January 12, 2004
Mexico’s gays, lesbians trying to win rights
CTV.ca News Staff
In the socially conservative country of Mexico, some openly gay cafes and bars are sprouting up in the nation’s capital. They are emblematic of rising gay pride there. "I think it’s a good thing now we are not hiding anything. We just open new places, or there are areas where you feel comfortable," said one young man in such a gathering spot.
Another sign that the social climate in Mexico might be liberalizing is that Moreno and some other legislators are putting the final touches on a bill that, if passes, would legalize same-sex unions. It doesn’t allow for same-sex marriages like Canada, Moreno said. The people of Mexico are not ready for that. But the bill would ensure same-sex couples would have the same health, housing and inheritance rights as heterosexual couples. That would be a major step forward for a gay and lesbian community that still struggles for acceptance. "There is a lot of aggression against us," Moreno said, speaking in Spanish. "Even my family has yet to accept that I am gay."
Mexico has a cultural tradition of machismo. It is also deeply Catholic. Cardinal Norberto Rivera, the country’s top Catholic, was quick to attack both the bill and gay unions. "This behaviour is abnormal," he said, speaking in Spanish. "If this law passes, it will damage society." The backlash has not deterred the gay community. Demonstrations have been held in support of the legislation. Five hundred gay and lesbian couples were symbolically married at a massive public ceremony in Mexico’s city centre. Activists also say they have been inspired by successes in places like Canada.
February 10, 2004
Macho Mexico lets its hair down in Zona Rosa- Mexico City’s ‘Pink Zone’ is center of growing, proud gay and lesbian community
by Laurence Iliff, The Dallas Morning News
Mexico City – Amid the jumble of restaurants, discos and knickknack shops in the capital’s touristy Zona Rosa neighborhood, one small coffee shop stands out. Two large rainbow flags frame a sign with the legend, in English, "BGay, BProud." An open window reveals brightly colored sofas and metal bar stools inhabited by mostly young, same-sex couples. They hold hands, drink coffee and occasionally kiss. This open expression of their sexuality is not limited to the interior of the nation’s first cafe devoted explicitly to Mexico’s gay population.
All over the Zona Rosa, in the heart of macho Mexico, young men walk arm-in-arm, check out passers-by and congregate on street corners. Men greet each other with a peck on the cheek in McDonalds. Lesbian couples, though fewer in number, nuzzle each other as they lounge against storefronts. "Part of what we are doing here is showing people that we have nothing to hide, we are not doing anything wrong," said Gerardo Espinosa, the 22-year-old co-owner of the BGay cafe.
"This generation is unlike the others. We watch Will &Grace. We see gay characters on Friends. We’re on the Internet, and we absorb a lot from other cultures." Mr. Espinosa sees the Zona Rosa quickly turning into a "gay village" full of fashion boutiques, restaurants and cafes, as in the Castro district in San Francisco or Dallas’ Oak Lawn.
For now, the area is the center of a gay community that has grown in recent years along with democracy, the Internet, the popularity of American culture and global debate on issues such as same-sex marriage and gay priests, analysts and activists said. The trend comes on the 25th anniversary of the nation’s first gay march, in Mexico City, where the City Council is considering a same-sex civil union law. It would extend some rights of marriage to same-sex unions and might pass this year. A similar measure failed by one vote last year.
One key element changing Mexican social attitudes is a demographic shift comparable to the baby boomer phenomenon in the United States after World War II, analysts said. Mexico’s demographic bubble of globalized youth is coming of age. A third of the nation’s 100 million people are 15 to 35 years old. And 20 million will move into that age group within a decade. But not everyone is crazy about young men cuddling along the network of walkways in downtown’s Zona Rosa – a Bohemian and chic enclave in decades past. Its name, "Pink Zone," referred to the tranquillity and glamour of an artist colony when it was established 50 years ago.
Streets are named after European cities such as Liverpool and Prague. Now, some say, its two dozen square blocks are becoming more of a "Red Zone," with shops selling sexually oriented videos, condoms and other paraphernalia. "These people bring a lot of prostitution," said Víctor Manuel Freyre, 53, who has sold handicrafts in the zone for 40 years. A gay bar dedicated to young people, El Cabarétito, moved next door to his shop three years ago. "They block the door, and you can’t say anything to them because then it’s discrimination. The gays used to be more discreet."
Some business groups go further, saying the young men, some of whom they describe as provocatively dressed, are driving families and tourists from the Zona Rosa. "We are not homophobic in any way," said Daniel Loeza Treviño, vice president of the National Chamber of Restaurants and Prepared Food. "But just the show they put on in the streets – men kissing and hugging, girls with girls – makes visitors feel assaulted. And a lot of these kids are minors." Paulo Juárez, an official in the Zona Rosa tourism office, said there have been complaints about the show of affection among same-sex couples.
All have come from Mexican tourists visiting from conservative cities such as Guadalajara, he said. None has come from the steady stream of foreign visitors, he added. The cultural clash, however, is not limited to the Zona Rosa, analysts said. While Mexican television has kept its distance from gay themes, there have been a few gay characters in prime time, and the cable and radio airwaves are full of talk shows that address sexuality.
At home, cable TV brings viewers U.S. shows, including Bravo’s hit Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and HBO’s racy Queer As Folk – which some of Mexico’s cable companies initially blocked. Youth-oriented magazines and Web sites often include gay topics. In Mexico City and elsewhere, gay youths are more visible in shopping malls and on public transportation. Some wear rainbow armbands as a symbol of pride.
Still, Mexico remains a heavily Roman Catholic nation where the clergy campaign against condom use and sex education. President Vicente Fox belongs to the conservative National Action Party and called one of his opponents in the 2000 election "mariquita," meaning "sissy." Gay youths are sometimes physically assaulted by parents or classmates.
Backlash has begun
The backlash against gay visibility has already begun, said pollster María de las Heras. While the vast majority say that everyone has the right to his or her sexual orientation, she said, most don’t want to see physical affection among gays and lesbians in public, and only a fifth support same-sex marriage. "The visibility of homosexual men in a macho society like Mexico makes other men feel more vulnerable, and that makes their reactions more drastic," Ms. de las Heras said. "The level of homophobia we are seeing is intense."
In contrast, older gays and those from Mexico’s more conservative countryside say they find the brashness of the capital’s gay young people refreshing. "My generation was much more reserved; we had to hide," said Carlos Abraham Slim, 38, a photographer from the nearby city of Puebla whose art exposition hangs from the walls of the BGay cafe. The images, using a 19th-century process that leaves them bluish, are semi-erotic. "This is a place where you really feel free," he said.
Others agreed. "In the last five years, there is a freer gay climate here," said Alberto Ibarra, 23, a university student drinking a soda with four friends in the BGay cafe. But outside the Zona Rosa, he said, "there is still a lot of discrimination despite the changes." His friend, Guadalupe Mosco, 22, also a university student, said lesbians have it easier than gay men. "I think it is easier to be a woman. Before we were looked down upon, but things are beginning to change."
The explosion of gay young people in the Zona Rosa is in part a byproduct of the free market. Tito Vasconcelos, a 52-year-old "torch singer" and pioneer in Mexico’s gay movement, said he realized five years ago that gay youths had nowhere to go, as adult-oriented bars proliferated in the dark basements of the Zona Rosa. So he opened El Cabarétito, which initially offered theatrical skits. Gay young people flocked to the club and stayed in nearby coffee shops or hung out on the streets. A competing club down the block, Celo, also caters to gay youths.
Mr. Vasconcelos has five businesses, including a soda fountain for gay kids who are not old enough – 18 – to enter a bar. A charitable foundation offers an accredited high school program for teenagers who are being harassed at school. Rather than rejecting gay youths as troublesome, he said, business owners in the Zona Rosa should embrace them. "On the surface, it doesn’t seem like they have a lot of purchasing power, because they only buy a few drinks," Mr. Vasconcelos said, referring to soda and alcohol alike. "But they come every single day."
Further, he said, the Zona Rosa has always been a gathering spot for gay Mexicans, even if they were less visible in the past. He remembered the heyday of the neighborhood when Latin American literary figures such as Mexico’s Carlos Monsiváis chatted in cafes. "It was a fantastical place … and gay people are part of the Zona Rosa and its history," Mr. Vasconcelos said.
