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Colombia’s first openly gay congressman to seek re-election

Mauricio Toro elected in 2018

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Colombian Congressman Mauricio Toro. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Vega)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The first openly gay man elected to Colombia’s congress says he plans to run for a second term in 2022.

“I think that I will be re-elected to the House of Representatives,” Congressman Mauricio Toro told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 during a Zoom interview from Bogotá, the Colombian capital.

Toro, 38, is a member of the Green Alliance, a center-left party known as “Alianza Verde” in Spanish.

Voters elected him in 2018. Colombian Sen. Angélica Lozano, a bisexual Colombian senator and Green Alliance member who is married to Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, is the only other openly LGBTQ person in the Congress.

Toro after his election told the Blade his agenda “is not only an agenda for the LGBTI community.” He reiterated that point on Sept. 21.

“The needs of the LGBTI community are not only the guarantee that we have the same rights as any other Colombian,” said Toro. “[They are] the right to a dignified and quality job, the right to financing of higher education, the right to a health care system that provides us with quality care, the right to social protest, the right to enjoy a healthy environment and the right today to have and to create a business and generate jobs.”

Toro told the Blade the main pillars of his platform remain entrepreneurship “as a model of economic development,” more funding for Colombia’s public education system, innovation and increased access to technology. Toro stressed LGBTQ Colombians — along with everyone else in the country — will benefit from this agenda.

“We started with those elements from the base,” he said. “We said well, as a community we also want the same as any Colombian in addition to reinforcing our rights.”

Congress not responsible for LGBTQ rights advances

Colombia is among the Latin American countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry. Transgender people are also able to legally change their name and gender on identification cards and other government documents without surgery.

Then-President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño in 2016 signed a peace agreement that specifically acknowledged LGBTQ Colombians as victims of the decades-long conflict that killed more than 200,000 people and called for their participation in the country’s political process.

“Colombia is a country that leads Latin America in terms of the rights and guarantees that have been granted to the LGBTI community,” said Toro. “Today we have on paper all of the rights that a Colombian citizen who is heterosexual has.”

Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBTQ rights group, on Sept. 15 issued a report that notes 226 LGBTQ people were reported murdered in the country in 2020. This figure is more than twice the number of LGBTQ Colombians — 107 — who Colombia Diversa said were known to have been killed in 2019.

Sergio Urrego, 16, in 2014 died by suicide after administrators and a psychologist at his Roman Catholic high school in Bogotá bullied him because he was gay. A court in May sentenced Amanda Castillo, the school’s former principal, to more than eight years in prison.

Toro told the Blade that LGBTQ rights advances in Colombia have come from the country’s Constitutional Court, and not Congress.

“They have been given to us on paper. What’s the problem? It is the implementation of them because these rights have not been won through the Congress,” he said.

“A law is much more explicit because a law has defined chapters and articles and defines the mechanisms of how a right should be applied and the same government is assigned the duty of regulating each of these applications,” added Toro.

Toro specifically criticized President Iván Duque, noting he has asked for congressional hearings over what he described as his government’s failure to implement an LGBTQ public policy that Santos announced before he left office. Toro also noted he has introduced bills that would require political parties to have at least one openly LGBTQ representative and implement an economic development plan that specifically advances rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Green Alliance has also formed “Verdes a Colores,” a group that seeks to elect LGBTQ people to local councils, mayorships and other public offices across Colombia.

“Together with the alternative parties, we have been able to work together a lot to guarantee the protection of our community’s fundamental rights,” said Toro, specifically referring to his party.

“I am the only openly gay congressman in Colombia and I am very alone,” he added. “We are around 300 (in the Congress) … I am fighting for our community’s flag, but with the support and encouragement of members of other parties that understand that this is a fight for equality, even though they are heterosexual.”

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Europe

LGBTQ Holocaust victims remembered on International Holocaust Memorial Day

Up to 15,000 gay men sent to concentration camps

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The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin on July 22, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Ordinary People is the theme for International Holocaust Memorial Day 2023 as around the globe the day is set aside for everyone to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution.

The Nazis targeted anyone they believed threatened their ideal of a “pure Aryan race,” including Roma and Sinti people, disabled people, LGBTQ people, political opponents and others.

