November 14, 2000
Violence and Harassment Persist As Mexico Learns to Accept Gays
Mexico City – Edgar Garcia Piscil knows that his tight miniskirts, stiletto heels and big blond curls could cost him his life. The 21-year-old psychology student has already narrowly escaped being gang-raped in a Mexico City subway car. He later was attacked on a bus, but the passengers pulled his assailant off him. "No one knows the laws here, nor what our rights are," Mr. Garcia Piscil said as he walked alongside a river of sewage in his gritty hometown of Chimalhuacan, outside Mexico City.
But for the first time in this land of machismo, Mexico City police are trying to change the way they deal with gays. Two months ago, in conjunction with Mexico’s five-year-old Citizens’ Commission Against Hate Crimes, police started distributing flyers titled "It’s not always rosy to be gay" and listing 12 ways for homosexuals to protect themselves, along with the S.O.S. Gay hot line number that connects victims with lawyers.
Until recently, gay rights activists say, police often wrote off murders of homosexuals as crimes of passion. Now they have set up a unit specializing in dealing with homophobic crimes, and are to get sensitivity training. Homosexuals have made huge strides toward acceptance in the past decade, with two gay-rights campaigners taking up seats on the city council in September.
But human-rights activists say that nationally anti-gay violence continues at an alarming rate. A man in a village in central Mexico recently cut his 16-year-old son to pieces with his machete after the boy acknowledged he was gay; a 25-year-old transvestite named Cynthia was gunned down while standing by a busy thoroughfare in Mexico City. An average of three men are killed each month in Mexico simply for being gay, according to the Citizens’ Commission Against Hate Crimes. Most are transvestites.
Their deaths appear from time to time in Mexico City’s lurid tabloids: A tied-up corpse next to an armoire of flashy evening gowns. A stiletto heel in a pool of blood. But for the most part, their hushed deaths resemble their lives. Not even their families speak of them. Their attackers remain at large. In August, a U.S. court in an unprecedented ruling said a cross-dressing gay Mexican man was entitled to asylum in the United States because he faced persecution in his homeland. Scores of other asylum-seekers from across Latin America are waiting for their cases to be heard.
Since June, Amnesty International has issued these alerts for the region: In Argentina, police armed with shotguns threatened a transvestite after he denounced the killing of a friend who was allegedly tortured by police in February. In Ecuador, police jailed a dozen transvestite prostitutes and forced them to be tested for AIDS. In Venezuela, the leader of a transvestite group who had been harassed by police was fatally shot. Weeks later, police arrested other group members, forced them to undress in the street, and beat them.
Since being formed in 1995, Mexico’s hate crimes commission says it has documented more than 200 homophobia-driven murders. "Some of these people have been cut up over and over. Others have been dismembered, their genitals cut off, or forced to get down on their knees, tied up and executed," said Arturo Diaz, one of the gay council members, who headed the study. "That’s hatred." Geovanni Hernandez-Montiel of the southeastern city of Jalapa testified in U.S. courts that he was harassed and persecuted by his family, school officials and police, who he said sexually assaulted him.
He was also hospitalized for a week after being knifed by a group of men who called him insulting names. "There are stories like this from nearly every Mexican state," said his lawyer, Robert Gerber. Speaking between dances at Espartacus, a gay disco on the blue-collar outskirts of Mexico City, Mr. Garcia Piscil described how he covers his bruises with makeup and carries on, fighting daily for his lifestyle with quiet indignation, walking the streets clad in dresses and thick jewelry. "I’m yelled at in the street, rocks are thrown at me," he said. "We’re human. We’re not animals, but we’re treated that way here."
Parents who have found their sons getting a haircut at the salon where Mr. Garcia Piscil works have yanked them from the chair in disgust. Police have arrested him and his friends for no apparent reason. He told of an officer offering to release him in exchange for sex. Still, things are changing. Dozens of homosexual support groups have popped up in the past five years. Gay bars have opened on main avenues. At one bar near Mexico City’s financial district, a man wearing a glittery robe and platform shoes dances in the window nightly.
When Messrs. Diaz and Enoe Uranga became councilmen in the federal district, Mexico City newspapers showed Mr. Diaz waving the gay rights movement’s rainbow flag in celebration as two men behind him kissed. In June, a gay-pride parade drew 30,000 marchers, by the organizers’ count. Just five years ago, such parades drew fewer than 1,000 people.