The transformation of the zone from artsy neighborhood to commercial district came with the opening of the city’s subway system in the late 1960s, which brought the Mexico City masses downtown, he said. Architect and history buff Edgar Tavares López said the Zona Rosa has always been a place to see extravagantly dressed people; a place where everybody somehow fits in. Through the years it drew so-called "hippies" or "punks"; now it’s "goths" and gays. Likewise, the area’s commercial use has fluctuated with the times and the trends, given a lack of planning, Mr. Tavares said. "It’s like a complex experiment that you never know how it’s going to turn out," he said. "You have a nice hotel next to a gay bar next to a handicrafts shop. … I think it’s a place suited to changing with the times, like it is now with gay people." .
May 16, 2004
Rainbow Beach Towels on Mexican Sand in Puerto Vallarta
by David Kirby
A warm twilight settles over the Mexican resort of Puerto Vallarta as the sun slips behind the pink clouds of the Bahía de Banderas. Tourists at a rooftop bar burst into applause and raise their cocktails to the fiery spectacle, before settling in for the evening’s entertainment. But this will be no night of Mariachi music. "B-Seven!" coos a drag queen named Ida Slapter. "B-Siete! Any lucky winners?"
If it’s Tuesday, this must be Gay Bingo at the Blue Chairs Beach Resort, perhaps the gayest event in the gayest neighborhood of what may be Mexico’s most gay-friendly town. In recent years, this Pacific coast resort about 130 miles west of Guadalajara, has emerged as a premier destination on the gay travel map, joining a growing roster of places that are drawing gay and lesbian travelers. So how does a place become a gay destination?
For years, friends had told me that "PV" was becoming a new gay mecca, but I was skeptical. I had been there in the 1980’s, and could remember just one gay bar, and that was about it. Now, the place feels almost like West Hollywood. My friend Doug and I arrived on a Continental flight from Newark in March, with a plane change in Houston, early enough in the afternoon to check in at the Blue Chairs and hit the beach right downstairs.
Blue Chairs is the unrivaled daytime epicenter of gay social life in Puerto Vallarta. "Ten years ago, it was just a place on the beach, with blue chairs, where gay people would gather in the afternoon to play volleyball," said David Lansley, an American whose Mexican boyfriend, Paco Ruiz, was a pioneer in Puerto Vallarta’s evolution into a gay-friendly place when he opened the Club Paco Paco disco, which beats until 6 o’clock each morning in the heart of the gay zone on the southern edge of the city, around Olas Altas Street and Los Muertos Beach.
Now, Blue Chairs is an institution. The six-floor, 40-room hotel, which opened in May 2001, rises high above the beach below. Its rooftop Blue Sunset Bar offers a nearly mandatory happy hour and weekly parties that range from bingo to karaoke to Hollywood movie night (outside under the stars). Blue Chairs also offers massages and facials, and a weekly "booze cruise." And of course, there is the lively repartee found daily amid the blue chairs and umbrellas on the beach, where gay men (and a few women) are catered to by handsome waiters who ferry good food and potent drinks from the hotel’s kitchen out to the sands. When we were there, the crowd was friendly, mostly over 30, and mostly from the Midwest or West Coast. For a gay beach scene, it was pretty low key.
Many there said they go back to Puerto Vallarta every year, not only for the gay scene but also the relaxed atmosphere and gorgeous natural surroundings. The neighborhood was a rundown area of low-rise buildings and empty lots and storefronts until about a decade ago, when gay Mexicans and Americans began investing in bars, hotels, shops and restaurants. Now it is known affectionately as the Zona Romántica. Within its square mile or so, the Zona now packs in 16 gay bars and nightclubs (two more clubs lie just north of the Cuale River, downtown) and 12 gay or gay-friendly hotels and guest houses. Hotel Mercurio, for example, is a quiet lodge just off of Olas Altas, set around a peaceful Mexican courtyard. It was opened last year by Paul Crist, who moved there from Washington, D.C.
"This area has really taken off in the last year or two," Mr. Crist said. "I think we have reached critical mass in terms of gay businesses." Some travelers find the scene too intense, and get away from the bustle by heading for Paco’s Paradise, a sort of gay Gilligan’s Island sleep-away camp that can only be reached by boat. Isolated and beautiful on the south shore of Banderas Bay, Paco’s offers snorkeling, kayaking, volleyball and good food to those who find their way there. We made Paco’s a day trip, taking a cab from Puerto Vallarta about 10 miles south along a winding coastal road with spectacular views of the rugged green mountains and brilliant indigo bay.
Just past Mismaloya, where John Huston filmed Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in "Night of the Iguana," we reached Boca de Tomatlán, a picture-perfect fishing village on a sharply angled cove, the departure point for launches to Paco’s. The rustic outpost is carved from the jungle on a small cove. Overnight guests stay in a three-story stone structure with two private suites and a dorm room. There is hot water, but no electricity. We ate lunch, swam in the turquoise water and took the 5 o’clock boat back with a dozen or so day-trippers, most of them gay men.
Back in town, besides the hotels, there are many inexpensive condos available. At Amantes del Sol, for example, a gorgeous two-story penthouse with jungle and ocean views is $75 a night in high season, late fall to early spring, $35 in low season. The condo is a short walk from a cluster of businesses that welcome gays and straights. The Zona Romántica is by no means exclusively gay. Its shops and restaurants attract local residents and tourists from all over the city. Café Bohemio offers good home-cooked Mexican and international food on a romantic patio strung with tiny white lights. Across the street is the Coffee Cup, a favorite of gay tourists on their way to the beach in the morning. The night life, I would say, equals or rivals that of almost any midsized metropolis in North America.
In Puerto Vallarta, what visitors will find is a new, state-of-the art discothèque called NYPV, a cavernous, sleek, pulsating club that could have been flown in directly from Manhattan. The light and sound systems are first class, the staff is courteous and professional, and the V.I.P. room is adorned with original signed prints by Erté. Other places include Ranch and the adjoining Club Paco Paco, which stays open till dawn, and Balcones and Antropology, popular for their go-go dancers.
Quieter bars include La Noche, Frida and DeWayne’s Oasis, which has a beautiful walled-in garden and airy deck with a bar on the roof. Given all that night life, early birds are not much in evidence.
But there are many inviting daytime activities. Besides cruises on party boats, there are also whale-watching trips specifically for gays, scuba diving excursions and journeys on foot or horseback into the jungles and villages of the surrounding Sierra Madre. With so much gay tourism, it was only a matter of time before a gay and lesbian business association made the scene. That happened late last year when Ambiente Puerto Vallarta was formed. (Ambiente is Spanish slang for gay). It already has more than 50 members, said Teri Reed, a lesbian expatriate from Seattle and the new group’s executive director. Ms. Reed said that Puerto Vallarta had always been attractive to Mexican gays because of its live-and-let-live atmosphere and laid-back social climate.
That’s not to say that everyone in town is thrilled to see the resort converted into a gay attraction. Mexico is still a socially conservative, predominantly Catholic country where public discussion of homosexuality is rare. In Puerto Vallarta, some of the town’s socially prominent women complained about three years ago about the rising number of gay tourists. They were dismayed at public displays of affection by same-sex couples and worried that it would be a bad influence on children. When an American tour promoter printed a brochure saying that Puerto Vallarta was "where the boys are," some residents thought it was promoting pedophilia. The miscommunication was cleared up after a meeting between the promoter and civic leaders. Any residual tension has since abated, Ms. Reed said.
Martin Rodríguez, a former president of the Puerto Vallarta Chamber of Commerce, agreed that any tensions that existed had subsided. "It has been an informal process," he said, "but today I don’t see any problems. Relations between local authorities and the gay business organization are mutually respectful and very positive." Indeed, the social climate seems overwhelmingly tolerant. "It’s economics," Ms. Reed said. "There is tolerance and acceptance because we bring a lot of money into the community, even more than straight people."
