“The entry of the U.S. Ambassador is not permitted in this institution.”
A large sign bearing these words was displayed outside a school in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo. This sign is just one example of the backlash against Wally Brewster, the U.S. ambassador, after he visited a different school with his husband. There was also a petition on the White House website urging President Obama to remove Brewster for “promoting an LGBT agenda inconsistent with the country’s values.” It garnered more than 30,000 signatures.
The verbal attacks on Brewster began even before he visited the school. Certain Catholic and evangelical church leaders and their allies have called on him to be ousted, claiming he’s promoting immorality and disrespecting Dominican values. Dominican Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez even used a homophobic slur to refer to him.
But the recent round of bigoted rhetoric — and the resounding silence of government officials in response — is especially troubling. If the representative of the Dominican Republic’s most important and influential global partner was considered persona non grata in that school because of whom he loves, then I, a Dominican lesbian and an activist, am surely not welcome.
The government has had plenty of opportunities to condemn these attacks, and more fundamentally, to signal to LGBT citizens that the homophobia, lesbophobia, and transphobia they face daily in all aspects of their lives will not be permitted. On the contrary, the government has opted to remain silent, tacitly endorsing this intolerance.
Those using hateful rhetoric against the ambassador have specific objectives. Among them, to quash the efforts that we as Dominican LGBT civil society activists have undertaken to defend ourselves against the hateful, violent and stigmatizing discourse orchestrated by hierarchies within the Catholic and Evangelical churches and the conservative individuals who support them.
The kind of rhetoric used to attack the ambassador has been used against me recently, and I worry that the increasingly hateful discourse will worsen the already challenging climate for LGBT people. I worry about my safety and the safety of my colleagues and friends.
The Dominican Republic is a country of beautiful beaches, bachata and merengue music and joyful people. Dominicans in general have a warm human quality, but LGBT people’s lives and emotional stability are at risk because of intolerance.
LGBT Dominicans face the threat of violence and hate crimes as well as discrimination in essential services, including healthcare, employment and housing. Impunity is the norm for violations against LGBT people. In only three of 33 cases of possible hate-crime murders of trans women since 2006 have the perpetrators been brought to justice.
For decades, LGBT organizations have been working together with other civil society groups to counter the stigma and discrimination against LGBT people and advocate for their human rights. We also work to ensure their access to healthcare and provide basic services to LGBT Dominicans. We will press on with our work, but we need the support and recognition of our government to reduce the violence and discrimination that lead to so many tears, substance abuse and even suicide among many LGBT people.
The government must break its silence and speak out against the homophobia, lesbophobia and transphobia at the root of the attacks against Brewster. And in its engagement with Dominican counterparts on the attacks against its ambassador, the United States government should highlight the deeper implications of homophobic rhetoric and the consequences of the Dominican government’s silence for the human rights of LGBT people. The attacks on Brewster are also attacks on us.
In speaking out against hateful rhetoric, the Dominican government would not be succumbing to foreign pressure, as many claim, but rather would be helping to protect the basic human rights of many Dominicans. Doing so would be a small but important step toward cementing the inclusive future that Dominican civil society activists have been working toward for decades, one in which our schools, healthcare centers, and institutions will proudly and prominently display signs stating “All are welcome.”
Rosanna Marzan is a Dominican LGBT rights activist and executive director of Diversidad Dominicana.