proposed amendments to the Slovak constitution that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and banned gays and lesbians from adopting children. LGBT Catholics have nevertheless welcomed Francis’ more moderate tone towards homosexuality and other issues since he became pope in March 2013.

The pontiff in the summer of 2013 told reporters during a flight from Brazil to Rome that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized. Billboards with Francis’ comments appeared throughout Paraguay this week as part of an anti-homophobia campaign.

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

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