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Latin American LGBT advocates visit U.S.

Michael K. Lavers, Alberto Moscoso Flor, Esteban Paulon, Diane Rodriguez, gay news, Washington Blade

A group of Latin American LGBT rights advocates toured the Washington Blade offices on Jan. 31 (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

The State Department has invited a group of Latin American LGBT rights advocates to the U.S. to meet with their American counterparts.

LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón; Alberto Moscoso Flor, executive director of the Civil Association for Social Development and Cultural Promotion of GLBT Freedom in Bolivia; Juan Fuentealba Álvarez of the Chilean It Gets Better Foundation; Paulina Torres Mora of “Beso Diverso” in Costa Rica; Deivis Ventura of the “Amigos Siempre Amigos” Network of Volunteers in the Dominican Republic; Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano, president of the Silueta X Association in Ecuador and Clauvo Velásquez of the Homosexual Community of Hope for the Loreto Region of Perú arrived in D.C. on Jan. 25 as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

The group met with former Human Rights Campaign President Elizabeth Birch, members of the Metropolitan Police Department and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer while in the nation’s capital. The advocates also toured the Washington Blade office on Jan. 31 where they met with this reporter and publisher Lynne Brown.

The group met with gay New York State Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell; Hetrick-Martin Institute CEO Thomas Krever; Adam Frankel of Human Rights Watch; staffers of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and All Out and gay blogger Andrés Duque while in New York.

The activists are scheduled to visit Texas and California before leaving the U.S. later this month.

“Our work is focused on showing other realities to LGBT kids and youth so they can have hope for the future and celebrate diversity,” Fuentealba told the Blade. “We believe that all players involved in the construction of our society play an important role in this goal. And newspapers, TV stations and the film industry, among others, are key elements on making a change.”

Rodríguez, a transgender woman who unsuccessfully sought a seat in the Ecuadorian Congress last year, filed a complaint against her South American country’s government with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights while in D.C.

She was able to receive an amended identity card without her birth name after she won a lawsuit in 2009, but it did not list her gender as female. Rodríguez told the Blade she was kidnapped for four hours in 2012 because of her advocacy efforts.

“I hope that the court will analyze my case and the case of transgender people who are coming behind me,” she said.

U.S. LGBT rights advocates who met with their Latin American counterparts welcomed the opportunity to do so.

“Human rights activism offers precious few opportunities to sit back, even just for an hour, and share information about the struggles and strategies of our peers,” IGLHRC Latin America and Caribbean Coordinator María Mercedes Gómez exclusively told the Blade, noting she and her colleagues discussed anti-LGBT violence in the region, bullying, access to health care and gender-appropriate identity cards during their meeting with the group on Wednesday. “We talked about the fact that those who are the most vulnerable to abuse are those who transcend and challenge prevailing gender roles — in other words, our struggle is not only about sexual orientation or gender identity, it is about the freedom of everyone to be who they are.”

“The State Department invited a remarkable group of young activists from across Latin America and the Caribbean, each a leader in his or her community,” added Beyer, who announced her candidacy against Maryland state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) late last month. “Their insights about common problems, derived from their own national experiences, were often diverse, and prompted some fascinating conversations.”

O’Donnell said in a press release his office released after his Feb. 3 meeting with the advocates that they discussed marriage rights for same-sex couples, anti-LGBT violence and efforts to curb bullying.

The New York lawmaker also talked about the important role he feels openly gay legislators can play in debates over the aforementioned issues. He highlighted his own experience with his fellow lawmakers during the 2011 debate on the Empire State’s same-sex marriage bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law.

“That way someone is always around when legislation is being debated, not an outside person or group, but one of their own, a colleague,” said O’Donnell.

The State Department has previously invited Latin American LGBT rights advocates to the U.S.

Six Colombian activists visited D.C., Iowa and California last April. A group of LGBT rights advocates from Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Panamá, Costa Rica and México visited the U.S. in 2012.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and two Colombian advocacy groups – Colombia Diversa and Caribe Afirmativo – have organized two trainings over the last year designed to encourage LGBT people to become more involved in the South American country’s political process. These gatherings are part of the USAID-backed LGBT Global Development Partnership that will contribute $11 million over the next three years to activist organizations in Ecuador and other developing countries.

Two Cuban LGBT rights advocates – Ignacio Estrada Cepero and Wendy Iriepa Díaz – met with Casa Ruby CEO Ruby Corado, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and others last year while in the U.S.

A number of Russian LGBT rights advocates have visited D.C. and other U.S. cities in recent months ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that begin on Thursday in Sochi, Russia.

Latvian LGBT rights advocate Kaspars Zailitis is also in the U.S. on another State Department-sponsored trip.

06
Feb
2014

Brazil’s most populous state to allow same-sex marriage

Toni Reis, Brazil, gay news, Washington Blade

Brazilian LGBT activist Toni Reis (Photo courtesy of Toni Reis)

A São Paulo court on Thursday ordered notaries to begin offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples without a judge’s approval.

The decision, which will take effect in Brazil’s most populous state in 60 days, comes after the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court ruled in May 2011 that gays and lesbians can enter into civil unions. A São Paulo judge in June 2011 ruled two men could convert their civil union into a marriage — 206 of these unions have been converted into marriages in the state.

