January 11, 2007
Mexican state near Texas passes gay union law
Mexico City – The northern state of Coahuila, a mining and ranching region south of Texas, approved gay civil union Thursday, becoming the second area in Mexico to give legal status to homosexual partnerships. Legislators in the state Congress voted 20-13 for a bill that gives gays greater rights than a similar law backed by Mexico City last November.
“It is more like a civil marriage,” said Silvia Solis, a gay rights activist in the capital. She said Coahuila would grant social security benefits to both members of a homosexual union, an important demand of gay campaigners. The law was promoted by Coahuila’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, which rules the state. Coahuila once formed a state with Texas, which was part of Mexico before the United States annexed much of what is now the U.S. Southwest in the mid-19th century.
The Argentine capital Buenos Aires legalized same-sex unions in 2002, in a move hailed as a first in Latin America.
January 30, 2007
Gay Man From Mexico Wins U.S. Asylum
An immigration judge who previously denied a gay man’s asylum bid on the grounds that he could conceal his sexual orientation if he returned to his native Mexico reversed the decision Tuesday. In allowing Jorge Sota Vega to remain in the United States, Judge John D. Taylor said that gays should not be required to dress or act a certain way to avoid persecution and that Vega’s lawyers proved he would be at risk if he were deported to Mexico.
Vega’s case attracted attention from national gay rights groups when Taylor denied his application and said that Vega could live safely in Mexico because he did not look gay and could hide the fact that he was. "It seemed to us this is a real double standard," said Jon W. Davidson, legal director of Lambda Legal. "Courts don’t deny asylum to someone based on their political beliefs by saying, ‘If you just didn’t tell other people what you believed, you would be fine.’"
Vega, 38, lived in Tuxpan and Guadalajara before he fled to the United States. He said in his 2004 asylum bid that he was beaten by police and told by authorities in Mexico he would be killed. Now a New York resident, Vega appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The San Francisco-based court sent the case back to immigration court last year
January 30, 2007
Transgendered in Coahuila
by Jeremy Schwartz
On a recent swing through Saltillo, Coahuila, to report on the state’s new gay civil union law, I got a tour of Saltillo’s gay underground from activist Aida Badillo of the Eux, Arte y Sida group. We toured the city’s first openly gay nightclub as well as a clandestine after-hours spot frequented by many closeted Coahuila residents who don’t want to be seen in public. We ended on the barren outskirts of Saltillo, at the depressing Zone of Tolerance, a walled off area of legal prostitution found outside many Mexican cities.
Here’s a snippet that didn’t make it into the story:
On a bitterly cold Saturday night, four transvestite prostitutes huddled around an empty bar in Saltillo’s Zone of Tolerance. Even within Coahuila’s gay community, the transgendered are marginalized and abused, says Badillo, director of a Coahuila AIDS education organization. Badillo explains that transgendered residents in Coahuila face basically two career choices: hair stylist or sex worker.
Things are particularly extreme for poor transsexuals, Badillo said. Lacking money for proper operations, many will inject their backsides and chests with cooking oil. Some die in the process. A transvestite named Juanis, who said she was in her 30s and was born in a small ranch town, was excited about Coahuila’s legalization of gay civil unions.
“We always leave the house worrying about what’s going to happen once we walk out the door,” said Juanis, who has short, frizzy blond hair. “Hopefully this will give us more respect and make us more sure of ourselves in front of society.” A solitary client wondered in and the workers asked him if he would take advantage of the new law and “marry” a gay partner. The man said he would like to, but his family wouldn’t accept it.
February 1, 2007
Lesbians form Mexico’s first gay civil union
Monterrey, Mexico (Reuters) – Two lesbians have formed Mexico’s first gay civil union in a landmark ceremony in one of the world’s most Roman Catholic countries. Dressed in black jackets, Karla Lopez and Karina Almaguer, both 29, became Mexico’s first gay "civil partners" on Wednesday, in Coahuila, a mining and ranching region bordering Texas.
"It is time we Mexicans begin to discuss these type of questions, without taboos, without prejudice," David Sanchez, the only openly gay federal congressman, said on Thursday. "It’s a very historic moment." Last year, a Catholic bishop in Coahuila said long-term gay couples needed legal protection, but many in Mexico’s Catholic Church strongly oppose gay civil unions. The law recognizing gay unions, which was passed on January 11, gives homosexual couples similar rights to heterosexual married couples.
"The most important part is the right over property," said Armando Luna, deputy legal director of the Coahuila state government. "They can decide if the worldly goods that they have or acquire remain as personal property or if they are added to the civil partnership," Luna said. Mexico is the world’s second-biggest Catholic country, after Brazil.
Coahuila’s civil union law also grants social security benefits to both members of a homosexual union, an important demand of gay campaigners. Coahuila, west of the city of Monterrey, once was part of a larger state that included Texas, which was part of Mexico before the United States annexed much of what is now the U.S. Southwest in the mid-19th century. Mexico City legislators backed a similar law in November, which takes effect in March. Gay couples in the capital plan to form lines at each municipal office in a show of strength on the first day of civil unions there.
Sanchez, a leftist deputy, said he will introduce a bill to amend the constitution to help transsexuals officially change their sex. Under the bill, transsexuals would be able to get new birth certificates that showed they were born as the gender they choose.
(Additional reporting by Gunther Hamm)
March 05, 2007
Mexican singer breaks gay taboo
A Mexican pop star has revealed to fans he is gay, breaking a taboo in a country where it is highly unusual for celebrities to make suchstatements.
Christian Chavez, 23, belongs to RBD, a band that emerged from popular TV soap Rebelde (Rebel). He said he did not "want to keep on lying" about his life, after pictures emerged of him with a man apparently getting married in Canada. The announcement had taken "a lot of bravery", one Mexican columnist wrote. Yuriria Sierra asked in Excelsior newspaper: "Why has no Mexican public figure… felt comfortable enough to openly express their sexual preference?" Mexican gay rights activist Sergio Villarreal said he considered the singer to represent "a new way of seeing things, less prejudiced and more open".
"Christian Chavez’s decision symbolises this new way of seeing life, and raises hope of a more inclusive future with more respect for differences."
The star, known for his ever-changing hair colours, was apparently pictured signing documents and exchanging rings with a man in 2005, the year in which gay marriages became legal in Canada. Chavez said the photos showed a part of him that he had not been willing to discuss previously "in fear of rejection, of criticism, but especially for my family and its consequences".
"I ask them from the bottom of my heart, not to judge me for being honest and to feel proud of who they are" Christian Chavez, to his fans "Although I’m scared and filled with uncertainty, I know that I can rely on the support of my fans. Their love is bigger than all of this. I ask them from the bottom of my heart, not to judge me for being honest and to feel proud of who they are and never make the same mistake I did." He added: "Tolerance to diversity!"
RBD have been successful across Latin America and have also gained fans among the Spanish-speaking community in the US. The group made the news in February 2006 when three people were crushed to death outside an autograph-signing session in Brazil. Thousands of fans had surged through security barriers in Sao Paulo.
March 5, 2007
New law propels gay rights in Mexico, State moves boldly with civil unions as nation watches
by S. Lynne Walker
Saltillo, Mexico – Gabby and Ana are in love. So are Marco Antonio and Juan Carlos. Under a sweeping new law allowing same-sex couples to form civil unions, they are planning to turn their love into a legal commitment. Legislators in the dusty northern border state of Coahuila have stunned Mexico by giving same-sex couples property and inheritance rights long reserved for married heterosexuals. It is a first for this predominantly Roman Catholic country, a measure so swift and so bold that it surprised even the gay community. All of a sudden, gay rights are on the national agenda.
Since Coahuila’s Legislature voted 20-13 to pass the law in January, Julieta López, the congresswoman who introduced the legislation, has received calls from her counterparts in states stretching from Chihuahua to Chiapas. Even Puebla, a deeply religious state whose capital boasts 365 Catholic churches – one for every day of the year – is considering gay rights legislation. “There is going to be a domino effect across the country,” said David Sánchez, 45, an openly gay federal congressman with the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. “This movement cannot be stopped.”
Mexico City already had passed a gay civil union law that goes into effect March 16, but it took seven years to get that legislation through the City Council. Coahuila’s law took three months from the day it was introduced until the day it went into practice. And unlike Mexico City’s law, once same-sex couples have registered in Coahuila, the state protects their rights no matter where they live in the country. “This does not have to do with morality. It has to do with legality,” said López, a psychologist who is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. “As human beings, we have to protect them as they are. It has to do with civil liberty.”
Gay couples from throughout Mexico have begun showing up at the state registrar’s office, encouraged by an open invitation extended by Coahuila’s ambitious young governor. Humberto Moreira, 40, a PRI member, is the first governor in Mexico to appoint a top official to handle the politically sensitive issues of diversity and inequality. What is most surprising is that Coahuila’s law has drawn little opposition in this very Catholic, very conservative country. Bishop Raúl Vera, who heads the Catholic Diocese of Saltillo, has declined to condemn the law. While Vera insists that “two women or two men cannot get married,” he also sees gays as a vulnerable minority.
“We cannot be arch-conservatives and say, ‘Don’t do that,’ ” Vera said. “Today we live in a society that is composed in a different way. There are people who do not want to marry under the law or in the church. They need legal protection. I should not abandon these people.” Vera’s stance outrages conservatives.
“We are dealing a death blow to the family,” said Esther Quintana, state president of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN. Quintana, who is a lawyer, argues the legislation is not only flawed but redundant, because Mexican law already protects property rights regardless of sexual orientation. Further, she said the legislation is weak because it allows one partner to dissolve the union without a legal challenge from the other. The PAN, which voted in a bloc against the law, plans to challenge it in court. For Quintana, the new legislation is part of a larger strategy by gay groups to push for more rights.
She worries it is only a matter of time before public schools begin teaching children about homosexuality. “In this second phase, they will begin this indoctrination of children that homosexuality is normal,” Quintana said, her voice rising with anger. “What comes next? Permitting homosexuals to adopt children.” She says gay groups have initiated a nationwide campaign to push Mexican society to first accept homosexuals, then see them as victims. Finally, Quintana said, “all of us who are in favor of the family will be Satanized as intolerant, the worst of the worst.”
“We are not condemning homosexuals. They are people like you and me,” Quintana said. “But we do not agree that their relationship should be put on the same level as marriage.”
Years of hostility
Only recently have gays begun to step out of the shadows in Coahuila. In this desert state of tumbleweeds and cowboy hats and ranchera music, public displays of affection between two men or two women were not only frowned upon, they were potentially dangerous. A few weeks before the law was passed, Saltillo police beat a woman they accused of kissing another woman in public. In another incident, two men suspected of being gay were jailed. Many in the Catholic Church also have been hostile toward gays.
“When we had our first weekend retreat, a priest told me, ‘Send them home at night or there will be an orgy.’ That mentality is so pervasive,” said the Rev. Robert Coogan, who works with Saltillo’s gay community. Coogan, a 54-year-old New Yorker, defends the rights of his gay parishioners. “Some of the other priests tell me I should not let them cross dress,” Coogan said one recent Saturday as he watched a talent show staged by a gay youth group supported by the church. “But once you tell them that God loves them unconditionally, then you can’t tell them, ‘But God doesn’t love you like that.’ It doesn’t work.” Once a month, Coogan celebrates a special Mass for gays.