In a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania, whose ambassador, Robert S. Gilchrist, is openly gay, a coalition consisting of other nation’s diplomatic missions to the Baltic nation, including Israel, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan and the European Commission noted:

“As we mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we commemorate the Holocaust of six million Jews, men, women and children, including more than 200,000 Jews murdered in Lithuania. We remember other communities who were also murdered: Roma, disabled persons, LGBTQI+ persons, Slavs and others. We do not forget that the Nazis committed these heinous crimes with the support of local collaborators throughout Europe. And we remember the heroism of countless people who, at great personal risk, stepped in to save thousands of Jews.”

Amy Gutmann, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, tweeted: “Today we remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the six million Jews, and millions of Roma, Sinti, Slavs, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+ individuals and political dissidents murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.” Gutmann added: “As my father, a German Jew forced to flee Germany in 1934 said, “Everything we do — and everything we don’t do — makes a difference.”

PinkNewsUK journalist Patrick Kelleher wrote:

“It is thought that up to 50,000 gay men received severe prison sentences under Nazi rule. According to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, most were sent to police prisons, but between 10,000-15,000 were sent to concentration camps.

Life for queer people in Weimar Germany was a very different picture to what it would become under the Nazis.

Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23, 2022 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

There were gay bars, there was a functioning queer scene — there was even an institute for sexual research, a concept that would be impossible to imagine in most European cities of the day.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, everything changed. In the years that followed, millions of Jews, alongside other minority groups, were rounded up, tortured and murdered in concentration camps, up until 1945.”

David Pressman, the U.S. ambassador to Hungary who arrived in that country with his husband and their two children last fall, also remembered the Holocaust in a tweet:

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European Union

European Court of Human Rights rules against Lithuania propaganda law

Children’s book author in 2019 challenged anti-LGBTQ statute

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(Bigstock photo)

The European Court of Human Rights on Monday ruled Lithuania’s anti-LGBTQ propaganda law violates the European Convention on Human Rights.

Author Neringa Dangvydė Macatė in 2019 filed a lawsuit against the law after Lithuanian authorities censured her children’s book that featured two same-sex couples.

The law specifically bans the distribution of information to minors that “expresses contempt for family values, encourages the concept of entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution of the republic of Lithuania and the Civil Code of the republic of Lithuania.” The court in April 2022 heard Macatė’s case.

Openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Bob Gilchrist is among those who have publicly criticized the law. Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, an openly gay Lithuanian MP who is running for mayor of Vlinius, the country’s capital, told the Washington Blade the ruling will bolster efforts to repeal the propaganda law.

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South America

Chilean government seeks to implement LGBTQ, intersex rights agenda

Conservative newspaper incorrectly reported ministry plans legislation

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The' LGBTIQA+ Roundtable'’s first year of work ended on Jan. 6, 2023. Forty-two organizations from across Chile participated. (Photo courtesy of the Women and Gender Equity Ministry)

A conversative Chilean newspaper’s article on Sunday that said the Women and Gender Equity Ministry was preparing to introduce a bill that would create an LGBTQ and intersex rights undersecretariat prompted mixed reactions across the country. 

The ministry in 2022 launched its first “LGBTIQA+ Roundtable” that includes representatives of different public institutions, organizations and Chilean LGBTQ and intersex activists who are working to improve the quality of life for the country’s queer community that over the last year has seen an increase in attacks and hate crimes.

LGBTQ and intersex rights in Chile have gained ground over the last decade.

Civil unions, marriage equality, transgender rights and an anti-discrimination law are some of the successes that took time to take effect. There is, however, no state institution or public policy that works to ensure historically discriminated LGBTQ and intersex Chileans are included. This is why activists feel the “LGBTIQA+ Roundtable” that President Gabriel Boric’s government is promoting is an unprecedented opportunity. 

Jaime Nazar, left, Javier Silva with their two children shortly after they married in Santiago, Chile, on March 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Forty-two organizations from across Chile participated in the roundtable during its first year, which culminated on Jan. 6 with the signing of an agreement between the Women and Gender Equity Ministry’s Women and Gender Equality Undersecretariat and the Interior and Public Safety Ministry’s Crime Prevention Undersecretariat to assist people across the country who are victims of anti-LGBTQ attacks. The roundtable at the same time also announced it will send a bill to Congress later in 2023 that would expand the ministry’s mandate to ensure “the LGBTIQA+ community is included.”

There has yet to be an announcement on the creation of an LGBTQ and intersex undersecretariat.

Most Chilean media outlets covered this report after El Mercurio published it on Sunday. José Antonio Kast, an extreme right-wing politician who is a former presidential candidate, on his Twitter account criticized what turned out to be inaccurate.