During this year’s presidential race, contender Vicente Fox’s socially conservative National Action Party published a newspaper ad defending itself to the gay community, the first time a major political party has done so. The party is "not against the gay community in any way," the ad said. "In a Fox administration, there will be freedom for people to live without masks." Mr. Fox won the election and takes office on Dec. 1. Activists worry that what goes for Mexico City doesn’t always apply outside it. Posted outside a recreational area, in a northern Mexico town run by Mr. Fox’s party, was a sign saying: "No drugs. No pets. No homosexuals." But in another possible sign that gay-bashing is no longer easily accepted, the sign was taken down in August after it was shown on national TV.
December 3, 2000
Conservatives and Liberals Battle Over Gay Issues
by Laurence Iliff
Aguascalientes, Mexico – Known mostly as a center for Japanese industry, this conservative city has become an unlikely battleground in Mexico’s struggle between a long liberal tradition and a newly active religious right. But the news media’s discovery of a years-old sign at a popular swimming park recently changed Aguascalientes’ fame from industrial powerhouse to reactionary backwater.
It read, in part: "Access to animals is not permitted. Access to homosexuals is not permitted." The discovery quickly made its way onto the Internet, angering gay groups around the world, as city officials insisted they were not homophobic. "This was like a pressure cooker that suddenly exploded," said Wilfrido Salazar, who runs a local anti-AIDS foundation. But Aguascalientes is not alone. The battles raging across Mexico over abortion, raunchy talk shows and gay rights are the first salvos in this nation’s coming morality wars, analysts say. They are a result of the ruling party’s loss of the presidency after 71 years in power, and the rise of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, to the center of Mexican politics.
While the PAN has different factions, it is closely associated with the Catholic Church. Some of its mayors have banned miniskirts in government offices and billboards for the "Wonder Bra." In the PAN-controlled city of Aguascalientes, two men kissing in public, even in a gay bar, remains a crime. The weapons being used in the fight –marches, sit-ins and contradictory legislation — are not unlike those used in the United States during the rise of the religious right in the 1980s, analysts said.
"The conservative members of the PAN are very excited, they have been waiting for this for a long, long time," said Primitivo Rodriguez, a political analyst. "Ultimately it will be like in the United States. The religious right may not get a lot of their proposals through Congress, but they will have a voice that cannot be ignored."
At the center of all this is a contradictory figure: President-elect Vicente Fox of the PAN, who has encouraged Mexicans to re-think the direction of their nation after so many years under a single party. Fox, who took office Friday, is a Catholic and an abortion opponent who called his closest rival in the presidential race a "transvestite" and a "fag." Meanwhile, he promised a platform of tolerance to young voters who made the difference in the election by their overwhelming support for Fox.
"We greet the arrival of Fox with fear and uncertainty because we don’t know if he will be better or worse for us," said Ernesto Martinez Vazquez, 24, who was kicked out of his house after participating in Aguascalientes’ first gay rights march. People who know him say Fox is a tolerant man who can separate his personal beliefs from public policy. Likewise, the people he has chosen so far to be his top aides come from all shades of the political spectrum.
Nonetheless, the president-elect is now caught between the under-35 crowd that makes up half the Mexican population and older, conservative Catholics who see Fox as their savior in the centuries-old battle between the Catholic Church and a fiercely secular state. "We are encouraged because this is the first president who has taken a public stand in favor of life," said Jorge Serrano Limon, president of the anti-abortion group Pro-Vida. Serrano, who called homosexuality "a sickness that can be cured," said conservatives would ultimately win the war against abortion, immoral television and the libertine sexuality that has gained ground since the 1970s.
Generally, abortion is allowed in Mexico only in cases of rape or incest. But clandestine clinics have flourished. The law, even if the mother’s life is in danger, was passed by PAN legislators in Fox’s home state of Guanajuato. This summer, Mexico City Mayor Rosario Robles pushed a bill through the city’s legislative council expanding the cases under which abortion is allowed to include genetic malformation of the fetus.