“I think now is the time that gay people can embrace their orientation without shame in Mexico,” he said. Still, gays in Coahuila continue to confront discrimination in the workplace, in their social lives and in their own families. “Yes, there are laws that prohibit discrimination . . . but we have to educate society little by little,” said Noé Ruiz, 27, an unemployed schoolteacher who helps run the gay youth group. “We are going forward with firm steps, but we are not going to run.” Many of Ruiz’s friends have suffered when their sexual orientation became public.
Deyamira Martínez, 29, a math teacher at a private Catholic junior high school, has been targeted by parents enraged over her appearance on a local television program last month to talk about life as a lesbian in Saltillo, Coahuila’s capital. “Everything good about me has been erased,” Martínez said. “I do not drink. I do not smoke. I have had only four partners in my life. I am not going to damage their children.” Sergio Cazares is afraid to tell his mother he is gay.
“I don’t care what other people say,” Cazares, 21, said as he held hands with his partner outside a gay bar in Saltillo. “The thing that hurts me the most is that when I say that I am going to live with him, my mother will reject me. The law has made things better for us as a couple, but not with our families.” Despite these challenges, gays are determined to make a place for themselves in Mexican society. After living together for six years, Gabby Padilla, 34, an accountant, and her partner, Ana, plan to register under Coahuila’s new law.
“It’s kind of a marriage,” she said. “You say that you love her, that you’ll care for her and never separate. Then there’s a huge fiesta. Just like a wedding.” Marco Antonio Mata and his partner, Juan Carlos, who have been living together for nine months, plan to register in December. When Mata was 17, he helped start the gay youth church group, which is named after a saint. Mata, 21, a marketing student who works part time as a sales manager, exemplifies Mexico’s new generation of gays: outspoken about his sexual orientation, articulate about his role in society. “People wanted us to be invisible,” he said. “Now, we are raising our hands and saying that we want to be part of society. We are saying that we exist.”
With an estimated 10 million gays in Mexico, politicians suddenly are scrambling to meet the demands of a potentially powerful voting bloc. The PRI is talking about including gay rights provisions in its national platform for the first time in the party’s history. “The country is totally changing,” said Sánchez, the PRD congressman. “This is going to help to change the culture, to reduce homophobia, to reduce aggression against gays.”
Tomorrow, Sánchez plans to introduce legislation that would allow transgender and transsexual men and women to change their gender and their name. In September, he plans to introduce Mexico’s first gay marriage legislation. Although he doesn’t think it will pass, &Sacuteanchez said it will “accelerate the discussion of the issue.” For the momentum to continue, Sánchez said gay men and women must follow his lead and participate in the political process. “We have to run for Congress, we have to run for the state Legislature, we have to run for mayor,” he said. “And in the future, why not the presidency?
March 15, 2007
In Mexico, gay couples ready for civil unions
by Laurence Iliff
Mexico City – Like many getting hitched for the first time, Antonio Medina is more than a little nervous about Friday’s ceremony – not to mention the intense media scrutiny. Because unlike any other Mexico City resident before him, Medina is joining in a civil union with another man. "Right now, we are in the eye of the hurricane and we are going to be closely watched," said Medina, 38, a prominent journalist who covers social issues like sexual diversity. "After four years and three months, we are happy. I don’t know if we will be old men walking together, but either way, it is also our right to divorce." Friday is D-Day in the latest culture battle in Mexico as hundreds of supporters of the capital’s "living partnerships law" are set to cement their unions in a celebration that has some Dallas activists as pleased as their Mexican counterparts.
"It’s helping out our cause locally by having our mother countries stand up for us," said Jesse Garcia, spokesperson for Valiente, a Dallas/Fort Worth-based Latino group that works for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights – alluding to similar laws in Spain, Argentina and elsewhere. "Dallas is 40 percent Latino and in 10 years it will be 50 percent Latino. This is forcing the issue to the dinner table and doing so in a positive way because it is something the government is sanctioning." Conservative lawmakers from Mexico’s ruling National Action Party, or PAN, and bishops from the Roman Catholic Church have vowed to campaign against any type of same-sex unions.
"We should not insult homosexuals or discriminate against them or hurt them, but we should not legalize something that is anti-natural," said Guillermo Bustamante, president of the National Parents Union, which is working to overturn the civil union laws. At stake is a family-oriented, macho culture that is being threatened by globalized youths who are adopting U.S. lifestyles for better or worse, many on both sides of the issue agree.
Just in the last month:
_Pop star Christian Chavez, a member of the group RBD that is red hot in Latin America and the U.S., became the first Mexican star to publicly declare he is gay.
_The Mexican Supreme Court ruled that soldiers with the HIV virus cannot be forced out of the armed forces.
_The Mexico City government agreed to allow conjugal visits for homosexual prisoners.
And a majority of Mexico City legislators said they would quickly decriminalize abortion. The proposal would make abortion legal in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. Dallas gay activist Jesus Chairez, who writes the Internet blog "Si Soy Gay" (http://sisoyglbt.blog.com), said people like himself who often visit Mexico might end up living south of the border permanently.
"I wish we had it in Texas because it (a civil union) really shows a commitment . . . that you’re not taking the relationship lightly," he said. "When I go to Mexico City and fall in love, now I may have somebody ask me to get married." The Mexico City law, the first of its kind to be passed in Mexico, has already inspired a similar one in Coahuila. The northern border state’s law took effect first, in January. Two women from Midland, Texas, were among the first to get hitched there after proving they were in Mexico legally. Texas does not recognize the law, although the rest of Mexico does.
In conservative Coahuila there have only been four unions, while nearly 600 couples have stated their intention to make use of the Mexico City law. Both laws allow the couples some of the rights of marriage, such as inheritance and hospital visits, but not adoption or joint custody of children. They also allow couples to take advantage of anti-discrimination laws that protect them in the workplace and when seeking housing, for example. The unions can be dissolved, just like a divorce.
Manuel Nava, a publicist, plans a civil union with his boyfriend later this year, but thinks the Mexico City law is too limited because it is only recognized in the capital. "But the important thing, of course, is to continue moving forward," said Nava, 40. That’s what causes the greatest fear in the Catholic Church, which claims 90 percent of Mexico’s 105 million people.
"What the church is against is that they want to equate homosexual unions with marriage," said Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Mexico City archdiocese. "It’s our point of view that this is a law created out of thin air and poorly thought out." Some neighborhood groups in the Mexican capital are trying to get the city to prohibit same-sex commitment ceremonies in public areas like parks because they say they set a bad example for children. But Medina, the journalist, said same-sex couples are keeping an extremely low profile, which is why he and partner Jorge Cerpa Velazquez, 31, are spending so much of their time talking to the media. No one else wants to.
"What we want are rights," said Medina, adding that "marriage" in a Mexican context is a religious concept that many gays don’t believe in. Tito Vasconcelos, a prominent gay activist, businessman and artist, said the widespread support being given to pop star Chavez by his fans could mark a turning point, given his impact on youth culture. Chavez declared that he was gay after photos surfaced of his civil union ceremony with another man in Canada. The singer said he was being blackmailed and so decided to go public.
"It would be important for him to register (his civil union) here," said Vasconcelos, who also plans to tie the knot today. "It’s great that he accepts his homosexuality, but that would be the next step."
March 18, 2007
Mexico City unites first gay couple
Mexico City, AP – An economist and a journalist became the first couple united under Mexico City’s new gay civil union law, kissing while a string orchestra played "Besame Mucho" and police cordoned off streets around a white wedding tent filled with guests. The new law, which took effect on Friday, grants same-sex couples inheritance rights and social benefits similar to those enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. It reflects a growing acceptance of homosexuality in what has traditionally been a macho society, as well as a willingness by Mexico City — the second municipality in the country to legalize same-sex unions — to join the international debate on gay marriage.
After dating for four years and three months, journalist Antonio Medina, 38, and economist Jorge Cerpa, 31 were united in front of the government offices for Mexico City’s Iztapalapa borough, signing documents under a banner that read "Civil Union Law: Your right to choose." Dozens of supporters, including several couples who plan to register their own same-sex unions soon, waved rainbow flags, showered the couple with flower petals and yelled "Bravo!" Firecrackers exploded nearby.
"With this law, a history of exclusion comes to an end," Medina said. "Today, the love that before did not dare speak its name has now entered the public spotlight." City officials also praised the law. "Love now has one fewer obstacle," said Mexico City lawmaker Victor Hugo Cirigo, one of the biggest supporters of the new statute, which activists have been seeking for the past five years. Medina and Cerpa were to spend the weekend celebrating at a Mexican beach, although they plan a longer honeymoon to Canada in September.
The left-dominated legislature of Mexico City, a semi-independent zone with some of the same powers as states, passed the law in November. The capital was the first in the predominantly Roman Catholic country to approve such a law, but a similar measure later approved in the northern state of Coahuila went into effect first, at the end of January. On Jan. 31, a lesbian couple officially registered their union, which is being celebrated by liberal lawmakers but condemned by the ruling National Action Party.
Coahuila state lawmakers from the conservative party of President Felipe Calderon have filed a court challenge claiming that gay unions violate constitutional provisions protecting the family.
The Catholic Church in Mexico also has spoken out forcefully against the law. But that has not discouraged the more than 100 lesbian and gay couples who gathered on Valentine’s Day in Mexico City’s central plaza, the Zocalo, to announce their intentions to register their unions.
Lending support to the cause, singer Christian Chavez of the Mexican pop group RBD announced earlier this month that he is gay after photos of him kissing and exchanging rings with another man in Canada surfaced on the Internet. "I don’t want to keep on lying and lie to myself because of fear," Chavez said in a statement posted on RBD’s Web site. He received an outpouring of support from fans, who lauded his courage.
March 16, 2007
Same-sex couples register their unions in Mexico City
by Marion Lloyd, Houston Chronicle
Mexico City — Under a giant white tent, a journalist and a banker became one of the first same-sex couples to legally register their union in the Mexican capital Friday. It was a euphoric, rainbow-flag-waving ceremony that marked a new law allowing domestic partnerships to formalized — passed by the Federal District, the area of Mexico City proper that’s home to some 8 million people, against opposition from the Catholic Church and conservative groups. The law provides guarantees regarding inheritances, pensions and other issues.
The district followed Coahuila state in northern Mexico, which authorized civil unions in January. But just a handful of couples in that border state have asserted their new rights, deterred by deep-rooted homophobia in the conservative ranching state, gay rights activists said. The activists now hope that the Federal District, considered the most socially liberal area of the country, will set an example nationwide. On Valentine’s Day, 583 prospective couples registered their intent to join in civil unions during an outdoor ceremony in the capital’s giant central plaza.
"It’s a great step on the path to full recognition of our rights," said Antonio Medina, 38, a journalist and gay rights activist. He and his boyfriend of four years, Jorge Cerpa, a 31-year-old banker, formalized their union before more than 100 invited guests, including friends, legislators and other activists.
The law, enacted in November, gives gay couples the legal right to inherit property and pensions and share financial responsibilities. The law is also open to heterosexual couples who prefer not to get married and can formalize platonic relationships such as an elderly person and a caregiver. Most of the city’s boroughs began accepting applications on Friday, while officials in Iztapalapa and a few other boroughs allowed candidates to apply early in order to hold kick-off ceremonies. In addition to Medina and Cerpa, at least two other couples formalized their unions Friday. Candidates are required to pay a $4 fee, provide proof that they are not married and wait an average of 10 days for confirmation. Unlike the Coahuila law, which is open to all Mexicans, the Mexico City legislation is restricted to capital residents.