Perhaps that is why men can be seen holding hands inside the Zona Romántica, something that would be unthinkable almost anywhere else in Mexico. Charles Prizzi, a flight attendant from New Jersey who was in Puerto Vallarta on his first trip to Mexico, said he was "pleasantly surprised" at how open and tolerant the place seemed. He added that he appreciated the "terrific camaraderie" he found, not only among the foreign gay tourists but also between gay Mexicans and North Americans as well. "I’m not so much into the night life; that’s not why I chose Puerto Vallarta," Mr. Prizzi said. "But as a gay person traveling by myself, I met lots of people to hang out with and have dinner with. The whole scene is really social, really nice and relaxed."
• Visitor Information
A guide to gay vacations in Puerto Vallarta is on the Web at www.guidevallarta.com. High season is November through April. Prices below are at 11.5 pesos to the dollar, but many places give rates in dollars.
• Where to Stay
Blue Chairs Beach Resort, at Malecon 4; (52-322) 222-5040, or in the United States (866) 514-7969; fax (229) 336-0065; www.bluechairs.com, has 40 rooms. Doubles range from $49 to $199; suites, $99 to $229.
Hotel Mercurio, Francisca Rodriguez 168, (52-322) 222-4793, fax (52-322) 222-1419, www.hotel-mercurio.com, has 27 rooms for $45 to $93.
Amantes del Sol, Villa Santa Barbara, www.amantesdelsol.com, has two condominium units with ocean views. Rates: $35 to $75.
Paco’s Paradise, (52-322) 293-4423, www.pacopaco.com/paradise, is reached by boat from Boca de Tomatlán. There are two suites for $39 to $69 a night, including two meals, and dorm room beds for $15 with breakfast. A day use fee of $11.50 includes the boat.
• Where to Eat
Café Bohemio, Rodolfo Gomez 127, (52-322) 223-4676, serves Mexican and international dishes nightly except Sunday. Dinner for two with drinks, about $30. At the Blue Chairs Beach Resort, Malecon 4, (52-322) 222-5040, a beach bar serves breakfast and lunch daily ($4 to $16). In high season, the restaurant serves Sunday brunch ($10 with drink) and nightly dinner (about $16 with a drink).
• Where to Dance
NYPV Bar New York, Ignacio L. Vallarta 399, (52-322) 222-7261, is open nightly until 6 a.m. Cover, on Thursday to Saturday, $11.50 and up. Club Paco Paco, Ignacio L. Vallarta 278, (52-322) 222-1899, is also open nightly until 6 a.m. Cover: $2.20 to $4.50.
David Kirby writes frequently about travel.
June 13, 2004
Destination Mexico–Cancún proving it can woo gay travelers too
Cancún, Mexico – While Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and other traditional Mexican beach resorts have been losing international travelers to newer, master-planned Cancún over the past 30 years, the older spots have filled the gap by appealing to Mexicans, Canadians and gay visitors.
Apparently not content to be Mexico’s No. 1 tourist destination, Cancún is now trying to lure away the gay tourists as well.
With organized packages such as the Cancún Mayan Riviera Gay Fall Fiesta and the Cancún International Gay Festival, this crowded strip of high-rise hotels and powdery beaches could soon overtake its Pacific Coast rivals with a whole new crowd. "All of Mexico is very gay-friendly, but some places more than others," said Kevin Chappelle, office manager for Arco Iris Travel in San Diego, which caters to gay tourists heading to Mexico. Arco Iris (which means "rainbow" in Spanish) organized tour packages for last November’s Fall Fiesta and last month’s International Gay Festival, and is doing the same for next fall and spring. "We would say that the gay scene is as much fun (in Cancún), as in Puerto Vallarta," he said.
Other travel agents with gay and lesbian clientele aren’t quite as enthusiastic. "Outside of Puerto Vallarta, there aren’t a lot of places there where gays and lesbians feel really courted," said Alison Hawthorne, owner of Over the Rainbow Travel in San Francisco. "I have more gay and lesbian clients who go to Hawaii than Mexico. Either one would tend to be a romantic destination for a couple, but the fact that you can get more privacy in Hawaii is a plus. The Mexico experience can be more intense, more like America – and that’s not necessarily a good thing."
Still, Mexico scored high in a recent survey by the International Gay Travel Association of favorite international destinations for gay and lesbian travelers, coming in third behind London and Paris, respectively, according to PlanetOut.com. The Web site’s travel spinoff, Outandabout.com, offers a Gay Mexico Travel Guide for $12.95 that covers Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Oaxaca, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Cancún, Mazatlán, Playa del Carmen and Los Cabos.
For gay travelers headed south of the border, Chappelle put – perhaps optimistically – Cancún as the No. 2 tourist destination in Mexico after Puerto Vallarta, and predicted that in a few years it may be tied for No. 1.
Gay tourists, and gay consumers in general, have become a sought-after segment in many areas because of their sizable disposable income. Although Cancún may lag in the number of gay-friendly hotels and businesses, the Caribbean resort has far more visitors in general than Puerto Vallarta every year and a vibrant local gay scene.
There are at least three gay-friendly nightclubs downtown, about 15 minutes by taxi from the hotel strip, with regular drag shows. Likewise, there is a beach along the major strip that is frequented by gay locals and mostly American and Canadian visitors. The only complication for some tourists, Chappelle said, is that there are no gay clubs on the main tourist strip. "The problem in Cancún is that all the gay stuff is downtown," he said. That contrasts with Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco, where gay clubs are in the main tourist zones and rainbow flags fly on tourist beaches, restaurants and clubs.
You won’t find much of that in Cancún, except on maybe a couple of restaurants downtown. However, Arco Iris’ Web page on Cancún notes that, in addition to taxis, frequent, inexpensive buses run between the hotel zone and downtown. Although gay tourism here may be less obvious than in Puerto Vallarta or Acapulco, locals say the gay clubs were packed last summer, a trend expected to continue this year. While most patrons are locals, there are more foreigners than ever.
IF YOU GO
• Getting there: From San Francisco, several airlines fly to Cancún; the best connections are through Mexico City, Dallas or Denver, for about $650. Many travel agencies can provide information on gay-friendly hotels and night life, and arrange package deals. Arco Iris Travel (800-765-4370; http://www.arcoiristours.com/), which specializes in gay travel to Mexico, offers $350 airfare and $70 hotel rooms during low season, plus packages for special events. Taxis from the hotel strip to downtown cost about $5.
• Special events: The next Cancún Mayan Riviera Gay Fall Fiesta, which incudes a beach party and drag show, is Nov. 4-8. The next Cancún International Gay Festival, five days of gay and lesbian parties and events, is scheduled for May 12-16, 2005. Mexico City’s Gay Pride Festival, the largest in Latin America, takes place June 26.
• For more information: For $3, Arco Iris Travel will send "The Cancún Pink Pages," a guide to gay Cancún. For gay travel to Mexico, see also http://www.gaymex/ ico.net. To order Out & About’s Gay Mexico TravelGuide, see http://www.out/ andabout.com and click on "Mexico" under "Destinations."
Mexico May OK Conjugal Visits for Gays
A new anti-discrimination rule could permit conjugal visits for gay inmates in Mexico City prisons, a city official said. The city’s secretary of government, Alejandro Encinas, told the newspaper Reforma for its Wednesday edition that under the regulation published Tuesday, requests by gay inmates for "intimate visits" would have to be considered, although no such requests have yet been made.
"We would be obliged to analyze it (a request) and we would have to find sufficient, necessary legal support to accept it," Encinas said. A representative of Encinas’ office confirmed Encinas’ comments. As in many Latin American nations, Mexico permits conjugal visits for some inmates. Encinas noted that the rules require "a permanent, stable relationship" _ though not necessarily marriage _ between those granted the privilege.
The new anti-discrimination regulation, which follows a recent national constitutional amendment, requires "respect for human rights, without distinction or preference by group, religion, sexual orientation or by particular individuals" throughout the prison system. A lesbian inmate in a Colombian prison won a court decision in 2001 ruling that gay inmates had the same rights to intimate visits as did other prisoners. Some prisons in Brazil also have considered such a system.
January 13, 2005
Gay Caballeros Inside the secret world of Dallas’ mayates
by Claiborne Smith
Mark Graham Fiebre Latino, on Harry Hines Boulevard, is a favorite haunt for mayates. Mark Graham [El Amanecer ("The Dawn"), off Northwest Highway, attracts a mixed crowd–including a few mayates. Among mayates, the activo partner maintains his sense of masculinity. Therefore, in his mind, he is not gay.] [Bamboleo’s, a gay club near Oak Lawn, has devoted its biggest dance floor to the ranchera music favored by many of North Texas’ Hispanic immigrants.]