The arrival of the abortion pill RU-486 has abortion foes worried and abortion rights advocates encouraged. The pill has not been approved for use in Mexico. Attempts to force trashy talk shows off the air failed this past summer, even as ratings went through the roof. The new television phenomenon often deals with sexually explicit themes rarely aired in public. Likewise, analysts say, Fox seems to be saving his political capital for the big fights ahead: reducing poverty, corruption and crime. "Mexican society in general does not share the history nor the platform of the PAN," said Luis Miguel Rionda, a political science professor at the University of Guanajauto. "Their vote for Fox was a pragmatic vote for change, and Fox knows he has to honor that."
Take what happened in Aguascalientes. For years, police have arrested gay men at a local park, citing a vague law against a "lack of morals and good customs," said Salazar, the anti-AIDS activist. To avoid the hassles, many locals drive out of town to "The End of the World," a makeshift "after-hours bar" that is essentially a small ranch house with a tall fence. A purple light bulb burns in the middle of the living room as patrons, some of them teen-agers, drink $2 beers and dance to a boom box.
Gay groups have constantly complained about harassment, but the local PAN governments, they insist, were even worse than mayors from the former ruling party. Then, the television network Televisa broadcast a story in August on the famous swimming park sign that included anti-gay remarks by a local official. Within days, local officials were hit with angry e-mail from as far away as Brazil and faced the city’s first gay marches. But the local government reacted quickly, and now Salazar is in direct negotiations to revise vague moral laws and re-educate the police. The offensive sign outside the swimming park has been painted over, and a "tolerance zone" for transvestite prostitution is being considered.
The PAN mayor, Luis Armando Reynoso, told reporters that the city government had no control over a sign placed on public property and that his party did not repress gays. "In the . . . (PAN), we respect the gay community and are not scared by homosexuality," he said at the PAN’s national headquarters in Mexico City. "The people we represent did not elect us to preach the Bible." Even some gay activists point out that while Robles in Mexico City has added "sexual orientation" to the capital’s anti-discrimination code, little has been done to stop hate crimes. On a recent weekend, there were seven anti-gay beatings outside the Mexico City discos Anyway and El Antro. Victims complained that neither private security nor the police did anything to help them.
Salazar acknowledged that not just in Aguascalientes, but in Mexico as a whole, the morality battle is raging. For him, the new era began with the forgotten sign at a swimming park. "I had become so used to living with the typical homophobia here that I didn’t even react to the sign when I first saw it maybe five years ago," he said. "It’s ironic because that very park had been famous as a gathering place for gays who had nowhere else to go."
February 17, 2001
Same-sex struggle: Gays in Mexico Push for Social Benefits
Mexico City – Edith Ramoz and Isabel Hernandez, a lesbian couple in their late twenties, are part of an emerging movement in this city’s gay and lesbian community seeking to broaden the rights of those in same-sex unions.
So too are 30-year-old Rafael Mejia and 28-year-old Miguel Angel Dominguez, a gay couple, who are looking forward to ”sharing a future together”. What the movement seeks are benefits guaranteed by the Mexican state to heterosexual couples who opt to cohabit instead of get married, including recognition of their kinship, health coverage, social security payments and the right of inheritance.
”We are moving from tolerance to securing cultural and institutional recognition of gay and lesbian life-styles,” affirmed Claudia Hinojosa, a Mexican feminist and lesbian rights activist. ”We want gay and lesbian couples to be treated the same way as heterosexual couples are by the state, rather than be discriminated against.” The city’s homosexual community used the occasion of Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, primarily celebrated in the West and some developing countries as a day dedicated to lovers, to boldly demonstrate their quest for a life of equality.
Among those who came out in support of that event, held in the plaza outside the Palacio de Bellas Artes, an ornate building that serves as the main cultural centre in this city, were Ramoz, Hernandez, Mejia and Dominquez. They joined over 500 gay and lesbian couples in a symbolic registration of their same-sex unions.
”This is the way to claim our rights,” said a smiling, clean-shaven Mejia after having signed on the dotted line to ”register” his relationship with Dominguez. Added an equally pleased Ramoz, while holding Hernandez’s hand: ”It’s a special moment for us. We looked forward to coming here and registering.” For Alejandra Sarda, the Valentine’s Day event, which had attracted a crowd of close to 3,000 people, including some men in bridal dresses, was important from a regional perspective, too.