Currently, at least four states are debating civil unions laws, and activists say it’s only a matter of time before the measures pass nationwide. But church officials have vowed to block the measures.
"The Catholic Church doesn’t discriminate against homosexuals," said Hugo Valdemar, a spokesman for the Mexico City archdiocese, the world’s largest. "But you can’t equate heterosexual marriage with homosexual marriage, which the church opposes." Gay activists note that the new law provides far fewer rights than marriage. For example, civil union holders cannot adopt children, take out joint bank loans or access their partner’s medical benefits.
March 26, 2007
Abortion, same-sex civil unions split Mexico – Plans collide with nation’s Catholic roots
by Oscar Avila, Chicago Tribune
Mexico City – With the bells of Mexico City’s cathedral pealing above her, Judith Salgado joined protesters last week who called on God’s strength to defeat an attempt to liberalize abortion laws. Salgado marched to City Hall with a sign that read: "We are the majority." At a city office earlier in the week, Carmen Cortes had thanked God as she and her female partner entered into a same-sex civil union the second day after a new city law took effect. As they held hands, Cortes proclaimed the ceremony proof of a changing Mexico.
The different world views of Salgado and Cortes reflect a deep moral divide straining Mexico as the world’s second-largest Catholic nation contemplates public policies at odds with the church’s teaching. Leftist lawmakers in Mexico City and in the federal Senate are pushing measures that would legalize abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. Hundreds of abortion opponents, led by Mexico City’s Cardinal Norberto Rivera, marched Sunday to oppose the measure.
As Mexico City’s same-sex civil unions landed on the front pages last week, gay activists encountered conservative opposition as they vowed to spread the practice nationwide. The debate over such thorny questions has challenged a country that clings to its religious roots but also embraces the modernity of Western culture.
"For many, the changes are welcome. For a large percentage, they aren’t," said Alejandra Elizabeth Nunez, an official with the city registry who ratified Cortes’ civil union. "But this is something historic that is happening in our Mexico." Tito Vasconcelos, an actor and member of a coalition that lobbied for civil unions, said he felt like a proud parent on graduation day as he received word of couples applying. The northern state of Coahuila also approved the practice this year, and Vasconcelos has consulted with activists trying to expand the practice nationwide. Even though newspaper opinion polls found a majority willing to accept same-sex unions, Vasconcelos said homophobia is still a reality in this often macho society.
"These measures have created a lot of uneasiness. If we end up encountering hostility, we cannot be quiet. We have to expose it and then resolve it," he said. Guillermo Bustamante, president of the National Parents Union, a pro-family group, said the legalization of same-sex unions and abortion are part of an "aberrant" and "anti-natural" agenda that does not value life. Conservative groups have been especially mobilized by a proposal from Mexico City lawmakers to allow abortions in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. The current law in Mexico bans abortions except in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger.
Last week, leftist senators proposed a wider-reaching measure to legalize abortion nationwide. The measure is considered a long shot because of opposition from Mexico’s two other major parties and from more conservative parts of the country. Women’s groups in recent weeks have testified before lawmakers about the dangers they face. The government estimates 100,000 illegal abortions are performed each year nationally, but researchers put the number at 500,000 to 1 million.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
30 July 2007
Mexico allows gay conjugal visits
The prison system in Mexico City has begun permitting gay prisoners to have conjugal visits from their partners. The city authorities accepted a recommendation by a human rights commission which said the visits would help to end discrimination.
The decision follows a complaint by a man who said he had been refused permission to visit his partner in jail on the grounds they were homosexual. A 2003 Mexican law bans discrimination based on sexual preference.
"The Mexico City department of prisons and rehabilitation has allowed the first conjugal visit to an inmate with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual," the city’s human rights commission (CDHDF) said. It was, the commission said, " an important step in terms of non-discrimination regarding sexual preference". Prisoners are allowed conjugal visits in many Mexican jails, and most do not require the visitor to be married to the inmate.
Mexico City’s centre-left government has taken a series of controversial decisions, including allowing same-sex civil unions and legalising abortion, despite strong opposition from conservatives and religious groups.
August 25, 2007
"Gay Mexico City is coming of age"
Mexico City,(LIOWLB/Enkidu Magazine): Global Gay and Lesbian Tourism is booming and now the city authorities of Mexico City have finally discovered the growing importance of this market segment. Matt Skallerud, President of IGLTA ((International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association), was in Mexico last week, signing an agreement (a "Strategic Alliance") with Alejandra Barrales, Minister of Tourism in the Federal District (Mexico City). IGLTA is the world’s leading travel trade association committed gay and lesbian tourism and Lars Ivar Owesen-Lein Borge, general director of Enkidu Magazine have interviewed Matt Skallerud about Mexico City as a gay-friendly destination and the future of the Pink Market in general.
LIOWLB: What are, in your opinion, the advantages of Mexico City as a tourist destination?
MS: Mexico City is one of the few cities in North and South America with a strong European flavor… Of course more on the Spanish side of European culture, but European nonetheless. The only other city I find with such dynamism is Buenos Aires. With that culture comes some of the best restaurants, museums, nightlife and more one would come to expect from a first class city.
LIOWLB:. Do you perceive of Mexico City as a gay-friendly destination?
MS: Yes, I do.
MS: It seems that Mexico City is coming of age, so to speak, in terms of its acceptance of gays and lesbians. I do understand from talking with locals that outside of the Zona Rosa most gay people are still hesitant to hold hands in public, etc., but in general, that’s the way life is in most cities in North and South America as well. Also, the number of gay establishments available to gays & lesbians, as well as a growing local GLBT business networking climate, seems to indicate that Mexico City is definitely on a strong path towards greater acceptance of gays & lesbians and thus a more and more welcoming gay friendly destination.
LIOWLB:. How long have you stayed in Mexico City, and what are your impressions of the city?
MS: I stayed a week, and the last time I was in the city was 14 years ago. Gay life has grown a lot in those 14 years.
LIOWLB:. Have you had any opportunity to experience the gay scene of the city? What were your impressions?
MS: I thought it was fantastic. There was a different scene every night of the week… Something to be expected in a city so large, vibrant and dynamic.
LIOWLB:.. You are a highly successful pioneer in the development of internet sites focusing on the gay & lesbian market segment, and we would therefore like to ask you how do you perceive the future of the global "pink market" in general? How do you think the gay and lesbian market will develop in the future?
MS: Yes, absolutely. Once a market can be defined and established by any media, be that television, print or Internet, there will always be more and more pioneering companies seeking to reach that market through these media.
LIOWLB:. What are the characteristics of the gay and lesbian consumer community today? What makes this consumer community "different" from straight consumers?
MS: I’ve heard this said many times during my stay in Mexico City – "Straight by Day, Gay by Night". It’s cute. But it shows what we all know… That gay & lesbian travelers are as diverse as any other traveler. Some wish to go to museums… Others to beaches… Others perhaps come to go shopping. The one thing we all have in common is the social side of our character, which happens to be gay in this case. So we enjoy socializing and meeting other gay people, whether that is in a restaurant, a bar or any other GLBT social setting.
LIOWLB:. Mexican companies are still extremely hesitant to advertise and participate both in the local Diversity Press as well as in Community events like the Pride Parade. What is your advise to Mexican companies that consider approaching this market segment, but still have not taken the step?
MS: They will usually be hesitant because they are concerned about possible backlash by more conservative segments of their consumer demographic. I think they’ll find that although there could be some initial backlash, they will find that the positives of making outreach to the GLBT consumer (double income, no kids) will far outweigh any small negatives that the more conservative consumers may throw their way.
LIOWLB:. Will you come back to Mexico City to follow up to the recent agreement with the city authorities?
MS: I would like to come back before Christmas for sure… Just trying to pick the right dates.
LIOWLB:. Thank you very much.
IGLTA official homepage: http://www.traveliglta.com/
September 08, 2007
Learning Spanish . . . with a gay twist – Mexico school offers special courses for gay and lesbian students
by Julia Steinecke, Special to the Star
Cuernavaca, Mexico – Our teacher, Lety, is a sturdy butch lesbian with a ready smile. She stands beside a whiteboard and covers it with words and pictures to illustrate Mexico’s derogatory but colourful gay and lesbian slang. Mariposa is the word for butterfly and for a gay man. Lesbians are thought to wear only blue jeans, so their nickname is Levis – in Spanish, Livais or quiniento y uno, 501. I never thought I’d learn these things in a classroom, but this is no ordinary Spanish school. Cetlalic, or the Tlahuica Centre for Language and Cultural Exchange, takes its name from the original inhabitants of the city whose own language is seriously endangered. The centre was founded in 1987 as an alternative to the mainstream schools that draw thousands of tourists to Cuernavaca.
Cetlalic favours the methods of popular education where rote learning is replaced by participation and dialogue. Special-theme programs run throughout the year, including four gay and lesbian courses. "Twenty-five years ago, I met Holly Near," says school director Jorge Torres, referring to the American lesbian singer, "and she had a big influence on me." The staff, most of whom were straight, went to workshops to learn about gay and lesbian realities, and 11 years ago, the first LGBT program was launched. Now, students have options in January (the Winter LGBT Program, which I visited), June (In/Visibility: Lesbian Lives in Mexico and Coming Out: The Gay Men’s Experience in Mexico) and September (Opening Doors Gay and Lesbian Program). The slang we are learning today seems crass compared to the lofty ideals of Cetlalic, but it shows what Mexican gays and lesbians have to contend with.
Lety writes phrases on the board, waiting for us to figure them out. Le gusta el arroz con popote: "He likes his rice through a straw. "Blechhh!" say some students, while others laugh. The discussion ends with us teaching some English slang to the teachers. We go back to our homestays, armed with more insights into Mexican life. My host is a lesbian who lives with her four dogs in a comfortable house in the north end of the city. We go out to meet her younger girlfriend and my host tells me that at 25, she had a long-term relationship with a 55-year-old woman, so now she’s enjoying the other side of an inter-generational match.
Most Cetlalic students choose the homestay option and every morning, I hear them raving about the hospitality, great Spanish conversations and delicious cuisine. In the evening, some agonize about their protective house mothers who want to know what time they’ll be home. The school has more than a dozen gay, lesbian and bisexual hosts. The other students in my program are mild-mannered American gays and lesbians: a couple of retired schoolteachers, a corporate guy who likes to sketch, some activists and a youth worker/drag king. Most are visiting Mexico on their own, combining education and travel. We all bond immediately and spend most of our free time together, exploring the city, talking politics and laughing.
Most of them speak a halting, correct Spanish, while I blab rapidly, making mistakes everywhere. We study in open-air classrooms surrounded by gardens of fruit trees and ferns. Students from all the programs learn together by language level. My teacher, Roberto, acts out the words and reveals the subtleties of Mexican culture. I’ve never had so much fun learning the subjunctive. Morning classes are followed by afternoon charlas (discussions) and outings. One is to the home of Pascal Roy, a gay Québecois artist living in a sun-drenched villa filled with his paintings. I’m particularly taken with El Cazador, (The Hunter), which shows a child in a shady forest, wearing rubber boots, carrying a butterfly net, surrounded by ghostly blue elephants. We also chat with his friend, Lina Rodriguez, a local lesbian photographer and filmmaker working on a movie about women accused of witchcraft in Spain.