“Chile is poorer, more violent and insecure than a year ago and the inept government is dedicated to enlarge the State to deepen its ideological agenda, instead of solving social urgencies,” wrote the Republican Party leader. 

The ministry told the Washington Blade that “the roundtable with organizations from the LGBTIQA+ community has just been finalized.”

“One of the demands is to have an institutionality,” said the ministry. “During 2023 it will be defined which is the progressive path, while the anti-discrimination law is improved at the same time.”

Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo on her social media networks said “we met with LGBTQ+ organizations for seven months” and the ministry made “security, employment and health priorities.” 

“On the 1st we advanced in an agreement with (the Crime Prevention Undersecretariat) to properly address and for the long challenges we committed to propose an institutional mechanism,” said Vidal. 

Vidal said in an exclusive interview with the Blade before El Mercurio published its inaccurate report that “finding and giving answers to the demands of the LGBTIQA+ population in Chile is a commitment for President Gabriel Boric’s government that will not be put aside for anything.”

“We at the (Women and Gender Equality Ministry) have embraced the day-to-day needs that this community, in many cases, has to survive,” said Vidal from her office. “That is why, from our ministry, we have created this intergovernmental roundtable to have a fluid and permanent communication with LGBTIQA+ organizations.

Vidal added Boric “instructed us to move from discourse to action.” 

“We have to get to work. We have to implement the agreements,” said Vidal. “We can’t just make pretty announcements and that is our commitment. The commitment we have today is to work for women, for gender equity, for and with the entire population, in favor of all citizens and of those who lack the presence of the State.”

Chilean authorities after signing an agreement to provide additional government assistance to hate crimes victims. (Photo courtesy of the Women and Gender Equity Ministry)

The undersecretary told the Blade the need to incorporate the queer community into the ministry’s work is important because “the State, as of today, has no powers to specifically address the LGBTQ+ population.”

“We need to create a progressive path that, whether an institutional or other figure, allows us to implement public policies,” she said.

That supposed institutionality was the one that sparked controversy last Sunday and it will not be an easy path, regardless of the mechanism that Boric’s government ultimately chooses to implement.

“I think it is not going to be an easy process,” said Vidal. “It is not going to be a project that we can say, we are going to take them out at the end of the year, that is clear to us. Even today it is difficult to move forward with projects or the work that the ministry is doing because we currently have a Congress with political forces that are against inclusion and respect for diversity. This is present in our Congress, and it is also present in several Latin American countries.” 

Emilia Schneider, Chile’s first trans congresswoman, on the other hand told the Blade that “it seems to me that the announcement of an institutional framework for the LGBTI community within the Women’s Ministry, and also in what has been working with the Justice Ministry to advance in an institutional framework against discrimination, regarding the reform of the Anti-Discrimination Law are two fundamental steps to advance in dignity and rights for sexual diversities and dissidences.” 

Schneider said it is important “to make a permanent change in the State, which recognizes the importance of having a space that responds to the needs of the queer population and takes charge of combating inequality, discrimination and violence to which our community is exposed.” 

“It seems to me that this is one of the most important commitments, which if realized would be a fundamental legacy of this government in matters of sexual diversity and dissidence,” she said.

Ignacia Oyarzun, coordinator of public policies for Asociación OTD Chile, the country’s most important trans rights organization, said the implementation of an institutional framework to advance LGBTQ and intersex rights “is an advance that goes in the direction of establishing what will be a trans labor quota to achieve a greater integration of the community in society.”

Oyarzun noted employers do not hire people who are trans, or fire them without reason. This lack of employment opportunities, according to Asociación OTD Chile, makes trans people more vulnerable to violence.

Jorge Muñoz of Movimiento Organizado de Gays, Lesbianas, Trans y Heterosexuales (MOGALETH) in Puerto Montt, a city that is roughly 640 miles south of the capital of Santiago, also participated in the roundtable. Muñoz told the Blade that “any approach from the central power to civil society, and especially to the regions, is positive.” 

“In this context, we consider it an advance in terms of the demands of the collective in the struggle for the recognition of the historical violation of our rights,” said Muñoz. “The State’s recognition of mistreatment and hate speech towards dissidents has historically been centralized. The regions where we also suffer harassment, mistreatment, difficulties in access to health, education and work have been relegated throughout history. In this sense, what we value most is the recognition of our demands in the territorial context.”

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