At closing time on a recent Saturday night, Ignacio leaned against the bar at Bamboleo’s, a gay Latino club near Oak Lawn, satisfied that he’d snared one last beer before the cut-off. He wanted it known that he usually would have been drunk by that time, but instead of boozy pronouncements, he offered a lucid conviction about Texas’ 2 a.m. law. Ignacio is from Mexico, where 2 a.m. doesn’t mean you stop drinking. "That law is stupid," he said. "It’s not like these people are going to church tomorrow." In the tradition of 2 a.m. introductions, Ignacio didn’t offer a last name, but he did give several strident opinions that night, maybe because he was upset: Ignacio wasn’t getting what he came for. He looked toward the dance floor, sunken beneath the main floor.
The people in the dancing pit could have come straight out of an innocent hoedown in small-town Texas, except that all the dancers were Hispanic, male and dancing with each other. Seen from up above the dance pit, a sea of white cowboy hats was bobbing up and down in time to Spanish rock, cumbia, ranchera, norteña and drawn-out club versions of popular American hits. At even routine fiestas like this, it is an unspoken rule that a Mexican–even if he is in the United States–should obey his urge to offer up a grito, a tight, controlled ai-yai-eeee sound that erupted into the air here and there. Small groups of guys in spiny ostrich cowboy boots and tight Wranglers with ironed creases had gathered around the tables, but they were all looking at the dance floor. Sometimes the dancers do a kind of Texas two-step, but more elaborate, like a waltz; during other songs, one man wraps his right arm tightly around the waist of another, as if he were helping a friend off the field after an injury. The couples follow one another in a slow circle around the packed dance floor.
A couple wearing black Wranglers were hovering near the dance floor, both of them with a hand in the other’s back pocket. They had on black cowboy hats whose broad brims had been tightly curled toward the sky. One of the men had pinned a golden brooch to his brim that spelled out his last name; the other man’s pin said "Zacatecas," announcing to everyone in the bar not only the Mexican state he comes from but his pride in his provenance. There should be nothing surprising about seeing the two of them gently kiss each other. Bamboleo’s is a gay bar, after all, but something about their macho outfits and shit-kicker self-possession makes a white reporter who owns neither cowboy boots nor Wranglers strongly suspect that had he seen the two of them on the street, his gaydar would not have alerted him to the fact that they are gay. Bamboleo’s is Dallas’ official watering hole for gay Hispanic immigrants, and weekends are a happy reunion for the immigrants, acculturated Latinos and white gay men who show up there.
Throughout Bamboleo’s, there’s the usual predatory cruising that goes on in any gay bar, but despite its boxy, warehouse layout, Bamboleo’s feels homey after you’ve been there a few times. That’s because Bamboleo’s patrons have made its two dance floors their own: The dance pit, where techno music is now played, draws a young crowd that seems less like they’ve been living in the United States for a while–more like the crowd at Kaliente, another gay Latino bar about a mile away. The immigrants arrayed in cowboy gear don’t visit that area of Bamboleo’s anymore, because the crowd wanting to dance to Mexican country music has swelled so much, Bamboleo’s owners have started playing the ranchera music in the larger dance floor. The night that Ignacio was at Bamboleo’s, the DJ played a quirky, "Macarena"-like club anthem, "El Gato Volador," which means "The Flying Cat."
"There was a party in my barrio," the song goes, translated from Spanish. "Don Gato arrived/Tom the Cat arrived/Felix the Cat arrived/Sylvester arrived/Garfield also came/But there was one cat missing/Do you know who it is? Hmm?/The flying cat." The dancers were flowing in their circle around the dance pit, but Ignacio wanted nothing to do with all that communal happiness. His blustery swagger and good looks weren’t attracting anyone; after two years in the United States, he still seemed to expect people to come to him. We’d struck up that kind of amiable and intimate talk that sometimes happens between two people at a bar who aren’t busy talking to someone else. I said, "Well, you’re gay. You must know how to talk to a guy, right?" And then, right in the middle of a gay bar, Ignacio told me he is not gay.
To a misunderstood and controversial segment of the population–illegal male Hispanic immigrants–Ignacio’s claim that he’s not a gay man wouldn’t seem so far-fetched, even though he happened to be at a bar that any objective observer would consider gay. Ignacio is what’s known as a mayate, a Hispanic immigrant, often quite new to America and hailing from rural Mexico or Central America, who will have sex with men but doesn’t think of himself as being gay. Ignacio doesn’t consider himself gay, because he is always activo when he’s with another man. Among mayates, there is one stark rule: The activo partner–or the person whom gay American men call a "top"–maintains his sense of masculinity, while the person who’s being penetrated does not. And among recent Hispanic immigrants, who don’t own much, manhood is a crucial possession. Mayates may think that letting another man give them a blowjob or giving anal sex to another man doesn’t constitute cheating on their wives or girlfriends back in their own countries.
And according to researchers who’ve studied male Hispanic immigrants and HIV transmission, the fact that many of them live in a small apartment to save money means that they sometimes end up having sex with one another. According to these researchers, being a mayate isn’t a fixed sexual identity; it’s the result of living in cramped quarters in areas of town where there aren’t nearly as many women as there are other men who’ve just arrived from Mexico. And although they may have heard of AIDS and other STDs, they may be entirely unaware of how the diseases propagate; they may think that being activo guarantees they won’t get infected by an STD. If they happen to have caught something, they may feel trapped when they go home to Mexico and their wives or girlfriends ask them why they want to use a condom all of a sudden.
The sharp rise in HIV infection among Latinas indicates that the usual suspects when women become infected–prostitution and injecting drugs–explain only part of the increase. Ignacio may seem like a man on the down-low, a cliquish subculture played up in the media of men who meet to have sex with one another while not telling their wives or girlfriends about their gay lives. There are, in fact, bars in Dallas where mayates hang out, though they are far more invisible and alien to native Texans than the gargantuan Tejano bars off Northwest Highway and Stemmons Freeway. There are even rituals they employ at the end of the night, when it’s time to end up alone or with someone. But Ignacio isn’t on the down-low; in fact, there isn’t even a Spanish phrase for it. But he knew how to get to the virtually hidden places where the mayates hook up
To get to Fiebre Latino from Bamboleo’s, Ignacio would have driven past the Harry Hines Bazaar, the 7-Dollar Beauty Supply and the $4.99 Las Lomas de Zacatecas buffet. He went past the Continental Liquor Store, which, to maximize its attractiveness to all ethnicities, has a marquee advertising itself in both Chinese and English. One of its exterior walls advertises in Spanish the El Paísa Taqueria jammed inside the store next to the liquor shelves. Past the tawdry fabric outlets and the neon "Guaranteed Lowest Price!" signs is Fiebre Latino ("Latin Fever"), which, in a rare instance of commercial modesty on Harry Hines, doesn’t herald its presence with a huge, garish sign.
Once you’ve dodged the many trucks darting in and out of the parking lot, you pay the $5 cover charge and get a little blue ticket in return. But you don’t actually get in until a man has patted you down to determine if the bulge in your front pocket is a cell phone or a gun. Compared with Bamboleo’s, Fiebre Latino is, as they say in Mexico, "un otro rollo," another thing altogether. After he told me he wasn’t gay, Ignacio left Bamboleo’s and headed toward Fiebre. I went there because AIDS workers from AIDS Arms, UT-Southwestern Medical Center and the Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse had all told me about it in unabashedly negative terms. They say that Fiebre Latino’s owner refuses to let them distribute safe-sex material or test the patrons for HIV, if they’re willing. Fiebre Latino’s owner, listed as Dhanesh Ganesh in public documents, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Ignacio was inside, chatting up a woman at the little rectangular bar. He didn’t want to be bothered, and, as I soon learned, when a woman at Fiebre Latino is talking to a man, she doesn’t want to be bothered, either.