Other speakers come to the school, like Trini Gutierrez, who talks about the history of Mexico’s gay and lesbian movements. It’s interesting to learn that the very first lesbian group met in the home of legendary activist Nancy Cárdenas, who lived near Cuernavaca. Little did they know how much their movement would grow and flourish and that someday travellers would journey to this city from all over the world to study Spanish and be part of their gay and lesbian community.
Julia Steinecke’s trip was subsidized by Mexico Tourism Board, La Villa Hidalgo and Cetlalic.
September 17, 2007
Gay Rights Gain Ground Around Globe, Now mature in the west, gay power is growing worldwide, even in the land of machismo
by Joseph Contreras, Newsweek International
After eight years together, Gilberto Aranda and Mauricio List walked into a wedding chapel in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán last April and tied the knot in front of 30 friends and relatives. Aranda’s disapproving father was not invited to the springtime nuptials. For the newlyweds, the ceremony marked the fruit of the gay-rights movement’s long struggle to gain recognition in Mexico. The capital city had legalized gay civil unions only the month before. "After all the years of marches and protests," says Aranda, 50, a state-government official, "a sea change was coming."
The sea change spreads beyond Mexico City, a cosmopolitan capital that is home to a thriving community of artists and intellectuals.The growing maturity of the gay-rights movement in the West is having a marked effect on the developing world. In the United States, the Republican Party is in trouble in part because it has made a fetish of its opposition to gay marriage. At least some gays in big cities like New York question why they are still holding "pride" parades, as if they were still a closeted minority and not part of the Manhattan mainstream. Since 2001, Western European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain have gone even farther than the United States, placing gay and lesbian partners on the same legal footing as their heterosexual counterparts. And now, the major developing powers of Asia, Latin America and Africa are following the liberal road—sometimes imitating Western models, sometimes not—but in all cases setting precedents that could spread to the remaining outposts of official homophobia.
In Mexico, the declining clout and prestige of the Roman Catholic Church have emboldened gay-rights activists and their allies in state legislatures and city councils to pass new laws legalizing same-sex civil unions, starting with Mexico City in November. The rising influence of tolerant Western pop culture has encouraged gay men and lesbians to proclaim their sexuality in gay-pride marches like the one in the Brazilian city of São Paulo in June, which drew 3 million participants, according the event’s organizers. It was the largest ever in Brazil. Western models also helped inspire South Africa to legalize civil unions in November 2006, thus becoming the first country in the developing world to do so. In China, the trend goes back to the climate of economic reform that took hold in the 1980s, ending the persecution of the era of Mao Zedong, who considered homosexuals products of the "moldering lifestyle of capitalism." Among left-wing movements in many developing countries, globalization is a favorite scapegoat for all of the planet’s assorted ills. But even those who resist the West’s basically conservative free-market economic orthodoxy are quick to acknowledge the social liberalism—including respect for the rights of women and minorities of all kinds—that is the West’s main cultural and legal export. "I think it helped that Spain and other parts of Europe had passed similar laws," says longtime Mexican gay-rights activist Alejandro Brito. "These types of laws are becoming more about human rights than gay issues."
Key people have hastened the trend in some countries. Some activists single out a few political celebrities for de-stigmatizing their cause, including Nelson Mandela, who readily embraced British actor Sir Ian McKellen’s suggestion that he support a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual preference in South Africa’s first post-apartheid constitution, and former prime minister Tony Blair, whose government was the first to recognize civil partnerships between same-sex couples. They also point to activist judges in Brazil, South Africa and the European Court of Human Rights, who have handed down landmark rulings that unilaterally granted gay, lesbian and transgender communities new rights. These include a judicial order that gays be admitted into the armed forces of European Union member states. The biggest and perhaps most surprising change is in Latin America, the original home of machismo. In 2002, the Buenos Aires City Council approved Latin America’s first-ever gay-civil-union ordinance, and same-gender unions are the law of the land in four Brazilian states today. Last year an openly homosexual fashion designer was elected to Brazil’s National Congress with nearly a half a million votes. In August a federal-court judge in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul broke new legal ground when he ordered the national-health-care system to subsidize the cost of sex-change operations in public hospitals, thereby putting sexual "reassignment" on par with heart surgery, organ transplants and AIDS treatment as medical procedures worthy of taxpayer support. By the year-end, Colombia could become the first country in Latin America to grant gay and lesbian couples full rights to health insurance, inheritance and social-security benefits. A bill containing those reforms is working its way through the National Congress at present. And even Cuba has turned a corner. In the 1960s and early 1970s homosexuals in Cuba were blacklisted or even banished to forced-labor camps along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic priests and other so-called social misfits. HIV patients were locked away in sanitariums as recently as 1993. Several Cuban cities now host gay and lesbian film festivals. The hit TV program on the island’s state-run airwaves last year was "The Hidden Side of the Moon," a soap opera about a married man who falls in love with a man and later tests positive for HIV.
The push for "more modern ways of thinking" about minorities, feminists and homosexuals has roots that go back to the political ferment that shook the region in the late 1960s and 1970s, says Braulio Peralta, author of a 2006 book on gay rights in Mexico, "The Names of Rainbow." But it has gained in recent years, due in part to troubles in the Roman Catholic Church, which includes eight out of 10 Mexicans and long stood opposed to any attempt to redefine marriage laws. Last November, the Mexico City Legislature took up the civil-union law just as the country’s top cardinal, Norberto Rivera Carrera, was facing charges that he had sheltered a Mexican priest accused of sexually abusing children in California. The prelate chose to stay under the radar as the vote loomed. "The Catholic Church was facing a credibility crisis," says longtime Mexico City-based gay-rights activist Brito. "So many of its leaders including Rivera knew that if they fiercely opposed the gay-union law, the news media would eat them alive." The change in attitudes is most vivid in the sparsely populated border state of Coahuila, an unlikely setting for blazing trails on gay rights. The left-wing political party that rules the national capital has made few inroads here. Yet soon after the state’s young governor, Humberto Moreira Valdés, was elected in 2006, he backed a civil-union bill modeled on France’s pacts of civil solidarity, and in the state capital of Saltillo the progressive Catholic bishop added his support. The 62-year-old prelate, Raul Vera, says he was comfortable doing so in part because the bill stopped short of calling for same-sex marriage. "As the church I said we could not assume the position of homophobes," he says. "We cannot marginalize gays and lesbians. We cannot leave them unprotected."
That seems to be the prevailing consensus in South Africa’s ruling party. The constitution adopted by South Africa after the African National Congress (ANC) took power in 1994 was the world’s first political charter to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In November 2006, the national Parliament overwhelmingly approved a civil-union bill after the country’s constitutional court called for amendments to a 44-year-old marriage law that denied gay and lesbian couples the legal right to wed. In pushing for approval of the Civil Union Act, the ruling ANC shrugged off both conservative opposition parties and religious leaders, some of whom accused the government of imposing the morality of a "radical homosexual minority" on South Africans. President Thabo Mbeki had been blasted by gay rights activists in the past for trying to downplay his country’s raging HIV/AIDS epidemic, but on the issue of same-sex civil unions his government stood firm. The sweeping terms of the 2006 Civil Union Act placed South Africa in a select club of nations that have enacted similar laws and that, until last year, included only Canada, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. But there are glimmers of change in other nations. China decriminalized sodomy a decade ago and removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001. Police broke up a gay and lesbian festival in Beijing in 2005 but took no action last February against an unauthorized rally in support of legalizing gay marriage. The Chinese Communist Party has established gay task forces in all provincial capitals to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. And in April a Web site launched a weekly hour-long online program called Connecting Homosexuals with an openly gay host. It is the first show in China to focus entirely on gay issues.
Tolerance, however, by no means spans the globe. Homosexuality remains taboo throughout the greater Middle East. In most of the Far East, laws permitting gay and lesbian civil unions are many years if not decades away. In Latin America, universal acceptance of homosexuality is a long way off. Jamaica is a hotbed of homophobia. Even in Mexico, the first couple to take advantage of Coahuila’s new civil-union statute were fired from their jobs as sales clerks after their boss realized they were lesbians. The new Mexico City law grants same-gender civil unions property and inheritance rights, but not the right to adopt children. Even Mexican gays who still struggle against daily bias see signs of improvement, however. In 2003 José Luis Ramírez landed work as a buyer at the Mexico City headquarters of a leading department-store chain, and things were going swimmingly until he brought his boyfriend to a company-hosted dinner with clients. "My boss’s face just dropped," recalls Ramírez. Ramírez was subsequently denied promotions and left the company last year. But sexuality "isn’t an issue" with his current employer, a new household-furnishings retailer.
Tolerance is now the majority, at least among the young. A 2005 poll by the Mitofsky market-research firm found that 50 percent of all Mexicans between the ages of 18 and 29 supported proposals to allow gay marriage. Karla Lopez met Karina Almaguer on the assembly line of a Matamoros auto-stereo factory. The two became the first Mexican couple to marry under the civil-union bill; Lopez, now 30, is a mother of three. She urges more gays and lesbians to follow her example and come out publicly. "I felt strange at first because people would judge us and look at us from head to toe," she says. "But I now feel more secure and at ease." If more political leaders, clergymen and judges act to legitimize folks like Karla Lopez, the new mood of tolerance will surely proliferate across the planet in her lifetime.
With Monica Campbell in Mexico City, Mac Margolis in Porto Alegre, Karen MacGregor in Durban, Quindlen Krovatin in Beijing and Anna Nemtsova in Moscow
October 04, 2007
Gay Couples Cross the Border for Love
La Opinión, News Report, Claudia Núñez, Translated by Elena Shore
Editor’s Note: American same-sex couples, who used to travel to Canada and other countries to get married, now have a new wedding destination: Mexico. Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión examines the phenomenon that has many gay couples crossing the southern border.
Los Angeles – Among the thousands of dreams that cross the border every day, there is a new and controversial one: that of same-sex couples seeking a space where their union is legally recognized — in Mexico. The phenomenon is not new, experts say. Up until several years ago, dozens of American couples traveled to the other side of the world, from Spain to South Africa, with the sole dream that in some corner of the world their union could be legal. Now, this dream is closer than ever, and only requires crossing the southern border. Since the border state of Coahuila became the first and only state in Mexico to approve same-sex civil unions on Jan. 11, more American couples are now seeking refuge under this law.
Current statistics show that of the 55 civil unions, or “pactos civiles” as they are called in Mexico, that have been performed in Coahuila, three were foreign couples and a fourth was between a Mexican and an American citizen. “Considering that it’s a new institution and that the approval of gay unions has not been a peaceful struggle in this state, the response has been impressive. The couples – not just Mexicans, but foreigners too – have been able to find in this region an alternative way to legalize their union,” Armando Luna Canales, undersecretary of legal affairs for the government of Coahuila, told La Opinión.
The fact that some American states don’t recognize same-sex unions, or their limited legal validity, is the primary motive that leads gay American couples to get married in other countries. However, there are also sentimental reasons that, in the majority of cases, have as much or more influence as the legal questions. For Jason Howe, a resident of Southern California, the “domestic partnership” agreement enforced in California leaves much to be desired with respect to what he and his partner consider to be a true marriage, so he plans to formalize their union on the other side of the border.
“Since my partner and I signed the domestic partnership contract offered in California, we got to thinking, ‘Is this really what we want?’ From the moment we opened the door at the secretary of state’s office in Sacramento, we found out that in this country we’re simply carrying out a formality, filling out paperwork as cold as going to get a driver’s license at the DMV,” he said. “We didn’t know that Mexico offered this option. We had always thought that we could go to Spain to have our wedding,” he added.
