August 8, 2020 at 9:40 pm EDT | by Ernesto Valle
Gay El Salvador National Assembly candidate makes history
Erick Iván Ortiz (Photo courtesy of Erick Iván Ortiz)

Editor’s note: The Washington Blade published a Spanish version of this story on Aug. 7.

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A groundbreaking El Salvador National Assembly candidate hopes to make history as the first openly gay man elected to the country’s legislative body.

Erick Iván Ortiz is among the candidates that members of Nuestro Tiempo, a new political party, have chosen to run in the National Assembly elections that are scheduled to take place on Feb. 28, 2021.

Ortiz, 29, has an economics degree from the Higher School of Economics and Business in El Salvador. He also studied human rights at Luis Amigó Catholic University in Medellín, Colombia, and participated in a social leadership development course at George Mason University.

Ortiz told the Blade his social activism began a decade ago with a specific focus of defending democracy, promoting institutions and transparency and young people’s participation in politics, among other issues.

“[My work] began in a very difficult context for El Salvador because it was a moment in which we were facing an attack on democracy due to the attempt to tie up the Constitutional Court,” said Ortiz. “We joined forces with different sectors of the population to make ourselves clear, and at that young age I saw myself as an agent of change.”

Following the 2014 presidential campaign in which LGBTQ issues were used in a negative way, Ortiz, along with other people who were uncomfortable with what happened, decided to organize themselves. They formed Colectivo Normal in 2015.

“The collective was born under the analysis that the problem with our society is cultural,” he said. “We have a sexist, violent and homophobic society because this is the social construction that has been made.”

Colectivo Normal has since used cultural and political advocacy to advance their cause, using the arts as a strategy to spark new conversations in order to change the narratives around the LGBTQ community. After a process of deconstruction and constant learning within the collective, members met with different LGBTQ organizations in a round table in which the Salvadoran LGBTI Federation was created.

“I have been able to train alongside El Salvador’s best trans activists like Karla Avelar, Karla Guevara, Ambar Alfaro, Paty Hernández, among other people, and better myself,” Ortiz told the Blade.

Advancing a human rights agenda

Joining a political party is nothing new for Ortiz.

He was previously part of the right-wing Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA) party’s youth wing, but Ortiz made his priorities clear.

“The challenge is not to speak with those who are convinced, but to speak where things are more complicated,” he said. “It was important to have a partisan spokesperson to generate an internal conversation around a specific issue.”

Ortiz explained his project within ARENA came to an end and he decided to resign at the same time because his innovative plans to generate policy changes did not align with the party’s vision.

“Now I have decided to join Nuestro Tiempo, because it is a party that includes diversity as one of its seven tenets,” Ortiz told the Blade. “In the face of an openly anti-rights government that has made us invisible and has downplayed LGBTI issues, I decided to take the leap and take the reigns of our representation and get involved in the front lines of politics.”

In El Salvador, as in many other Latin American countries, there is a historic invisibility with respect to LGBTQ political representation. Ortiz said one cannot depend only on promises from parties that do not handle the issue well.

“The only thing we are asking for is equal rights,” he told the Blade. “We don’t want special rights. It is about guaranteeing access to justice, fighting impunity towards hate crimes, guaranteeing there is no discrimination in the labor sector, in health services and education, to name a few.”  

“The LGBTI struggle, at the end of the day, is about fighting for an El Salvador that is more inclusive, fairer and more peaceful,” he added.

The coronavirus pandemic has made the beginning of Ortiz’s campaign challenging for him and for his team. Ortiz’s campaign will use the internet to announce his platform and legislative proposals.

Ortiz told the Blade they include a national anti-discrimination law that would include all Salvadorans who have been historically marginalized. Another of Ortiz’s proposals would legalize marijuana as a way to generate new income for the State and to balance public finances while dismantling the black market at the same time.

Ortiz said he will work on the issue of mental health, given the history of conflict through which the country has lived and the insecurity with which it has experienced for years. Ortiz added he considers it necessary to rebuild the social safety net in a comprehensive way that protects vulnerable Salvadorans.

“The programmatic proposal will be consultative, something that will be built with other people and will therefore be able to identify which ideas the citizenry needs to be implemented,” he said.

Short and long-term challenges

“My biggest concern at the moment is the empowerment of the LGBTI community with respect to the current situation,” said Ortiz. “My proposal is to put the LGBTI community at the center of the electoral political proposal, something that has not been done before. This will only be possible with the support and unity of the LGBTI movement.”

Ortiz said now is the right time to put aside differences as a movement and build upon a base of common ground that includes non-discrimination and to clarify any doubts with regard to them.

“The 2021 Legislative Assembly’s composition is a long-term challenge that worries me,” said Ortiz. “We will have a more conservative relationship than the one we currently have, because polls indicate a party like Nuevas Ideas that has proven itself to be openly anti-rights will be in the majority, and this will be added to the traditional conservatism of ARENA, PCN, PDC and also now of VAMOS as a political party.”

This scenario would leave in a marked minority the parties and initiatives that are against the anti-rights proposal being configured.

Ortiz says it would be a big challenge to face an ultra-conservative block in the National Assembly if he were elected. Ortiz adds existing communication channels can be used to advocate from a seat within the legislative body.

Erick Iván Ortiz speaks with a transgender woman in San Salvador, El Salvador, during the country’s lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of Erick Iván Ortiz)

Ortiz in his ticket will include Gabriela Martino, a proud mother of a gay son who is an LGBTQ rights activist. Martino has experienced first hand how painful the discrimination a child can face in education and family settings, among others.

“Gabriela is a woman who is very committed to our project, because she also has a voice that speaks from being a straight mother who is proud of her children, of her family and who thinks it is convinced that no boy or girl should spend their childhood suffering from discrimination or violence,” says Ortiz.

Ortiz says he has the support of Nuestro Tiempo, given he did not end up with a bad position on the list of candidates after the internal elections. Ortiz tells the Blade his position demonstrates the commitment the party has on the issue of inclusion.

“I feel an enormous responsibility with this candidacy, because it will be an earthquake for society and therefore bolster who we are,” he said. “I am not possibly going to fully represent all segments of the LGBTI community, but yes, my voice is going to represent the LGBTI voice in the political agenda.”

“We all need to be able to break this glass ceiling that women broke decades ago and to ensure that my candidacy will not be the last one and that each leader there is will be empowered and be able to be those agents of change that society needs,” he concludes.

Ernesto Valle is a journalist and activist in San Salvador, El Salvador, who covers LGBT issues.

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