A newcomer to Fiebre Latino might wonder how a proper seduction could possibly occur here. Old gum lies matted in the thin carpet. The walls of brown wood paneling seem to trap the musty cigarette and beer odor, and the cloth of the booth seats is ripped off in little patches. The bar stools wobble, and you might be offered drugs in the bathroom–"coke, X, ice, anything you’d like, werito [little blondie]." The DJ booth is a tall, boxy glass structure, like a telephone booth, and when a CD skips, it keeps on skipping until one of the two female bartenders rushes over to correct the problem. A broad-shouldered young Mexican was standing by the booth; he asked if I liked the women there. "They do whatever you want them to," he said. After the bartender fixed the CD problem, Fiebre Latino returned to the party mood induced by the throbbing, relentlessly cheery ranchera music. But even with music so familiar to its patrons and the kind of uninhibited circle dancing that takes place at Bamboleo’s, there’s a noticeable tension: No one pays much attention to the women parading around, even though they’ve put so much work into their performance.
My first time there, I sat at the bar until a dolled-up young woman wearing a low-cut, tight black dress and more makeup than a stage actress motioned excitedly for me to come and see her. The vast majority of the women at Fiebre Latino are actually men, but she in particular carried off the act rather well, despite her husky voice. I met only one woman there who described herself as a gay man dressed up as a woman; all the others felt that through a trick of nature, they happened to be born into a man’s body. Whatever their particular orientation, the women at Fiebre Latino all aim for glamour, and Fiebre is known among a certain segment of Hispanic immigrants for offering sophisticated women, even if the surroundings aren’t exactly deluxe. "The women here cost you, but they’re nice," one man at the bar said to me after I asked if he was a regular there. He meant they look nice; he wasn’t saying they’re sweet. The woman I met when I first arrived spoke only a little English, and she asked if I was having fun.
It seemed like she’d glued on her smile; as we talked about where she was from in Mexico and what she does in Dallas (sewing and dressmaking from her home), it felt like we were at a Junior League tea party exchanging pleasantries far from the warehouse sprawl of Harry Hines. She may have left everything behind in Mexico to come to the United States, but at about 40 years old, she has educated herself well in the upper-class art of moving one’s mouth without really saying anything. (The estimate of her age is only approximate, because asking the women at Fiebre Latino how old they are would cruelly shatter the illusion they work so hard to create.) When she asked if I wanted a beer, it was obvious she was asking if I would buy her one, too. When the change came back, I held out my hand to receive it from the bartender, but she held the change to the side of my hand, toward the woman I was talking to. I’d entered an awkward rite without knowing it: I thought the bartender had made a simple mistake by thinking the woman had paid for the beers, but the women at Fiebre Latino aren’t chatting with you out of the kindness of their hearts. Their time–and the glamour they bestow upon you–is something you must pay for.
This quaint, occluded ritual is something that Enrique, another Fiebre Latino patron, mastered some time ago. In other words, he doesn’t fall for it anymore. He plays pool with his friends and may hook up with one of the women there late at night. Because he’s in Dallas illegally, he agreed to talk with me in the light of day as long as I didn’t use his real name or take his picture. When we met, Enrique was wearing Wranglers, rattlesnake boots and a Texas Tech cap whose bill he’d shaped into a strict semicircle, just like frat boys do. He didn’t know what a Red Raider was when he bought the hat; he just liked the way it looked. Enrique doesn’t go to Fiebre every weekend, only when he can find a friend who has a car, and even then he doesn’t always go. Fiebre is more like a bizarre and guilty pleasure to him.
On Columbia Avenue in Old East Dallas, where he lives in a one-bedroom apartment with seven other immigrants from rural Mexico, he can walk down the street and spend what little money he has on women. Natural-born women. The first time he went out to the bars on Columbia Avenue, he was surprised to learn that a beer costs $4 if you’re a man, but $15 if you’re buying one for a woman. He’d been talking to a woman one night and offered to buy her a beer. He is 20, thin and shy but good-looking, and women wanted to talk to him, he says. He handed $4 to the bartender, who said, "You need $11 more." "They say they aren’t prostitutes," Enrique says in the sharp, sing-songy accent of rural Mexico. "But you’re paying for their time." He doesn’t have to pay for sex with men, however, something in which he occasionally indulges.
He was careful to point out that he doesn’t initiate those encounters, but he’s still in charge: "Sometimes I let them give me oral sex," he said, and shrugged his shoulders. Enrique wires home half of the approximately $600 he makes each month and pays $90 in rent, all bills included, for the tiny apartment he and his roommates live in with seven twin beds plopped down in the living room and bedroom. He has been lucky to find regular work for the past month; not all of his roommates have, so he loaned them money last month to make rent. "It’s more or less like a family," he says.
The men work together in construction, laying cement or brick; they carry their lunches in little coolers, which saves money. But even then, he doesn’t have a lot to spend, and although he talks about wanting to learn English, he often zones out at the end of the workday to one of the Spanish-language TV stations whose names he doesn’t know: "Twenty-three, 26, 29, 39, 44 and 49 are my favorites," he says. Enrique has lived in Dallas since May. Last October, after he got a ride to the Mexican city of León, where his girlfriend lives about an hour away from his tiny hometown, he took a bus north to the state of Sonora, just south of Arizona, with seven guys he knew from his neighborhood. He precisely remembers crossing: The group left Sonora at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday and arrived in Phoenix by Saturday morning.
By Sunday afternoon, he’d hopped aboard a truck that took him and one other Mexican to the border between Oklahoma and Arkansas. For eight months, once or twice a week, he was able to scrounge up work digging rocks from the earth and loading them onto trucks for use in home construction, but he’d heard there was more steady work in Dallas. Some relatives of the men he’d worked with in Dallas already had a lease on the apartment on Columbia Avenue, so it was easy to find a place to stay. But the notion that Dallas, because it’s a big city, would offer up constant work turned out to be false. There were months when he had to scrounge to make the rent and was looking everywhere for work. Enrique hadn’t quite learned how to market himself. "We just stand out on Columbia, and sometimes los patrones [moving-company supervisors or men from construction sites] drive by looking for workers. There were a lot of days when I wanted to go back to Mexico," he says. He used to call home every week but has altered that routine to once every two weeks to stave off homesickness. And there’s the distraction of Fiebre Latino.
The night I saw Enrique there, he ended up paying one of the women to give him oral sex, as some of his friends did. Sometimes, he says, they will take a woman home and have anal sex with her without a condom, because "I don’t like those things." That night, though, she was standing by the corner of one of the buildings adjacent to the bar. Enrique and two friends drove by her in the loud stampede of trucks and cars that circle Fiebre Latino late at night. The bar staff was patrolling the parking lot, making idle observers like me move on (to try to prevent sex from taking place in cars). A policeman had conspicuously parked his patrol car across from the club and occasionally drove it around and around the area, just like the patrons do. But no one caught Enrique and his friends. How could they? As they drove their red truck near the woman in the corner, she subtly raised her hand, and they drove toward her. She climbed in, but that’s not a crime.
Talking openly about sex, particularly gay sex, is not something most Hispanic immigrants have been raised to do. When I asked Enrique about what happens after he goes to Fiebre Latino, he fidgeted and kept putting his fingers up to his mouth, as if that could stop the words from coming out. Enrique’s isolated circumstances (everything he needs, from work to friendship, is available on Columbia Avenue) are the conditions that lead to increased HIV rates among immigrants, says Dr. Jacobo Kupersztoch, a retired professor of microbiology at UT-Southwestern who grew up in Mexico City and advises the Mexican Consulate in Dallas about health issues. "The infection happens when a large number of people live in the same quarters, in the absence of women," he says.
"Two things happen there: A prostitute is brought to that place to have sex with large numbers of males…and the other route of the infection is in the Mexican way of thinking." He used an American sports metaphor to explain himself: "The pitcher is not a homosexual," he said. "The catcher is a homosexual." In other words, if you’re the top, you’re not gay. Enrique, for one, wants nothing to do with the idea that he might be engaging in gay sex. "Sometimes that happens, yes," Enrique says. "But not in my apartment! I’d hit whoever was doing that." Getting into the mind-set of male Hispanic immigrants who insist they aren’t gay but still have sex with men is a task that has remained elusive for many AIDS organizations, not the least because the details of Hispanic immigrants’ lives are already so hidden from mainstream America. Some immigrants may not even be aware of the sexual danger they face. "In rural Mexico, you may never have heard of HIV," says Marie Camacho Bellows, an HIV researcher at Southwestern.