Howe dreams of having a more intimate and romantic ceremony, an option that California does not offer gay couples. “In Coahuila, civil unions are carried out with as much affection as any other marriage ceremony. We know that for them, like for any couple that loves each other, the union is more than the legal process. They are looking for laws and for the world to recognize and respect their love,” said Luna Canales.
Those who sign the civil union contract have the right to inherit, define and administer their wealth, social security, and alimony. The process costs approximately $150, which covers the fees of the civil registrar and the notary that certifies the union. The civil unions performed in a neighboring country are legally valid in at least 19 American states, according to legal expert Jennifer Pizer of the organization Lambda (Legal Defense and Education Fund), which represents gay couples from California to Washington, D.C.
“What’s happening in Mexico is a very interesting phenomenon that reflects modern life,” she said. “Although we haven’t yet seen a legal case in which a couple (in the United States) demanded the same rights they got in Mexico, we are based on laws. These unions are valid and respected in California and in any other state that recognizes the civil rights of same-sex unions.”
As in California, Mexican civil unions cannot be called marriage, but a new bill to be introduced next month in the Coahuila state Congress could grant the state’s civil unions the legal status of marriage. According to Coahuila’s undersecretary of legal affairs, this amendment is very likely to pass and, beginning next year, gay marriage will be openly practiced in the Mexican state of Coahuila.
“For us, as Hispanics," said Jesús Nava, a gay rights activist in Southern California, "it is very important for them to allow us to unite in marriage. It’s a value we grew up with, not just a whim, and if we have to travel halfway across the world in order to achieve it, we will – because it will be worth it to know that in some corner of the world, my partner is legally my husband."
Up to now, only Canada, Belgium, Spain, South Africa and the Netherlands legally approve marriage between same-sex couples. In 2005, California approved a law that extended the institution of marriage to same-sex couples, but the law was vetoed by the state governor and 61 percent of the electorate under the argument that the definition of marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
October 25, 2007
Gay Mexican’s Asylum Denied
by Arthur S. Leonard
Email to a friendPost a CommentPrinter-friendlyThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, based in New York City, has ruled in an unpublished decision that the current level of anti-gay persecution in Mexico is not sufficient to justify granting a withholding of removal for a gay immigrant who claimed to fear persecution if returned to that nation. The ruling, which affirmed a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), reversed what had seemed a trend toward granting the claims of sexual minority refugees from Mexico. Earlier cases had focused on effeminate men, transvestites, and transsexuals, but the documentation of social hostility and police harassment of people perceived as gay or lesbian had appeared relatively strong in prior case law. In this new case, the court painted a sunnier picture.
A gay Mexican asylum applicant had not filed a petition within the statutory one-year period after his arrival so that route was doomed from the start. However, "withholding of removal" is a mechanism that offers a second bite of the apple if it can be shown that an immigrant is more likely than not that to face persecution if returned home. Documenting past persecution could create a presumption that he has a reasonable fear of the same in the future, but all this applicant was able to provide was his claim that evidence showed gay men were subject to persecution in Mexico, justifying his fears. The court wrote that the applicant "does not argue that he will be singled out for persecution, but challenges the BIA’s finding that there is no ‘pattern or practice of persecution of’ homosexual men in Mexico.’ Our review of the record evidence leads us to conclude that substantial evidence supports the BIA’s finding."
Acknowledging the BIA’s observation of "numerous disturbing incidents of violence against gay men," the court agreed with the Board that "the evidence does not unambiguously militate in favor of a finding that these incidents are in any way ‘systemic, pervasive, or organized,’ thus giving rise to a pattern or practice of persecution." As well, the court found, there is no evidence the Mexican government engages in repression of gay men; instead it "appears to be taking affirmative steps to combat discrimination and violence against homosexuals."
The applicant "failed to show the objective likelihood of persecution needed to support his claim for withholding of removal," the court concluded. The applicant also filed a claim under the international Convention Against Torture, but given the assessment of the climate in Mexico, that too failed. The court rejected the applicant’s argument that he was disadvantaged in his initial appearance before an Immigration judge by his attorney’s inability to attend, finding there is no constitutional right to counsel in a "civil" proceeding. No judicial notice was taken of the dramatically different outcomes in such complicated proceedings that result from an immigrant applicant having to represent themselves. The applicant was without counsel before the appeals court as well.
The court also rejected the Mexican man’s appeal that he be allowed to have his case heard in California, where he currently lives, rather than New York, where the case was originally filed. It found no reason to conclude that the venue could prejudice the outcome, despite the fact that many of the decisions upholding asylum claims by gay Mexicans have come from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco.
April 06, 2008
Gay travel: Merida, Mexico
by Troy Petenbrink
Cancun might seem like the obvious pick for gay travelers to eastern Mexico, thanks to its flashy gay discos and hedonistic reputation. But 200 miles west in Merida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatan offers a welcome alternative for gay visitors who appreciate a serious dose of Mayan culture with their cocktails. When the Spanish came to the Yucatan in 1542, Merida was a thriving Mayan city called T’ho. They promptly destroyed it, taking the stone of its great pyramids to build the Cathedral of San Idelfonso, which still stands in the city’s main plaza. The violent founding of Merida is visible in the 27 murals by Fernanco Castro Pacheco that grace the second-floor walls of the plaza’s neoclassical Palacio de Gobierno.
What those large-scale paintings don’t reveal is Merida’s modern role as a magnet for American expats — many of whom are gay and have opened restaurants, hotels and shops throughout this city of 1 million. ”When I left a two-decade career in dance, my partner and I started looking for a home in Mexico,” says John Traux, who visited Merida with his partner of 18 years on a friend’s recommendation and fell in love with its accepting people. “We wanted to purchase a house before all the U.S. baby boomers retired, relocated and pushed up the prices.”
That was five years ago. The couple bought a colonial six-bedroom home in Merida’s historic Santiago neighborhood and opened Angeles de Merida, a bed and breakfast catering to gay travelers. Angeles was recently sold to a husband and wife from Washington who welcome gay guests. Truax and his partner remain in Merida, where he now raises funds for Brazos Abiertos, a U.S. based nonprofit organization that operates HIV prevention and treatment programs in the Yucatan. Although Mexico has only recently become more accepting of homosexuality and supportive of gay rights — Mexico City recognized civil unions in November 2006 and the northern state of Coahuila followed suit in January 2007 — Merida has long been known for its tolerance. The city has a strong Catholic influence, but the city’s history of trade with Europe is believed to have led to its generally progressive attitude.
For former New Yorker and gay chef David Sterling, Merida represented not only an opportunity to leave behind the crowded streets of Manhattan for quaint, music-filled neighborhoods, but also an adventurous culinary frontier. In 2003, Sterling moved in and opened Los Dos, the first cooking school in Mexico dedicated exclusively to the cuisine of the Yucatan. His interactive classes include a tour of the sprawling, colorful Merida market, where Mayan history lessons mingle with shopping for fresh ingredients, followed by meal preparation and a lively feast. ”It is a whole world unto itself with a wholly unique cuisine,” Sterling says.
During the past decade a number of gay-owned/gay-friendly guesthouses have spread across Merida. The properties were typically large, private homes in Merida’s historic center that were abandoned when their owners move to the suburbs. Now owned by expatriates, the houses have been restored and upgraded with air conditioning and Internet. Casa Santiago offers four bedrooms each with its own bath, a swimming pool and well-landscaped courtyard. Los Arcos has two private poolside garden guest rooms separate from the main house. The main residence is filled with the owner’s extensive private art collection with many pieces from local artists. For a full-service hotel, look to Hyatt Regency, which consistently earns high marks for its gay-friendly corporate policies; the modern 300-room Merida location is in the business district.
It may have taken 1,000 years, but today’s top chefs from Douglas Rodriguez to Bobby Flay are paying homage to Yucatecan cooking. However, just as Merida has been influenced by other cultures, so has its food. At the beautiful downtown hotel Villa Maria, a gay chef from Austria not only makes tasty Yucatan lime soup for patrons of its atrium terrace restaurant but also a great Wiener Schnitzel. Nectar, a five-star restaurant located on the northern end of the city (near the Plaza Fiesta shopping mall), serves amazing Yucatecan dishes with strong European influences. Other gay-popular choices: Trotter’s, where steak, tapas and wine are a winning formula, and La Pigua, a fabulous seafood restaurant.
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are when the gay crowd comes out to play. (Thursdays draw the largest local crowd because there’s often no cover charge.) Although signs of gay life are visible throughout Merida, the city’s gay nightlife is still relegated to the outskirts of town; to the south are Pride and AngeLuz, and to the north is Scalibur — each a 30 minute cab ride from downtown Merida. The setting is similar at all three: tables and chairs surround a stage that plays host to drag shows and male dancers for the first half of the evening. Between and after the performances, the stage doubles as a dance floor. As with any city, the popularity of the clubs change often but they each have their fans and attract regular crowds. Don’t plan to arrive before midnight.
Schedule a walking tour or horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown Merida to take in the Cathedral of San Ildefonso, the oldest cathedral in the Americas, and the Paseo de Montejo, often called Mexico’s Champs Elysee, which is lined with opulent colonial mansions.Merida’s location in the middle of the Yucatan also makes it an ideal departure point for excursions to the Mayan ruins at Uxmal, a tour of the ancient, cavernous underground Cenotes of Cuzama or a boat ride among the flamingos at the Celestun nature preserve.
Troy Petenbrink is a writer for www.outtraveler.com.
May 17, 2008
Mexico transgender couple ties the knot, pushes law
by Mica Rosenberg
Mexico City (Reuters) – A couple who both changed their sex married on Saturday in Mexico’s first transgender wedding, as the traditionally conservative country loses some of its inhibitions. Mario del Socorro, formerly Maria, and Diana Guerrero, who used to be Jose, held an austere ceremony for friends and relatives in a community center. The couple said they hoped media coverage would pressure Mexico’s Congress to pass a proposed law that would let people get sex change operations in public hospitals and then be able to change their names and genders in public records. "When you are applying for a job and your documents don’t coincide with what you look like, you just don’t get hired. It’s that simple," said del Socorro, 55, who is balding with a wispy goatee and stands several inches shorter than his new bride.
Lawmakers behind the transgender proposal are challenging a swath of conservative customs in largely Catholic Mexico, and in recent years they have been gaining momentum. In 2006, gay civil unions were legalized in Mexico City and the northern state of Coahuila. Lawmakers in the capital last year legalized early-term abortions and approved a law allowing terminally ill people to refuse treatment. The Catholic Church has strongly criticized all of these measures.
Del Socorro and Guerrero got married under their pre-sex change names because the law allowing gay civil unions does not give partners the same benefits as a traditional marriage. At the ceremony, guests cheered the teary-eyed groom and beaming bride as they cut two tall wedding cakes before a crowd of journalists. Members of the bride’s Catholic family said the couple tried for months to find a priest that would marry them in a church. "At the end of the day, it’s a marriage between a woman and a man, so what’s the problem with blessing this union in the eyes of God?" said the bride’s sister, Flor Guerrero.