”Mexico has taken the first initiative in Latin America to launch a strong effort to seek recognition for same-sex union,” said Sarda, a leading gay and lesbian rights activist from Argentina. According to Sydney Levy, director of programmes and communications at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), a San-Francisco-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), the world’s gay and lesbian communities have been ”denied a number of rights”.
The lack of national recognition for same-sex unions and social benefits guaranteed to heterosexual couples cohabiting are but two of them, he adds. This is reflected in studies done by IGLHRC, where discrimination against same-sex couples has impinged on their civil, social and economic rights. ”They vary widely from country to country,” one study notes. They include the denial of the right to joint custody of children, the right to adopt children and the right to inherit one another’s property.
Furthermore, spousal immigration rights have also been denied, ”including the right to extend one’s citizenship to one’s spouse and children”, in addition to the rights to power of attorney, co-ownership of property, execution of living wills, and medical decision-making power in case of incapacitation. And in some instances, the study declares, the rights to share insurance and pensions benefits have been rebuffed along with the rights to receive and dispose of a spouse’s body in the event of death.
Currently, according to IGLHRC, only a few countries have enacted legislation to ensure equality and respect to same-sex unions. They include Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Hungary and Iceland. In Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Norway, that has resulted in the creation of a ”parallel type of legal recognition with the government for same-sex couples called ‘registered partnerships’,” rather than expanding the prevailing definition of marriage.
This means that soon after same-sex couples register their partnership with the government, they are able to enjoy ”most of the rights and privileges accorded opposite-sex married couples”. The situation is very different, however, in a number of other countries, particularly in the developing world. South Africa, however, is an exception, given the protection it guarantees to sexual minorities under its Bill of Rights.
The New York-based, non-governmental group Human Rights Watch (HRW) drew attention to the lack of rights for gay and lesbian people in its annual report on the global state of human rights, ‘World Report 2001’. "Sexual minorities were persecuted in a significant number of countries and in many ways, including the application of the death penalty or long prison sentences for private sexual acts between consenting adults,” the report charged.
Such abuse, it added, took place despite the reaffirmation in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that ”all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Even state officials played a part in such pervasive abuse, it revealed. ”Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals were vilified by officials of several states. Their claims to equal enjoyment of rights and equal protections before the law were routinely denied in many states.”
In Africa, for instance, the hostility stemmed from government leaders in Namibia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. According to HRW, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had characterised same-sex unions as ”an abomination, a rottenness of culture, real decadence of culture”. Similar opposition has been expressed by the Vatican. The Pope, states HRW, condemned the holding of World Pride 2000, an international event calling attention to human rights violations of sexual minorities, in Rome as ”an offence to the Christian values of the city”.
According to Michel Masa, of the Mexico City-based Miguel Austin Pro Juarez Centre for Human Rights, opposition to the homosexual culture in Mexico is equally virulent. ”It is a conservative society, very homophobic and the Catholic church has a big say over the lives of the people.” Such opposition, in fact, is reflected in a study done by the non-governmental Citizen Commission Against Homophobic Hate Crimes, which revealed that on average one homosexual is murdered in Mexico every three days in cases of gay-bashing.
It also noted that in this country, where there are an estimated 10 million gays and lesbians out of 100 million people, some 631 murders of gays and lesbians from 1995 to July 2000 have not been solved. For Masa, activism by Mexico’s gay and lesbian community to challenge the status quo ”is much needed.” And the public spectacle carried out this week outside the Palacio de Bellas Artes, in her view is important ”for them to achieve equality and protection”.
February 16, 2001
In Mexico, a mass gay wedding
by Marion Lloyd, Globe Correspondent
Mexico City – For Mirka Negroni, a Harvard graduate from Puerto Rico, it was a Valentine’s Day to remember. The 36-year-old health researcher was among more than 200 gay and lesbian activists who took part in a symbolic mass wedding at the steps of Mexico City’s elegant Palace of Fine Arts. ”It’s time that people realize that the traditional nuclear family isn’t the only thing out there,” she said, moments before exchanging vows with her partner alongside scores of other couples in an unprecedented show of gay solidarity in Mexico.