"They come here and they have no idea that this is an issue they need to worry about. And obviously, they’re not being reached. So many of the messages we’ve had haven’t been culturally competent." That’s something Ceasar Ruiz is trying to change. Almost any night in Dallas, you can find this young, long-haired Mexican-American man having furtive conversations with guys right in front of most gay bars around town. An interviewer for Southwestern’s Community Prevention and Intervention Unit, Ruiz and his colleagues stop men outside of local bars and ask them about their sexual behavior for a scientific survey that Southwestern is conducting on the transmission of HIV in Dallas. He has become an expert in finding mayates.
"Sometimes they feel like if they sleep with another woman, they’re cheating on their wives, but if they sleep with another man, it’s not cheating," he says. "I tell them that even if they’re the top, they can still get infected. Some of them are aware that there are diseases out there, but they’re not aware of how it’s transmitted. I don’t think you gain anything if you try to convince them that they’re gay." Eight years ago, before he started working for Southwestern, Ruiz happened to meet a rural Mexican immigrant named Jorge at a dinner party. The education they ended up providing each other was strange and unexpected. It was also highly useful, occurring in places far removed from a typical laboratory setting. Ruiz, who grew up bilingual in Odessa, says that he intimidated Jorge at first because of his perfect English and his relative ease as a gay man, comfortable in his own skin, which seemed so inexplicable to a recent gay immigrant. Ruiz had a car, which was helpful for Jorge, a mayaton, a gay man who "lives for the thrill of having a straight man in his bed," as Ruiz puts it. So he would call Ruiz and ask him to take him out. "Vamos a coger viejos," Jorge used to tell him. Ruiz offers a diplomatic translation: "We’re going to pick up guys."
They used to set out into the night, Ruiz at the wheel and Jorge not revealing their destination. Ruiz endured the strange ritual because he’d decided that he was "going to expose myself to HIV before I got exposed to it," and it seemed as if Jorge might be a good guide. Ruiz’s campaign of self-education involved much more than packing up and moving from Odessa and happening to meet Jorge. One day in high school, his mother was flipping over his bed so that its innards wouldn’t settle, and she came across a journal in which Ruiz had written about his emotions. He’d prudently kept the language vague, but that didn’t fool his mom, a strict Jehovah’s Witness who had immigrated to West Texas with Ruiz’s father from Mexico. His mother was sitting on his bed after he got home from school with the journal open, but Ruiz denied that he was gay. Five months later, however, when he thought she hadn’t returned from a trip, he decided to go to a gay bar for the first time. He almost made it back to his bedroom at 1:30 the next morning when a light suddenly came on and his mother demanded to know where he’d been.
She kept badgering him until he told her he was, in fact, gay. Ruiz tallied up for me the damage inflicted on him that night: three cracked ribs, one black eye, a busted lip, three kicks to the stomach and assorted missing patches of hair, all courtesy of his mother, he says. But Ruiz didn’t wallow in self-pity: Several days later, he told his boyfriend to call his pager if the dis-fellowship meeting at the church lasted more than an hour. The boyfriend kept paging him until one of the church elders asked what the noise was. "That’s my boyfriend calling; I’ve got to go," Ruiz said, and he moved to Dallas. And so driving around with Jorge, not knowing where he was going, was Ruiz’s way of compensating for the limited world experience West Texas had to offer a young gay Mexican-American. One night they ended up at Fiebre Latino. "It freaked me out at first," Ruiz says. "I had more delicate features then, and I still had long hair, so a lot of guys would hit on me, but these were all these Mexican macho, intimidating-looking guys."
Ruiz realized that Jorge was using him as bait. "He’s effeminate," Ruiz says about Jorge, "and he’s not very cute." If a gay man were to show up at Fiebre because he wanted to end up with a Mexican immigrant, he would need to be almost aggressively effeminate. "They don’t go for a guy who acts like a guy," Ruiz says. "I was very successful at attracting them, but I never went home with anybody. I would get them, and then he would take them." This became a symbiotic act for the duo. Ruiz got tutored in the transmission of HIV. "I thought that these guys thought that they were really dancing with girls," he recalls. "Some of them did. But after a while, when I started to notice that they were paying attention to me as well and I was wearing jeans and a shirt, then I knew that it was more than just being on the down-low." And late at night, amid the catcalls and sly winks of the immigrants at Fiebre and other bars, Jorge got his men.
Ruiz didn’t return to Fiebre Latino for a long time after he started working for Southwestern. But he and the other interviewers in Southwestern’s Community Prevention and Intervention Unit are engaged in a behavioral study–the Health Information Survey, or H.I.S. –that attempts to track how HIV is being transmitted among men in Dallas who have sex with other men. There is an oddly scientific way that they go about corralling the MSMs, or men who have sex with other men. In order for a particular nightspot to be certified as a legitimate venue in the H.I.S. survey, interviewers like Ruiz must prove that at least 75 percent of the men who gather there are sexually interested in other men. Once they do, they start visiting the place if the owner allows it.
Stationed outside the bar, they ask the people going in and out if they’d like to take part in an anonymous survey that will pay them $25 (and another $25 if they agree to take an HIV blood test). Seventy-five percent isn’t a difficult number to attain at a place like Bamboleo’s. But Ruiz wanted to include bars such as Fiebre Latino and El Amanecer ("The Dawn") on Shadybrook Lane, off Northwest Highway, where he had heard there were mayates. So he called up Jorge and struck a deal with him. "I found this place where there’s mayates," Ruiz told him. Jorge got excited and made Ruiz promise that he would buy the beer. Since they got to El Amanecer just before 2 a.m., there wasn’t much time for drinking. Besides, they had to get down to business. Because Ruiz had said that El Amanecer was a popular place for mayates, I went there thinking I’d find hard evidence as to why HIV is escalating among immigrants. But the men there were dancing with women, and if they were into other men, they were doing a good job of hiding it.
A man in jeans, a white cowboy shirt and a white cowboy hat came up to the bar and ordered a Corona. He vigorously shook salt all over the lime stuffed into the lip of the bottle. The band’s baleful little accordion–painted to resemble the Mexican flag–wheezed out a song about being drunk on love. No one was dancing, but a couple of cowboys in the bathroom were drunkenly talking with a guy who told them he was a chilango, from Mexico City. They joked with one another that they didn’t care whom they ended up with at the end of the night. A man sitting next to me at the bar assumed, because I was the only white man there, that I was interested in picking up a Latina. "You can have any of them here for $12 to $14," he said. They were the prostitutes Enrique referred to as "mujeres sucias," "dirty women." After all, no one believes that it’s only through gay sex that HIV is increasing among immigrants. Enrique first heard about AIDS when he was 12, he said, and he heard that men who have sex with dirty women get AIDS, and then those men give it to other women, "como una cadena," like a chain. In his little hometown, though, he never heard about men getting AIDS from gay sex.
Talking to a mayate requires the ability to stomach public humiliation, something Ruiz has learned to endure while conducting Southwestern’s behavioral study. The night Ruiz took Jorge to El Amanecer, "there were some guys dancing with women," he recalls, "and there were some guys standing by the bar by themselves, not really blending in but not standing out too much." The lights came on and everyone started to amble out. Jorge and Ruiz stood by the door, where some mayates noticed them and delivered a few taunting catcalls. Jorge whistled alluringly right back and blew them kisses. "Some of them called us muchachas," Ruiz says. "And then they would say jokingly, but halfway-serious, ‘I’ll get the blondie and you get the bigger one.’" (Ruiz had blond highlights at the time.) "It served my purpose, because it proved that there were guys there that were willing to go home with another guy," Ruiz points out. "Unfortunately, it didn’t yield the 75 percent that was required in our protocol to conduct our research."
Had he come to the United States earlier than he did, Enrique could have been one of the mayates Ruiz and Jorge met that night; he mentioned that he’d also been to El Amanecer. Enrique isn’t as confused by his mayate behavior as it might seem. He is quite certain that he is derecho, straight. But he knows that having a girlfriend in Mexico and occasionally having sex with men in the United States is, at the very least, a complicated situation. "We don’t put words on everything like you all do," he says. "We don’t have all the labels that they have in America to describe ourselves." He told me that he wanted to go back to Mexico for Christmas, and when I called him late last month, his apartment mates told me he had already left. He missed his family, but he wanted to see his girlfriend most of all. It would have taken him about a day and a half by bus to get back to his rancho, his little hometown.