(Additional reporting by Michael O’Boyle; editing by Jason Lange and Mohammad Zargham)
19th May 2008
International Daily News: Mexican trans duo’s wedding pushes law
by GayNZ.com Daily News Staff
A couple who both changed their gender have married in Mexico’s first transgender wedding, as the traditionally conservative country loses some of its inhibitions. Mario del Socorro, formerly Maria, and Diana Guerrero, who used to be Jose, held an austere ceremony for friends and relatives in a community centre, reports Reuters. The couple said they hoped media coverage would pressure Mexico’s Congress to pass a proposed law that would let people get sex change operations in public hospitals and then be able to change their names and genders in public records.
"When you are applying for a job and your documents don’t coincide with what you look like, you just don’t get hired. It’s that simple," said del Socorro, 55, who is balding with a wispy goatee and stands several inches shorter than his new bride. Lawmakers behind the transgender proposal are challenging a swath of conservative customs in largely Catholic Mexico, and in recent years they have been gaining momentum.
In 2006, gay civil unions were legalised in Mexico City and the northern state of Coahuila.
This story continues click here.
July 16, 2008
AIDS conference to demand action not words over human rights
by T’Kisha George
The host country of an AIDS conference has been criticised for falling short on commitments made to address HIV-related human rights abuses. 17th International AIDS Conference will be held in Mexico in early August. The Mexican government has been accused of failing to implement promises to address HIV-related human rights abuses.
"Mexico has good laws on HIV/AIDS," said Anuar Luna Cadena of the Mexican Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. "But government institutions don’t adequately monitor abuses faced by people living with HIV or make sure they get the treatment and the protection they’re legally entitled to.” The conference is appropriately titled ‘Universal Action Now’ as 400 AIDS and human rights organisations called on governments across the globe to end the human rights abuses fuelling the spread of HIV and AIDS, stating little progress can be done without taking action.
"Ahead of the 17th International AIDS Conference, governments are still violating the rights of people living with or at high risk of HIV infection," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director at Human Rights Watch. "Governments have done little to fulfil their frequent promises to end HIV-related rights abuses. But until they act to end such abuses, even the best-planned policies to treat HIV and stop the spread of AIDS will fail."
In Africa, nearly one-third of all new HIV infections occur among injecting drug users but prevention measures, such as needle-exchange programmes and medication-assisted treatment with methadone, are banned by law in many countries. "It is a tragic irony that those at highest risk of HIV often receive the least attention," said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "In many countries, drug users are the majority of people living with HIV, but the smallest group receiving antiretroviral treatment. When they’re arrested, they’re even less likely to receive the HIV prevention and treatment services they need."
HIV and AIDS services for sex workers and gay men are also targeted by abusive police forces. They confiscate condoms from outreach workers and extort bribes, confessions, testimony, and sexual "favours" from sex workers. Meanwhile, in Africa, laws that deny women equal access to divorce, property, and inheritance increase vulnerability to infection and hinder access to treatment. Domestic violence or rape by a partner is not seen as a crime thus women are more at risk from infection.
"African governments rush to ratify international conventions, but drag their feet when it comes to ensuring human rights protections for women," said Michaela Clayton, director of AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa. "Legislation protecting women’s rights has languished in African parliaments for years. Protecting women from violence and securing equal rights to property are critical steps to stemming the AIDS epidemic."
The 2008 AIDS fact sheet states that Universal Action Now is “an important reminder that the HIV/AIDS epidemic does not exist in a vacuum. “Strengthening health systems in developing countries and addressing underlying social injustices that contribute to HIV risk and vulnerability – such as poverty, gender inequality and homophobia – are essential strategies in the global response to HIV. For those not yet engaged in the struggle, Universal Action Now is an invitation to get involved and make a difference. There is no shortage of rhetoric about the importance of human rights in responding to HIV," said Vivanco. "This conference is the time to turn words into action."
August 3, 2008
AIDS Prevention Focus Returns to Gay Men at Mexico Conference
by Shannon Pettypiece and John Lauerman
(Bloomberg) – Discrimination against men who have sex with men must end, and countries must gear up prevention programs against AIDS in this high-risk group, the secretary general of the United Nations said yesterday. Speaking at the opening ceremonies for the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, UN chief Ban Ki-moon was one of several world leaders and health officials who spoke about the need for targeting the epidemic among homosexual men.
Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization’s China unit, said health officials in all nations, including the U.S., need to acknowledge setbacks in a group that pioneered the earliest response to the disease. In the U.S., infections among gay men have risen 75 percent in 15 years, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We need to engage them, we need to take care of them, we should not forget about them,” Chan said, referring to the homosexual community worldwide.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, former Botswana President Festus Mogae and President of St. Kitts and Nevis Denzil Douglas each called for the end of discrimination against gay men in a news conference at the meeting. Mogae and Douglas said they’ll work with leaders in Africa and the Caribbean to create new prevention programs. More than a quarter of gay men in these regions, including Jamaica, Kenya, and Ghana, are infected, according to the United Nations. Despite a quarter-century of activism and awareness, gay populations have been overlooked because of discrimination and criminalization in some countries, said Peter Piot, the executive director of New York-based UNAIDS, the agency that coordinates care and research.
`Against the Law’
“In many countries homosexual activity is against the law,” Piot said in an interview at the meeting. “It is underground and impossible to organize these programs.” About 33 million people are infected with the AIDS virus worldwide, and 2.7 million of them contracted HIV, the virus that causes the disease, last year, according to a report from UNAIDS. The number of deaths dropped by about 10 percent to 2 million, the report said. Most of the 179 countries reporting to the United Nations on the epidemic make no mention of the virus in homosexual men, said Kevin Frost, chief executive officer of AmFAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. AmFAR tomorrow is scheduled to release a report at the conference on the prevalence of HIV in gay men worldwide. Homosexuality is illegal and punished in many African countries, making it extremely difficult to recognize men at risk and provide them with prevention, Frost said. In low- and middle-income countries, the rate of infection in men who have sex with men is 13 percent, he said.
In the U.S., the government has pushed a broad message targeting everyone, rather than focusing on the hardest hit populations, said Phil Curtis, director of government affairs at AIDS Project Los Angeles. He said there needs to be at least another $1 billion in prevention funding and more precise messaging to address the gay community. The failure to slow HIV in gay men puts the U.S. alongside countries in Asia and Africa that aren’t confronting the disease in this population, Frost said. “What the CDC data did was illuminate just how poorly we’re doing,” he said today in an interview at the conference. “We’re doing a lousy job of recognizing the depth of the epidemic in men having sex with men, and targeting our resources so we can change the trajectory of the epidemic.”
In the U.S., 72 percent of infections in males are in those who engage in sex with other men, according to AmFAR. Especially hard hit are gay black men, of whom about 46 percent are infected, according to a 2005 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To contact the reporter on this story: Shannon Pettypiece in Mexico City at firstname.lastname@example.org; John Lauerman in Mexico City at email@example.com.
August 6, 2008
Mexico’s anti-homophobia campaign offers lessons to world (Feature)
by Sumita Thapar
Mexico City – In Mexico City, home to the XVII International AIDS Conference, it is not uncommon to see men embracing and kissing each other in shopping malls or walking down the street holding hands. Such open displays of homosexuality were rare just a few years ago, said Charlie, a 42-year-old, gay man who is HIV positive. Mass- media campaigns and a civil union law for same-sex couples have encouraged greater acceptance of homosexuality in Mexico, even within largely homophobic Latin society. Tears in his eyes, Charlie said that a decade ago there were only 30 people who formed Mexico’s openly gay community. ‘Today, only two of us are alive. Information was little, and treatment was very expensive,’ he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Mexico has an estimated 198,000 people living with HIV. According to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS, unprotected sex between men accounts for more than half of the infections. ‘Ignore the men-who-have-sex-with-men populations and you lose the fight against AIDS,’ said Jorge Saavedra, who has led Mexico’s National HIV/AIDS Programme, CENSIDA, since 2003. In every region of the world, HIV infection rates are much higher among men who have sex with men (MSM) than in the general population. Studies reveal that MSM are on an average 19 times more likely to get infected than heterosexual men in poor and middle-income countries.
‘MSMs are excluded from (HIV prevention and care) services. We have not tried enough. Mexico, Australia and Brazil have shown that effective response among MSMs is possible,’ Saavedra said. Mexico’s bold initiatives to tackle both homophobia and the spread of HIV have served to change the landscape for AIDS prevention in Latin America. Saavedra was responsible for launching the Mexican policy of universal access to antiretroviral drugs, which currently covers 47,000 people living with HIV and AIDS. In 2004, he spearheaded an official anti-machismo education campaign, following it up a year later with the first government-endorsed anti-homophobia drive. In 2006, he appointed the first transgender woman in a government position.
Activists in Mexico say that Saavedra’s policies, such as the civil union law that came into force last year, have helped combat homophobia. The law may not legalize same-sex marriage or allow gays and lesbians to adopt children, but it does give couples the right to inherit property and have joint health and life insurance policies. Saavedra, the first openly gay national leader in Mexico, called for greater involvement of MSM in the planning of national AIDS responses globally, the decriminalization of sexual behaviour between consenting adults and greater commitment from donors to pay for MSM programmes. He said that his new goal was to officially declare the 51 new walk-in HIV clinics in Mexico as ‘homophobia-free services.’ When the conference opened, UNAIDS executive director Peter Piot said: ‘I salute Mexico’s anti-homophobia campaign – one of the boldest and most creative in the world.’ In 86 countries, consensual, adult homosexual activity is a criminal offence. In 10 countries it is punishable by death.
Crimes against homosexuals all over the world include killing, torture and arbitrary imprisonment. Homophobia increases their vulnerability to HIV and is one of the main drivers of the AIDS epidemic. ‘It is very difficult to provide services to MSM in countries that do not acknowledge their existence,’ said Craig McClure, executive director of the International AIDS Society, which organizes the biennial conference. Saavedra said: ‘Homophobia comes from ignorance and prejudices that come from religious beliefs. (MSM) is not a population to blame for HIV. It is a sub-group that is suffering most the impact of HIV.’
Jamie Lopez, 45, a lawyer and gay-rights activist in Mexico City, helped compile a book about 10 local gay couples: ‘We asked our friends to come forward to tell their story. Many were afraid to talk openly about it. One couple has three children they look after, but they cannot adopt them officially.’ ‘The best way to change society is to make ourselves visible and demand our rights,’ Lopez said. ‘People want you to be in closet. We are a very conservative society. Religion has caused a lot of homophobia.’
Brazil has also shown remarkable leadership in stamping out homophobia. Prompted by high levels of violence against homosexuals and a need to ensure their rights, Brazil established a Mixed Parliamentary Front for Free Sexual Expression in October 2003. Two years later, a campaign called Brazil Against Homophobia was officially launched. The National Business Council on AIDS attempts to sensitize business leaders about countering homophobia in the workplace. ‘There is greater openness to homosexuality in Brazil. The national programme is partnering with gay groups to provide leadership. A section of the church has also been supportive of gay rights,’ Carlos Andre Passarelli, director of Brazil’s International Centre for Technical Cooperation on HIV/AIDS, told dpa. ‘AIDS has some positive aspects – it has brought visibility to groups like the MSM. It has given them funds to organize themselves and prevent HIV.’
August 7, 2008
UN chief: End bias against gay men
by Shannon Pettypiece and John Lauerman
(Bloomberg News) – Discrimination against men who have sex with men must end, and countries must gear up prevention programs against AIDS in this high-risk group, the secretary general of the United Nations said Wednesday. Speaking at the opening ceremonies for the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, UN chief Ban Ki-moon was one of several world leaders and health officials who spoke about the need to focus on the epidemic among homosexual men.
Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said health officials in all nations, including the United States, need to acknowledge setbacks in a group that pioneered the earliest response to the disease. In the United States, infections among gay men have risen 75 percent in 15 years, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We need to engage them, we need to take care of them, we should not forget about them," Chan said, referring to the homosexual community worldwide.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, former Botswanan President Festus Mogae and President of St. Kitts and Nevis Denzil Douglas each called for the end of discrimination against gay men in a news conference at the meeting. Mogae and Douglas said they’ll work with leaders in Africa and the Caribbean to create new prevention programs. More than a quarter of gay men in these regions, including Jamaica, Kenya and Ghana, are infected, according to the United Nations. Despite a quarter-century of activism and awareness, gay populations have been overlooked because of discrimination and criminalization in some countries, said Peter Piot, the executive director of New York-based UNAIDS, the agency that coordinates care and research.
Supporting young sexual minorities a key to HIV prevention
“Yes mother, it’s true, I am gay.” These were the words that forever changed the life of 65-year-old Rosa Feijoo, over fifteen years ago. For Rosa, then 50, life was going according to plan and she was focused on raising her three children to the best of her ability. She had dreams of watching them grow into men and women who would fit the traditional Mexican cultural and social stereotypes. But in 1993 all that changed when she learnt her eldest son was gay.
“It came as a rumour through some family members,” she recalled. “I did not want to believe it, so I right away confronted him.” Eventually, her son admitted it was true before starting to cry. It was too much for Rosa to take. I felt weak, started to shake and I walked away,” she said, “but I quickly regained my composure and confronted him. I told him that there was no way he could be gay and still be my son. I blamed all his poor health on the fact that he was gay and encouraged him to visit a psychiatrist to cure his illness. I was confused and felt guilty for poorly raising him. The entire family rejected him and he left home.”
Two months later Rosa’s son passed away due to an AIDS-related illness. Rosa looks back at her son’s death with a?strong sense?of guilt. “I regret that I did not have the courage to accept, support and love him the way he was,” she said. This sense of remorse coupled with the strong homophobic culture in Mexico drove Rosa and three friends to start up an organization called Foundation Towards a Sense of Life in 2005. She has also written a book, “AIDS, A Mother’s Story” to support mother with LGBT children.
“I felt obliged to do something for the hundreds of children who are chased from home on to the streets because of their sexual orientation where they become more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS infection,” said Rosa. “At school the lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children are bullied and forced to drop out of school and join gangs.” For Rosa, children under such extreme pressure are in no position to accept HIV and AIDS prevention messages or seek HIV services.
Through her organization and by speaking out publicly, Rosa is trying to reach out to families and parents and spread information about the risk of HIVthrough parent talks and "safe zones” in schools. The initiative has helped hundreds of families with LGBT children support them and encourage them to mitigate the risks of HIV infection. With support from the Mexican government, the organization has managed to develop a video “Homophobia, Mothers and Parent Talk”. Rose said she would like the participants at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City to “actively support, engage and involve diverse families with LGBT children in HIV prevention, services and AIDS-related care.”
August 7, 2008
Vulnerable to H.I.V., Resistant to Labels
by Marc Lacey
Mexico City – The 29-year-old is not gay. He wants that known. He did have sex with a man once, but that was the result of loneliness and his hormones’ being in overdrive, he said, not because of any attraction to men. He suspects that the one encounter was responsible for giving him the virus that causes AIDS. But he is not gay no matter what anybody may think. “It was just once,” said the man, who goes by the name Eduardo, recounting the sexual liaison he had when he was an illegal immigrant in New York City. He acknowledged that he went back to see the man a second time and noticed then that the man looked sickly. I have never felt that I am homosexual because I have never let them make love to me,” said Eduardo, reflecting an oft-heard sentiment in Mexico and using language that suggested the possibility of other partners. “It’s the opposite. I penetrate. I have never liked it being done to me.” Still, he did not want to be identified further because of fear he might be stigmatized as a homosexual.
Long ago, AIDS specialists the world over essentially shelved the terms “gay” and “homosexual” in connection with the epidemic and began referring instead to “men who have sex with men.” No matter what label such men apply to themselves — gay, bisexual, transvestite or a heterosexual who experimented for a night or was forced into it — they remain an extremely high-risk group when it comes to H.I.V. Here in Mexico, where the 17th International AIDS Conference is taking place this week, some hombres que tienen sexo con hombres, or HSHs, as they are called, consider themselves gay. Some swear up and down they are straight. Many fall into the gray area in between.
“Sexual identity is a very complex thing,” said Hector Carrillo, a professor of human sexuality studies at San Francisco State University who has done research in Mexico. “We like to think that once someone figures out their sexual attraction, they will fit into the categories we’ve created. But life isn’t like that.” H.I.V. and AIDS are concentrated in Mexico among men, particularly those who have sex with other men. While the H.I.V. prevalence in the general population is 0.3 percent, among men who have sex with men it approaches 15 percent.
But this is no homogenous population. Because machismo is pronounced in Mexico and homosexuality is far from accepted, social conditions in the country and in other parts of Latin America force much sexual behavior into the shadows. That increases the challenges that AIDS experts say they face in combating the risky sexual practices that fuel the disease. For example, when Eduardo was first interviewed, more than a year ago, he referred to the person who gave him H.I.V. as a woman. After months of counseling at a public clinic in connection with his antiretroviral treatments, he now acknowledges that it was a man he had sex with. But he professes no attraction to men.
Experts say that those who live lives of denial, a group that may or may not include Eduardo, frequently engage in high-risk behavior, but do not acknowledge it to anyone, often not even to themselves. Such men are particularly hard to reach in public education campaigns because they bolt or tune out if they sense the message is geared toward gay men. “I’d say most of the men in Mexico who have sex with men will never recognize that they are gay or bisexual,” said Dr. Jorge Saavedra, an H.I.V.-positive gay man who directs Mexico’s government program to fight AIDS. “Only if you go into in-depth interviews will the information slowly come out. It makes our job all the harder since there is so much shame involved.”
Professor Carrillo, who has studied the issue, said that conducting comprehensive surveys on the issue is hard because it is inherently taboo. He said that even north of the border, where homosexuality is far more accepted, some people are uncomfortable with labels and men lead double lives, and he cited the case of James E. McGreevey, the governor of New Jersey who had a wife and resigned in 2004 after revealing he had had an affair with a man. And the same applies in the rest of the world. A survey in China showed that half the men who had sex with men also had sex with women, with a third of them reporting that they were married, according to Unaids, a United Nations agency. In Senegal, another study cited by Unaids found that 88 percent of men who reported having sex with men said they also had sex with women.
Those women, of course, also face risks. Mexico has promoted condom use and not stressed fidelity as the cornerstone of its anti-AIDS fight, Dr. Saavedra said, because if only the woman is faithful, the man could still acquire the virus by having sex with men on the side. Experts call this the “bisexual bridge.” These relationships can be complicated. Take the case of a 69-year-old married man, who did not want to be identified, and who is in a relationship with a younger lover, Carlos. Carlos, who has a girlfriend and a child and dresses as a woman, prefers the name Yessica.
“It’s a bit unusual,” the older man acknowledged. His current wife is unaware of his secret life. A previous wife found out, divorced him and has kept their two children away from him for decades. He arranges his visits to Yessica on one of two cellphones he carries to keep his life in order: one is for his wife, who lets out occasional homophobic comments and who he says would leave him in a minute if she discovered what was going on; the other is for his occasional lover, who is physically male but feels trapped inside a body that is not his own.
The older man and Yessica say they use condoms most of the time to reduce the risk of contracting the virus that causes AIDS. Both say they were tested for H.I.V. a year ago and were negative. As for his sexual orientation, the older man with the secret life declared, “I’m not the least bit gay.” Acceptance of gay relationships in Mexico has increased significantly, and that change is evident in the recent adoption of a law in Mexico City allowing civil unions for gay couples. The annual gay pride parade in the capital has grown over 30 years from a small group of people marching down a side street to tens of thousands celebrating on the city’s main avenue.
All the same, gay slurs are still commonly heard, attacks on gays are regularly reported to the authorities and many gay people opt to live their lives in the closet. “We have a culture that obliges us to marry,” said Luis Manuel Arellano, an openly gay man who has been active in combating the spread of AIDS and has no plans to find a wife. “We grow up learning to be macho, no matter what we think inside.” Martín Márquez Chagoya, a gay man who has had H.I.V. for 14 years and counsels other men, visits a park in downtown Puebla where men go to have sex with other men, but he says his efforts to promote condom use there often fall on deaf ears. The No. 1 response he hears from men there is that they are not gay and are therefore not at risk. They say they are merely having sex with gays.
Elisabeth Malkin contributed reporting from Puebla, and Lawrence K. Altman from Mexico City.
5 September 2007
HIV prevention and men who have sex with women and men in Meacutexico: Findings from a qualitative study with HIV-positive men
Authors: Tamil Kendall a; Cristina Herrera b; Marta Caballero b; Lourdes Campero c
Unprotected sex between men is the major risk factor for HIV infection in Meacutexico and many other Latin American countries. There is a substantial body of literature demonstrating that the relationship between sexual identity and sexual practice is not binary or causal — men who have sex with other men do not necessarily perceive themselves as gay — and there is increasing interest in HIV prevention with men who have sex with both men and women. In Meacutexico, HIV prevention with men who have sex with women and men and who are not socially affiliated or identified with gay men is lacking. This paper explores the sexual histories and HIV-risk perception of HIV-positive Mexican men who indicated that they have sex with women in a screening interview and then in the context of an in-depth interview also reported having had sex with men. We consider the sexual practices and sexual and social identities of these men, examining their explanations for having sex with other men, the strategies used to affirm their masculinity, the management of their sexual identity in their social networks, HIV-risk perception before diagnosis and sexual practices after diagnosis. Recommendations are made to improve HIV prevention for men who have sex with men as well as women and who do not assume a gay or bisexual identity.
Like the Countless Actresses Who Have Graced Her Shores, This City by the Sea is Ready for a Comeback
by Mark Chesnut
Any gay traveler worth his or her weight in boarding passes already knows about Acapulco’s star-studded history. This city on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, after all, was one of the world’s first jet-set resort destinations, attracting the likes of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, and Lana Turner, to name a few. In recent years, however, the city took a lower profile when faced with competition from Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and Los Cabos. With a new infusion of luxury accommodations, as well as a growing gay scene, Acapulco is once again showing up on the itinerary of gay globetrotters.
Gay On The Bay
It’s 3 A.M. on a Friday night. At the aptly named dance club called Moons, a shirtless young man writhes against a brass pole, his long false eyelashes fluttering to the beat as he stomps his knee-high white platform boots. They perfectly match his tiny white bikini as well as the luxuriant feathers sprouting from his carefully coiffed hair. A few feet away, a muscular guy in a thong showers on a separate stage, a dark blue spotlight bouncing off the tepid water that flows from the wall above him. Halfway down the block, drag performers in Las Vegas-style showgirl costumes parade across a stage at Savage, as well-built patrons dance to loud techno music upstairs at Demas, and pose in the smoky trendiness a few steps away, at Shurakk. Nearby, a younger crowd shimmies to the latest Mexican and US pop music at Cabaré-Tito Beach on a runway originally built for a straight strip joint. It’s just another Friday night in Acapulco. Who says this city has lost its glamour and excitement?