More than 3,000 people turned out for the event Wednesday night. Many waved the trademark rainbow-colored flags of the international gay pridemovement. Others wore Ku Klux Klan hoods emblazoned with swastikas, in protest against members of Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church hierarchy who oppose the movement.
But euphoria dominated the event. Participants were lending support to a proposal that would for the first time grant legal recognition to gay unions, though only within the federal capital. It would create a version of common law marriage, extending inheritance rights and social security to couples who currently lack legal recognition in Mexico. The bill would also apply to other nontraditional unions, such as the elderly and their caregivers.
”It’s about protecting all kinds of families, and that’s a wonderful thing,” said Negroni, who moved here two years ago to live with her Mexican partner. She said she became involved in the gay rights movement in Mexico after becoming an AIDS outreach worker in the impoverished border region. There, she came across cases in which gay men who spent 15 years caring for companions with AIDS were later barred from collecting on their partners’ estates. ”It’s really unbelievable stuff,” she said.
Others said the significance of the gay unions was more symbolic than legal. ”In Mexico, gay couples are invisible, particularly if they are female,” said Alejandra Boleaga, 20, who has lived with another woman for several years. ”This gives us a way to say, `Hey, this really is my partner and I have the paper to prove it.”’ The Valentine’s Day ceremony broke new ground in a country where macho attitudes are an accepted part of the culture. In declaring the right to gay unions, activists have also taken on the Catholic Church, several of whose members have publicly attacked the movement.
The cardinal of Mexico City, Norberto Rivera Carrera, described the event as ”a carnival,” adding that participants were ”confused about the sexuality that God has given them.” But gay activists have seized on a new political climate, following the victory of the first-ever opposition president, to further their equal rights agenda.
”This is the best chance that’s come along in a long time. Now is the moment to for action,” said Yolanda Ramirez, the spokeswoman for the umbrella group Campaign for Cohabitation, which represents some 180 gay and civil activist groups. The activists emphasized, however, that they are not seeking to push for legislation to grant full legal status under the specific term ”gay marriage,” nor the right for gay couples to become adoptive parents. ”We respect the institution of marriage. But we don’t want to repeat this model,” said Arturo Diaz, a representative in the city Legislature. Instead, he said activists want ”the same rights that most Mexicans take for granted.”
A parallel gay marriage bill presented last fall won little support among gay rights groups. They accused its promoter, legislator Armando Quintera, of trying to gain political mileage by aligning himself with a controversial cause. ”This is not Holland. Mexico is not ready for gay marriage,” said Francisco Laguna, the editor of a gay men’s magazine and one of the event’s organizers. Activists have focused their energy instead on establishing a legal framework for nontraditional unions, which they said would go a long way toward protecting gay couples against discrimination.
Unlike the United States, where a prohibition against sodomy is still on the books in some states, Mexico’s penal code has never outlawed homosexual acts. But police regularly raid on gay bars and pickup joints, invoking an ill-defined statute known as crimes against morality, say activists and human rights groups.
”It’s an excuse to extort gay people,” said Ramirez, adding that real change would only come if supporters managed to get a similar bill through Congress. ”We’ve come this far,” she said. ”The rest is just a matter of time.”
February 18, 2001
‘Newlyweds’ Urge Mexico to Accept Gay Unions -Ordinance Proposed
by Michael Riley
Mexico City – Together for more than three years, Carlos and Daniel were symbolically married in a public ceremony as television cameras rolled and rainbow-colored balloons tossed in a breeze overhead. "This is a way for us to formalize our relationship in front of others," said Carlos Mendoza, 23, a university administrator.
Mendoza and his partner, Daniel Pineda, were among 500 gay and lesbian couples who stepped to a podium in an art deco theater and signed a petition calling for legally recognized gay unions. Afterward, each couple was given a certificate attesting to their union. While the Valentine’s Day event in the center of Mexico City was more a rollicking party than a solemn ceremony, there was no mistaking its serious political point.
The event, and the crowd of about 3,000 people who witnessed it, demonstrated public support for a proposal that would recognize gay unions in the country’s capital. More importantly, the event showed off the political muscle of a small but growing gay-rights movement in the city of 20 million people. "The world is changing, and Mexico can’t stay behind," said Pineda. "Spaces are opening here, and it’s going to continue."