Alagoas in January became the first Brazilian state to extend marriage to same-sex couples without judicial approval, while Bahia on the country’s northeast coast late last month followed suit. Rio Grande do Sol and the Federal District that includes the Brazilian capital of Brasilia also allow gays and lesbians to marry.

The Brazilian government announced in 2003 it would recognize same-sex unions legally performed outside the country for immigration purposes. Authorities in 2008 simplified these regulations.

“It is a very important decision,” gay Brazilian Congressman Jean Wyllys told the Washington Blade. “And like the Constitution says, in its Article 226, that the state should facilitate the conversation of stable unions into marriage and it also says people are equal under the law, many same-sex partners demanded this in the court. What the judges are doing is complying with the Constitution, recognizing the rights of same-sex partners to enter into civil marriage.”

In spite of the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court’s 2011 decision, Rio de Janeiro and many other states have yet to implement it. Wyllys has introduced a proposal that would amend the Brazilian Constitution to recognize same-sex civil marriage throughout the country. A bill that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot has languished in Congress since the mid-1990s.

“Justice is doing what should have already been done in the Congress and it deserves our applause,” Wyllys said. “The lack of a bill that ends this unjust discrimination, violation of the Federal Constitution and all the international human rights treaties, has left many partners to seek justice. Justice is doing its job well. Those of us who are missing are the lawmakers and the federal government that remains deaf to the call of millions of people who only want to be equal under the law.”

LGBT activist Felipe Pasqualotto shared Wyllys’ criticisms of the Brazilian government’s response to same-sex marriage and other issues.

“Even though São Paulo is just following the Supreme Court decision, it is a big step for Brazil considering we have been quite silent regarding human rights, especially gay [issues,]” he told the Blade.

The São Paulo ruling comes slightly more than a week after the Uruguay House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to legally marry in the South American country. Same-sex couples have been able to tie the knot in neighboring Argentina and Mexico City since 2010.

The Mexican Supreme Court on Dec. 5 unanimously struck down a law in the state of Oaxaca that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. A Colombian Senate committee on the same day approved a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. (The country’s highest court ruled in June 2011 that gays and lesbians will be able to formalize their relationships in two years if lawmakers don’t tackle the issue.)

Lawyer Alder Martins told the Blade he believes internal Brazilian politics continue to play more of a role in the expansion of legal recognition to same-sex couples than recent developments in other Latin American countries.

“I don’t believe recent developments in Mexico, Colombia and Uruguay have influenced this process,” Toni Reis, president of the Brazilian Association of Gays, Lesbians and Transgenders (ABGLT in Portuguese) added. “It’s a question of implementing Brazilian law.”

Costa Rica to consider legal recognition for gay couples

Meanwhile, the Costa Rican government announced on Monday it supports the extension of limited legal recognition of same-sex couples in the Central American country.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda opposes nuptials for gays and lesbians, but her government urged lawmakers in a Dec. 7 press release to consider once again a measure that would extend inheritance, hospital visitation and other rights to same-sex couples.

“We hope that the Congress will continue to move forward with the bill and discuss the merits of the case and once and for all fill this legal void,” the government said in a press release. “The government urges respect and tolerance during this discussion that will take place in the Congress, the corresponding body which will take up this decision. Similarly it will respect the position of each deputy on this issue.”

The country’s highest court in 2010 struck down a referendum that sought to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Lawmakers who have repeatedly postponed debate on extending legal rights to same-sex couples are scheduled to potentially consider the proposal on April 30. The country’s Roman Catholic church and other religious leaders have spoken out against any attempt to do so.

Francisco Madrigal Ballestero of the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights in Central America (CIPAC,) described the measure to the Blade earlier this week as “a project that was born partly out of fear.” He further categorized it as “an administrative exit to recognize unions with certain aggravating circumstances.”

“It is not either marriage or civil union, it is a legal figure type contract that gives rights to two people to live together,” Madrigal said. “We believe that this project does not solve the problem of citizenship that we have as LGBT populations, and it is for this reason that this project is not supported by the majority of organizations who work on human rights and sexual diversity.”

Madrigal also pointed out “we don’t see a quick exit” on the issue because the Costa Rican Constitutional Court has said it is the responsibility of the country’s Congress to decide the issue. “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court could choose to take this particular Costa Rican case,” he said. “We are aware above all the commission, like the court, will take its time to resolve it.”

A CIPAC poll earlier this year found 67 percent of LGBT Costa Ricans support civil unions, compared to only 22 percent who back the president’s proposal and 11 percent who endorse marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“From the people it’s no big deal,” José Chaves, general manager of Gay Tours that operates tours and other activities for gay visitors to Manuel Antonio National Park and other parts of the country, told the Blade. “We are not having manifestations of people in the streets saying like, ‘no, that should not be like that.’ It’s more like ‘of course, let the gay people have the rights and it’s no problem.’ But on the other hand it’s all these people in the government and the church from inside of the government that’s working against it.”

Pete Thelen, a co-owner of the Windy City Times who owns two vacation homes near Manuel Antonio National Park, agreed.

“Most Costa Ricans are a live-and-let-live kind of people, so if it doesn’t affect them, they don’t really mind it,” he told the Blade. “If civil unions would go through, I don’t think it would be a problem for most Costa Ricans. We’ve never had any problems with our neighbors. They’ve accepted us.”

21
Dec
2012