Many AIDS workers in the United States have been worrying about Enrique’s trips back home, and the trips of all the other male immigrants who go back home and have sex with their wives or girlfriends. The University of California’s university-wide AIDS Research Program published a study in November that found that HIV rates are three times as high among Mexican migrant workers in California as in the general population, and that pregnant women at Tijuana General Hospital are four times more likely to have HIV than the general population in both Mexico and the United States. But Enrique wasn’t thinking about AIDS data. Back in Mexico, "everyone knows me," he said, and he wouldn’t have to scrounge around for work or pay a woman to have sex. He, for one, isn’t worried about his health. "Some people have diseases," he said, "and some people don’t."
Competing Diversities: Traditional Sexualities and Modern Western Sexual Identity Constructions Mexico City, 1-5 June 2005
In many cultures throughout the world, traditional sexualities and alternative sexual identities are disappearing or transforming as a result of the diffusion of modern western sexual identity constructions and the emergence of global gay and lesbian subcultures modelled on North American and European cultural models. It can be argued that a queer globalisation has taken place. The conference “Competing Diversities” organised by Enkidu Cultural Centre in Mexico City seeks to examine issues related to the interaction and confrontation between traditional sexualities and western sexual identity constructions across a wide range of perspectives.
Papers are welcomed on virtually all related topics and themes, independently of time, period and space, as well as interdisciplinary perspectives. Also papers of comparative phenomena are welcome. 500 word abstracts should be submitted to the organising committee in English, Spanish, German or French as e-mail attachment by 15th of February 2005. The conference languages will be English and Spanish. Papers should be of approximately 30 minutes duration (circa 8-10 pages). Other forms of presentation, for instance workshops, panel debates and poster sessions will be considered on request. Graduate and postgraduate students are encouraged to attend and present papers. Selected papers from the conference will be published in book form.
Abstracts are to be submitted by the 15th of February 2004, along with the presenter’s name, address, telephone, email, and institutional affiliation. All correspondence for this conference will be conducted via email.
For further information, please contact the organising committee at: email@example.com The conference web page: http://www.enkidumagazine.com/art/2004/131204/E_018_131204.htm To send a message to all members of the list, send e-mail to: APSALGBT-L (at) indiana.edu For questions about list administration, send e-mail to: stevesan (at) umich.edu.
June 9, 2005
Mexico tackles discrimination to fight AIDS–The government has launched an ad campaign against homophobia, but some critics oppose using tax dollars.
by Monica Campbell, Mexico City
The Mexican government has launched its first ever antihomophobia campaign to encourage people to get tested for the AIDS virus. In one radio ad, a mother preparing dinner for her son and his date, whom he is bringing home for the first time, says: "You look so in love, my son. So what’s your date’s name?" " Oscar," her son says.
The narrator then conveys that equality begins with accepting people’s differences. The campaign, currently airing in 19 cities and set to go nationwide this month, is ruffling feathers in this Catholic country, with much of the criticism focused on using public funds to pay for the ads. But AIDS continues to spread here, and the government hopes that destigmatizing homosexuality will enable more people to come forward and get help.
The commercials stem from a 2001 constitutional amendment signed by President Vicente Fox, which outlawed discrimination, including bias based on sexuality. In 2003, federal agencies were required to fund tolerance campaigns. After Brazil, Mexico is the second Latin American country to use federal funds to tackle homophobia. Health workers and AIDS activists applaud Mr. Fox for greenlighting the effort. " Fox gave this campaign some legs, despite his government’s ultraconservative image," says Alejandro Brito, a long-time AIDS activist and director of Letra S, a newspaper supplement here that focuses on sexual diversity. "It’s a positive step. For the first time, the government is recognizing that religious concerns should not interfere with a public-health problem."
Conservative Catholic groups like the National Unity of Parents and Pro-Life, a politically connected antiabortion organization, oppose the antihomophobia campaign. "We are not saying homosexuals should be discriminated against," says Guillermo Bustamante, the head of National Unity, in an interview. "But this is work for nongovernmental groups, not something our taxes should pay for. Why should we fund a mainstream media campaign that validates wayward tendencies and sexual activity that puts people most at risk of getting AIDS?"
National Unity has produced its own radio spots.
One ad features a daughter telling her mother she is attracted to women. The mother says she appreciates her daughter’s openness and pledges to help her from acting out "tendencies that could affect her gravely." So far, the government has decided not to run the National Unity ads. Mexico’s AIDS numbers are not growing at the same rate as other parts of Latin America, namely in Central America and the Caribbean. But not unlike the situation in the United States, Mexican health officials are struggling to control the spread of AIDS among the country’s most vulnerable group: men, generally between 25 and 40 years old.
At the end of 2004, the government reported 93,979 Mexicans as HIV-positive, out of a population of 106 million. The UN estimates the number infected at 160,000, counting both reported and unreported cases. Although HIV rates among women is rising, men still account for more than 80 percent of the 4,000 new AIDS cases reported every year, says Jorge Saavedra, head of Mexico’s national AIDS program. Dr. Saavedra says it’s time to target the core dilemmas facing those most at risk. "How can we start effective prevention campaigns, programs that get information out there about how people can protect themselves, if society rejects those most vulnerable to AIDS? Taking on homophobia is a first step," he says.
" We’ve got to brush aside our puritanical tendencies and talk openly," says Arturo Diaz, spokesman for the anti-homophobia campaign. "If we build tolerance, then perhaps more people will become empowered and get tested. And the more people who know their status, the better our chances of reducing AIDS." Last month, the government released Mexico’s first nationwide survey on discrimination. Although most Mexicans said they disagreed with singling people out because of their sexual preferences, 44 percent of those surveyed said they would not share a house with an HIV- positive person, and 42 percent said they would not seek government intervention if their town banned homosexuals.
Hopefully, says Ricardo Hernández of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, the antihomophobia campaign will improve both doctors’ treatment of AIDS patients and the health system’s image. In January, the Mexican government’s human rights commission reported that nine of every 10 complaints it received from people diagnosed with HIV were directed toward the health sector. Also, activists say businesses still discriminate against homosexuals, though they say concrete numbers are lacking.
18 July 2005
Octavio Acuña, Mexican Activist murdered in homophobic attack
by Ben Townley
A gay health worker and campaigner has been murdered in Mexico, with international human rights groups warning his partner and fellow protestors that they could be in danger. Octavio Acuña was found bleeding from multiple stab wounds on June 21st. He was well known in the city of Querétaro for his work in promoting health issues and sexual awareness. He also ran a condom shop in the city and called for more rights for lesbian and gay people.
According to Amnesty International, Acuña had been subjected to violence before; his shop had been vandalised and burgled on two different occasions. At both times, the local human rights group made no attempt to offer more protection to him, his partner or their health work, Amnesty says. He was found bleeding to death after his shop had been burgled once again. However, according to the campaigning group however, nothing was taken from the shop, indicating the attack was not a robbery that had gone wrong, but instead motivated by homophobia. It also says another activist was drugged and beaten in the days following the attack.
Amnesty says it will be pushing for action from Mexican authorities on the attacks. But it reveals that past events have revealed institutionalised homophobia, with anti-gay attacks treated as “crimes of passion” and either blamed on victims’ partners or on other members of the gay community. It also says studies into whether attacks were hate crimes have failed to be “serious impartial investigations”. “ Amnesty International has written urgent appeals to the Mexican authorities calling for protection for [Acuña’s] partner and other activists, and for a full investigation into the murder,” it said in a statement.
January 6, 2006
Gay Kiss Causes Eviction of Gay Guests
by Greg Brosnan, Mexico City
A gay kiss in a swimming pool, which two men say got them thrown out of a luxury hotel, has caused a stir in traditionally macho Mexico, where open displays of homosexuality are frowned upon. Gerardo Eliud and his partner, Samir Habdu, told police in Los Cabos, a plush beach resort city popular with U.S. tourists, that security guards beat them up and threw them into the street with their luggage after spotting them kissing in the hotel pool in December.