The proposed ordinance, the first of its kind in Mexico, would give gay and lesbian partners in Mexico City the same rights to city services and pensions as heterosexual married couples. In a country where homosexuality is normally relegated to the shadows of society, the proposal has already gained a surprising momentum. While the capital’s mayor did not attend the Valentine’s Day ceremony, staged in front of a packed crowd outside a historic theater, his chief Cabinet secretary did. And lawmakers from the mayor’s center-left party are now considering proposing their own version of the ordinance in the city assembly.
"No doubt we’re seeing a greater tolerance" of gays in Mexico, said Alejandro Brito, director of Letra S, a monthly newspaper supplement in Mexico City that focuses on AIDS and sexual diversity issues. "Even so," Brito said, "it’s a limited tolerance that says ‘as long as you don’t bother me too much, it’s OK.’" One result, say gay and lesbian community leaders, is that while activists here press for greater rights, violence against homosexuals may get worse before it gets better.
On the street, in shops, even in family living rooms, gay stereotypes are being increasingly challenged. Many of the country’s popular nighttime soap operas, normally a barometer of changing social attitudes, feature gay or lesbian characters. One popular show’s story line dealt with a gay son declaring his sexual orientation to his parents, and their reactions that ranged from incomprehension, to anger and then to acceptance. Businesses catering to gay customers — everything from nightclubs to travel agencies — have opened in the capital and other urban centers, creating a new class of gay entrepreneurs.
Still, the same democratic mood that swept Mexico’s long-ruling political party from the presidency in last July’s elections also brought to power the center-right National Action Party, or PAN. Some of the party’s leaders are pushing a conservative social agenda that appeals to many Mexicans. The country is 90 percent Roman Catholic.
"I’ve come from very far away to see how low we’ve sunk," Manuel Ortiz, 80, said as he watched last Wednesday’s gay-union ceremony. "I have (three) sons, and I’m proud they all married women. Is this the change" the country voted for? asked Ortiz, who traveled from neighboring Mexico state to witness the event.
Jorge Serrano, director of Pro Vida, a conservative activist group with links to the PAN, said his organization is opposed to the proposed ordinance recognizing gay unions. "The proposal is a plain aggression against the Mexican family," he said. "It’s trying to legalize homosexuality, a relationship that is anti-natural."
While President Vicente Fox has shied away from the overheated debates around abortion or homosexuality, many other leaders in the PAN have not. The PAN mayor of the port city of Veracruz recently declared a campaign to clean the city’s sex workers off the streets and out of the city center. But critics say the effort appeared to focus on transvestite prostitutes and that the mayor ridiculed them in blunt, homophobic language. Those lingering attitudes, gay leaders say, are expressed in high rates of violence against homosexuals.
According to a report by a group headed by Brito, 190 gays and lesbians have been killed in the last five years in the country — targeted, the report said, because of their sexual orientation. In some cases, there were signs that the victims were tortured before they were killed. "I’ve been propositioned by men who then beat me up. Three years ago I was sent to the hospital," said Rodrigo Montes, 19, one of the participants in the ceremony. "It is not as liberal here as it is in other countries. You go around here and you’re insulted, you’re attacked," Montes said. But what’s changing in Mexico, gays and lesbians here say, is a greater willingness to confront those attitudes.
The ordinance that would legalize gay unions was presented by Noe Uranga, the first openly gay lawmaker in the city assembly. And in Veracruz, the transvestite prostitutes recently fought back, blocking the entrance to city hall in protest of the government crackdown against them. "There are homosexuals who are lawyers, there are homosexuals who are congressmen, maybe there were even homosexuals who have been president," Montes said. "We’re human beings and we are going to stand up for our rights."
February 14, 2002
Mexican gays urge marriage right on Valentine’s Day
Mexico City – More than 100 homosexual couples in Mexico, including men dressed as women with huge eyelashes and false breasts, swore oaths of eternal love on Valentine’s Day in protest at not being able to marry. Artists and intellectuals joined the couples in the downtown center of the capital city to promote a bill that would give same-sex marriages legal status in Mexico City. The so-called "union of cohabitation" would give homosexual couples marital status in the capital city, allowing them to share insurance and guaranteeing property rights upon death.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Mexico but is frowned upon by many in conservative sectors of a society, still widely considered a macho, male-dominated nation. "This is completely natural and it is not true that in Mexican families there are no gays," said Angel Rodriguez, hugging and kissing his partner at the Valentine’s Day protest. The bill to give rights to homosexual relationships will be sent to the city government later this year despite receiving scant support when it was last promoted in 2001.