If I were a tourism consultant, I would say that Acapulco is missing an opportunity as golden as its sun-soaked beaches. The city has all the elements to make it a top gay destination: an infrastructure that includes gay-owned hotels and nightlife, a growing range of stylish restaurants and mainstream hotels, plus a star-studded history and renewed celebrity presence. Add to all this the friendly gay vacationers from Mexico and abroad, the gay beach at Playa Condesa, and the stunning scenery of this hilly city on the bay, and you’ve got more than enough to attract even the most demanding gay or lesbian traveler.
If you look online, it’s hard to find all this information in one place (with any luck, this article will remedy that a bit). There is no centralized gay website for Acapulco, and most of the gay nightclubs don’t even have websites. Mainstream hotels, which generally have no problem checking same-sex couples into the same room, do little to package themselves as attractive to gay travelers. Imagine the extra business that the group of hotels closest to the gay beach and the gay nightlife (Fiesta Americana, Fiesta Inn, El Presidente, and Calinda Beach) could gain if they actively marketed themselves to the GLBT community.
Even the centrally located gay beach, Playa Condesa, lacks a gay pride flag. This again is a missed opportunity for one of the many beach vendors who rent out chairs, umbrellas, and sell drinks. As long as we’re at it, some tour operator should set up a Hollywood-style “star tour,” which would make it even easier for visitors to see noteworthy celebrity stomping grounds. Even with the less-than-organized information available about Acapulco as a gay destination, there is plenty to attract visitors. When US native Roy Cooper first visited Acapulco nearly three years ago, he stayed at Casa Condesa, one of the city’s gay guesthouses, which is just a couple big blocks up the hill from the gay beach. “When I arrived at Casa Condesa, I just fell in love with the place, [the owner] James, and the staff.”
His first visit to Acapulco soon led to another, and another, until finally he did what many only dream of doing: he moved there. This year, he became manager of the Casa Condesa, “I have traveled to other areas [of] Mexico over 20 times, and I feel the scenery and beach in Acapulco is so beautiful,” he gushes. “I just feel I am at home here. We have such wonderful guests that come to Casa Condesa, and the main thing I hear from them is Acapulco is a place to relax, experience the sun, enjoy the beach, the gay bars, and all the beautiful attractions around the area.”
Casa Condesa is undergoing renovations that include a new, 3,000-square-foot thatched-roof palapa that will serve as a happy hour gathering place open to the public and provide an early-evening option for gay travelers. The new happy hour is just the latest in a series of recent additions to Acapulco’s gay nightlife. Today, there are no less than seven places to sit back and order a cubetazo (a bucket of beer), or a michelada (beer with hot sauce and lime), take to the dance floor, or see a drag or strip show. Among the newest nightspots is Shurakk, which opened in 2007. Shurakk’s owner, Javier Cruz Muller, was born in Acapulco but lived in the nation’s capital for several years. “Since I lived in Mexico City and I came to Acapulco frequently, it was depressing to see that the places that existed had no class, so I decided to try to revive the gay Acapulco of the 1970s and 1980s,” he says.
The result is impressive. The bar, located on a block where the majority of Acapulco’s gay nightlife resides, offers a stylish ambiance and a loungey open-air deck. Cruz Muller complains that the competition is fierce in the gay nightlife scene, particularly since three gay nightspots, Demas, Savage, and Moons, belong to the same owner. If all the competitors do well, it will certainly be to the benefit of Acapulco’s gay and lesbian visitors.
Another new dance club is Cabaré-Tito Beach, which also opened last year, not far from the gay beach. “We decided to open Cabaré-Tito based on the success of our business in Mexico City,” says David Rangel, general director of Grupo Cabaré-Tito, “and based on a market study that showed that in Acapulco we wouldn’t have competition. The spaces that existed, and still exist, are totally different from ours. At Cabaré-Tito, the ambiance is young, relaxed, and full of color and diversity; gay people can invite their friends without problems.” Indeed, Cabaré-Tito Beach offers a lively atmosphere, popular with young patrons, that features dancing on the stage and runway. Several straight dance clubs also attract gay clientele, including Palladium, a giant disco dramatically tucked into the hills overlooking the bay, and Baby O, where stylish crowds wait outside to gain entrance.
Rangel says that Acapulco differs from other gay-popular destinations in Mexico. “Vallarta has a service infrastructure created for the LGBT community, which Acapulco still lacks.” He also notes that, “Acapulco is changing, and it will continue growing in a natural way. It has many advantages over Vallarta. Acapulco is already the preferred place for people from the capital to vacation. Acapulco will always be an excellent tourism destination. Its reasonable prices and the warmth and hospitality of its people make it unique.” Grupo Cabaré-Tito also operates a travel division, Turismo Diferente (http://www.turismodiferente.com.mx), which is based in Mexico City and offers a package that includes accommodation, tours, and nightlife visits in both Mexico City and Acapulco, as well as roundtrip transportation between the two cities.
The Spanish settlers who arrived in Acapulco in the 16th century weren’t exactly interested in sun and fun. During colonial times, they used the port as a base for exploring and trading with the Asia Pacific region. There was so much wealth passing through the port, that a fort was built in 1616 to protect it from greedy pirates. Today, the Fuerte San Diego (San Diego Fort) is home to the Museo Histórico de Acapulco, which portrays the history of the city and offers impressive views of the bay it once protected. Acapulco may not be known as a destination for history lovers, but the fort is one of several sites in the region that offers a glimpse of the past. Among the newest (and oldest) is Tehuacalco, a recently discovered pre-Hispanic archeological zone that will open to the public by the end of 2008. Located less than an hour from Acapulco, the site includes the remains of a ball court, residential space, and a religious temple.
Acapulco’s jet-set fame began more recently than the construction of its historic fort and shady town square. In 1927, the first road linking the town with Mexico City made Acapulco a viable tourist destination. Celebrities soon began discovering the region’s natural beauty; among the first were composer and author Paul Bowles and writer Tennessee Williams (who set Night of the Iguana here, although the movie was made outside of Puerto Vallarta). Once a decent airport was built, names like Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, and Harry Belafonte were soon on the passenger lists. Movies like Elvis Presley’s Fun in Acapulco helped secure the city’s role as one of the world’s most famous vacation spots. Even today, the cliff divers of La Quebrada—who since 1934 have soared from 130 feet into the Pacific Ocean—continue to be one of the best-known tourist shows in the hemisphere.
Newer attractions like CICI, the water park that has a dolphin swim program, and the strip of spring break-friendly, open-air bars (complete with a bungee cord) near the Fiesta Americana Villas Acapulco, have given Acapulco other dimensions that the elite may shun. Travelers seeking a quiet, upscale experience tend to stay in the hills of the Las Brisas district or the fast-growing Diamante area, far from the gay beach and gay clubs (and spring breakers). The good thing about Acapulco is that you can create the kind of vacation that suits you. While Judy Garland may no longer stroll the beach along the bay, local observers predict that more “friends of Dorothy” will find Acapulco on their radar soon.
“With all the growth in Acapulco there will be many more gay visitors,” predicts Casa Condesa’s Cooper. Cabaré-Tito’s Rangel also foresees a greater role for the city in the gay event circuit. “Acapulco will soon be a hub for Pride events,” he says. “Leaders of the LGBT rights movement have already contacted us, and we have already begun organizing activities. This is just the beginning.”
Slepping With The Stars
Ever since it was established as Mexico’s first jet-set destination, celebrities have come here to rest, relax, and to honeymoon (Bill and Hillary Clinton, John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy, and Donald and Ivana Trump). They’ve also come here to make movies, including Elvis Presley’s Fun in Acapulco, various installments of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo movies, and Blow, with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz. If you like the idea of sleeping in hotels where celebrities have gotten married, honeymooned, made movies, or just spent the night, you’ve come to the right place. The hotels with the longest histories of famous guests are generally those further from the beach, as the early trend was to build elegant, secluded villas in the hills above the bay. So if historic glamour is calling your name, pack your bags, call your agent (travel or talent), and book a getaway to one of these properties.
Fairmont Pierre Marques
In 1958, oil magnate J. Paul Getty decided to build his own private hideaway on a lovely stretch of beach just outside of Acapulco, and he soon began inviting friends like John F. Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis, and Elizabeth Taylor. The 480-acre site, which would become the Fairmont Pierre Marques, is now a AAA Four Diamond resort with three swimming pools, five tennis courts, and an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed golf course.
Fairmont Acapulco Princess
In 1976, billionaire Howard Hughes moved from the Bahamas to what was then one of Acapulco’s newest resorts, but the seriously ill tycoon probably didn’t get to enjoy the hotel’s beautiful scenery. Tucked away in room 2012, a penthouse suite with windows covered to prevent light from entering, Hughes spent the last days of his life here, before passing away on an emergency flight to a hospital in Houston. Clients visiting this 1,017-room resort today, of course, have a much better chance of enjoying themselves than Hughes did. The property has an 18-hole, Ted Robinson-designed championship golf course, five swimming pools, ten tennis courts, and a 14,000-square-foot spa.
Las Brisas Acapulco
In the lobby of this hilltop hotspot, built in 1954, visitors can check out the still-growing collection of handprints left by famous guests—including Brad Pitt, Art Buchwald, Liza Minnelli, and Ricardo Montalban, to name a few. Guests may also rent pink-and-white Jeeps, some of which bear the signatures of famous guests. A member of Leading Hotels of the World, Las Brisas recently completed a $20 million renovation. Each of the 40-acre property’s 263 casitas is graced with private or shared pools and stunning views of the bay.
This classic, simple property is the best choice for budget-minded travelers who still want to walk in the footsteps of the stars. Built in the 1930s, the hotel was bought in 1954 by a group called the Hollywood Gang, which included actors John Wayne, Johnny Weissmuller, Cary Grant, Fred MacMurray, Erroll Flynn, and Red Skelton. Photos of the men still line the reception area. The hotel has a restaurant, bar, and kidney-shaped swimming pool, plus basic, comfortable rooms with sweeping views. The top-of-the-line room is the Casa Redonda, a round, freestanding villa with its own private terrace and lookout point. The property was most recently on the big screen in 2004, as a setting for the John Sayles film Casa de Los Babys, which starred Rita Moreno, Daryl Hannah, Lili Taylor, Mary Steenburgen, Marcia Gay Harden, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Villa Vera Acapulco
This attractive property features some 15 acres of gardens and was built in the 1950s as a private getaway for a businessman from Nebraska. Later, he added five small villas to entertain clients and friends. Before long, the name-dropping really started. President Eisenhower vacationed here while Elvis Presley used it as a location for his film, Fun in Acapulco. Elizabeth Taylor married Mike Todd in the original family home, with Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher as witnesses. Lana Turner liked Villa Vera so much that she lived here for three whole years. Facilities today include multiple swimming pools (some private), a restaurant, spa, and tennis courts. The property is now marketed mostly through Raintree Resorts International’s Club Regina timeshare program, but is open to non-members as well.
In the largely indigenous communities in and around the town of Juchitán the world is not divided simply into gay and straight. While Mexico can be intolerant of homosexuality; it can also be quite liberal. In Mexico City, for instance, same-sex domestic partnerships are legally recognized.
But nowhere are attitudes toward sex and gender quite as elastic as in towns like Juchitán in the far reaches of the southern state of Oaxaca. See side show of transvestites and transgenders.