But when leftist deputies demanded an investigation into the incident in Congress this week, they were angrily shouted down by legislators from other parties who argued the subject was unfit for discussion in the chamber. The ruckus highlights the discomfort about homosexuality in this predominantly Catholic country, despite recent openness toward gays in some areas. " It is a question of profound conservatism, intolerance and backwardness," Party of the Democratic Revolution deputy Inti Munoz said of the deputies’ reaction. Congress voted that the issue was not urgent and shelved it in a commission for analysis.
Eliud, a 27-year-old public relations officer who lives with 24-year-old air steward Habdu in Mexico City, said he and his partner only shared a discreet peck. " It was a two-second kiss, we didn’t even touch lips," he said, adding that the couple chose the Hotel Presidente InterContinental because of the stated gay-friendly policy of its parent company.
A spokesman for the hotel said it had documents and witness statements proving the couple’s version of the events was false. He insisted the hotel was gay-friendly and said the pair was thrown out for "making inappropriate advances at other guests." The hotel in Los Cabos, a magnet for foreign yachters and golfers, pays British group InterContinental Hotels Group Plc, to use its brand. Eliud said that when asked why they had thrown them out, two security guards told them: "We don’t like faggots."
He said he and his partner, who are both Mexican, filed a criminal complaint against the hotel for assault and for stealing some of their belongings, and that they had approached Mexico’s human rights commission. " This can happen to anyone," said Eliud. "Many people keep quiet or don’t say anything for fear of being in the press. We want this not to happen to anyone else, and we want justice to be done."
In recent years it has become common to see same-sex couples holding hands in Mexico City’s trendiest neighborhoods, but it is unusual for gay and lesbian couples to publicly show affection in smaller cities, and almost unheard of in rural Mexico. The issue also highlights how international companies face cultural barriers to promoting gay tourism in countries unused to seeing same-sex couples in public.
30 March 2006
Otros Amores–film completed about Mexican gays and social attiudes in Oaxaca
I just came across the Global Gayz.com web site and thought I’d share a link to a documentary video I just made as part of a workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico. Please share with folks who you think might find it interesting. If it gets enough "greenlight" votes on the Current TV web site, it could be broadcast on Current TV’s cable channel to more than 30 million homes in the U.S.
It can be previewed at http://current.tv/studio/media/2109830
Additional (LGBT & other) videos by my partner and I can be found at: http://current.tv/studio/people/DeanHamer
10 November 2006
Mexico gay unions — The legislative assembly in Mexico City has approved a bill recognising same sex civil unions for the first time in the country’s history.
This report from Emilio San Pedro: The bill, which grants same sex couples the same social benefits extended to heterosexual married couples, such as inheritance and pension rights, was approved by a vote of forty-three to seventeen. It was backed by the left-wing PRD party which controls the city’s legislative assembly but opposed by the governing conservative PAN party and the Catholic Church in Mexico, which has condemned gay marriages and same sex unions as going against the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage, which it maintains should only be between a man and a woman.
And although the new law recognises civil unions between gay and heterosexual couples, it doesn’t recognise the right of gay people to go through an official marriage ceremony. That hasn’t stopped gay rights groups in Mexico from celebrating. They’ve heralded the approval of the bill as an important sign that the traditionally Catholic country was shedding its ultra-religious machista image. The leader in Mexico City of the left-wing PRD party, Marti Batres, described the move as a first step, which he said could lead to a national debate on same sex unions and similar legislation being approved in other parts of the country. In fact, a civil unions bill is currently being debated by the local congress in the northern state of Coahuila, on the border with Texas. But the power of the Church in Mexico, the second largest Catholic country in the world, guarantees that the approval of such measures will be met with strong opposition.
Emilio San Pedro, BBC
November 12, 2006
Mexico City OKs Homosexual Civil Unions
Mexico City has become the second city in Latin America, after Buenos Aires, to legally recognize homosexual civil unions. By a 43-17 vote last Thursday, the city’s lawmakers approved the legislation, which allows same-sex couples to register their union with civil authorities, granting them inheritance rights and other benefits typically given to spouses. Heterosexual couples who are not legally married can also be registered under the bill. The previous day, the Mexican bishops’ conference issued a communiqué warning of the dangers of the new norm.
"The Church has always been respectful of natural law, because it is in man’s nature itself that his fulfillment is found and not just in positive laws," states the prelates’ text. "The human body itself expresses the fundamental and complementary difference between man and woman. … The bishops point out that "when the value of the family is threatened by social and economic pressures, the Church will react, reaffirming that marriage between a man and a woman is necessary not only for the private good of every person, but also for the common good of the whole of society, the nation and the state."
This initiative of law, the Mexican bishops note, "seeks to legitimize the relations of partners living together and in a veiled way hopes to give origin to a legislation that foments mechanisms that approve same-sex marriages, including the right to adopt children, as nature does not make it possible for them to beget them between themselves. A law such as this one only sees and seeks to give incomplete and momentary solutions to a problem that is more complex than it seems. … "We propose to the lawmakers that they legislate in favor of the dignity of the human being and of the family, given that the family is the true measure of the nation’s greatness, in the same way that the dignity of man is the authentic measure of civilization."
December 22, 2006
Mexico’s gay icon bounces back from jail
by Istra Pacheco, AP
When Mexico’s scandalous pop diva Gloria Trevi — once the country’s highest-paid performer and known as "Mexico’s Madonna" — left jail, she handed out fliers to promote herself. The hard work is paying off: Two years later, Trevi has shot to worldwide superstardom. Her comeback album, "Como nace el universo," or "How the Universe Was born," went platinum in the United States, selling more than 200,000 copies, and receiving a Latin Billboard Award nomination for best album.
The single "Todos me miran," or "Everyone is Looking at Me," whose video depicts a gay man coming out, hit No. 1 on Mexico’s Billboard chart. These days, Trevi, dubbed the "Gay Queen," has become an icon for gay men on both sides of the border. "Conservatives criticize (gays), but then they wear the clothes they design, listen to the music that they have made so popular and use the makeup that they create," Trevi told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
Trevi rose to stardom in the 1990s when her songs about sexual independence won over thousands of teenage fans, making her one of Latin America’s biggest stars. Then the bottom fell out: In 2000, Trevi, along with her manager Sergio Andrade, and backup singer Maria Raquenel Portillo, were arrested and accused of luring young girls into their entourage with promises of stardom and then sexually abusing them. The three were detained in Brazil, where all had fled to avoid prosecution. They were extradited to Mexico, where a second backup singer was already being held. After nearly five years in Brazilian and Mexican prisons, Trevi was acquitted of charges of kidnapping, rape and corruption of minors.
The 38-year-old singer, who has always maintained her innocence, left jail with her son Angel Gabriel, now 4, and the memory of losing a baby girl who died shortly after being born there. Last year, she gave birth to her second son, Miguel Armando, and says she may have more children. Trevi no longer talks about her time in jail, but the experience transformed her from a Mexican teen idol into an international star with fans in their 20s and 30s. And although she has tamed her wild lioness mane and toned down her raunchy image — doing away with ripped tights — Trevi hasn’t lost her spunk.
She still lets loose on stage, grabbing her crotch and cracking whips. "My fans like the rebel in me," she said in a recent interview. She’s even managed to strike a fine balance between her rebel girl image and her new life as an activist mother, broadening her appeal. Trevi also started a foundation, named Ana Dalai after her baby that died, to provide money and support to jailed mothers, saying she has firsthand knowledge of their difficulties. On Monday, she returned to the prison in Chihuahua state where she was held and handed out toys and medicine to inmate mothers.
She has become a vocal defender of the gay community. The song "Everyone is Looking at Me," which she said is based on a friend’s experience, was a favorite at sold-out shows during Trevi’s recent tour of major gay clubs from New York to Los Angeles. Her album "How the Universe is Born" was a testament to fans of Trevi’s fight against social taboos and not being influenced by others, and she has said "Everyone Is Looking at Me" also relates her own feelings of being rejected by certain sectors of society.
She said she hopes her music inspires people to stay true to themselves. "Artists, and above all ‘La Trevi’ teaches us, especially women, about all the sides of ourselves: the sexy one, the showoff, the passionate one, the mother, the superhero," she said. Later, she added: "My rebelliousness more than anything has a cause. . . . I never have been an anarchist, I’ve always had goals and always have acted out of love."