Even the whales are gay down Mexico way
February 24, 2002
by Peter Tatchell
Most of us remember the schoolyard gag about the gay whale. He sucked submarines and swallowed all the seamen. Geddit? A naff joke but apparently not entirely preposterous. I am sitting astride the bow of a speedboat, skimming the waves three miles offshore from Puerto Vallarta on the northern Pacific coast of Mexico. We are shadowing two 50ft, 40-ton humpback whales and a newborn calf. Every few minutes, they surface–sometimes just 30ft ahead–spouting 10ft-high chutes of air and water. The visceral, primal roar of their breathing is awesome. As they dive, they lift their tails skyward, as if in a farewell salute, and then slip majestically below the waves.
Our whale-watching guide, Carlos from Ecotours, informs us that
nearly 400 humpbacks migrate here between November and April, mating and giving birth in alternate years. In the breeding season, males sing whale songs as part of their mating ritual. Carlos confides, without a hint of embarrassment, that a third of the whale songs attract other males. Gay whales? Yep!
In Puerto Vallarta, it is not just the whales that are gay. This seaside resort is the San Francisco of Mexico. Gay and lesbian Mexicans flock here to savour the hedonism of this liberal-minded town. Also a top holiday destination for Mexican families, PV has a ‘live and let live’ ambience, where queer and straight mingle convivially. No one seems to mind if two guys walk down the street holding hands. If only the whole world was like this.
PV has been a longtime vacation spot for US and Canadian queers. It is still virtually unknown to Brits. Respect Holidays is the first UK gay travel operator to include PV in its programme. Could this be the next homo holiday hotspot? Maybe.(See Gay Mexico News & Reports: #16 for the answer.)
For those seeking somewhere new and exotic, PV offers more than the bog-standard gay holiday formula of bars and beaches. It has those, plus lots of fantastic ecological and cultural attractions, including alligators and jaguars at La Tovara Springs nature reserve, and intricate beaded sculptures and paintings by the Huichole Indians. On the same tropical latitude as Hawaii, PV nestles on the shore of Banderas Bay, a 75-mile arc of coastline studded with sandy beaches and rocky coves. Behind the town, the Sierra Madre mountains rise more than 6,000ft and, in the south, they tumble down dramatically into the raging surf. It’s not just the nightlife that is wild!
I am staying in the old town, south of the Cuale River. It’s a world apart from the new, commercialised northern Marina and Hotel Zone. The atmosphere here in the cobbled streets is more Mexican. Local people live, work and shop amid the hotels, bars and restaurants. My hotel–the all-inclusive San Marino Plaza–is on the seafront. From my sixth-floor room, the views over the Pacific Ocean are pure eye-candy. Straight but gay-friendly, the hotel is 250 yards from the gay beach, and the gay bars are within a half-mile radius.
PV’s gay beach is slap-bang on the main shore, towards the southern end of Playa los Muertos–Beach of the Dead. Don’t be put off by the name. It derives from a battle centuries ago. Everyone I met there was thoroughly alive, even glowing. This is not surprising. PV boasts nine hours of 25-30C sunshine almost every day.
The gay beach is called Blue Chairs because–you guessed it–all the deck-chairs are blue. It’s dotted with palm-thatched sunshades and overlooked by a Mexican-style beach bar and restaurant flying the rainbow flag. Across the street is Blue Chairs Hotel, an exclusively gay resort with a fabulous roof terrace and pool, a magical place for sunset cocktails.
Most of the beach crowd are ‘sun swallows’ from the US and Canada. They fly down for a couple of weeks to escape the northern winter. There is a smattering of German, Dutch, Spanish, French and Italian guys, and one or two faggerati from England. The rest are Mexican, either locals or vacationers from other parts of Mexico. Que mango! (This is Hispanic slang for handsome, a useful phrase that often crossed my lips.) The beach is the centre of PV’s gay daylife. There is a chatty picnic atmosphere; the only attitude here is friendly.
In contrast, the surf is ferocious. Six-foot waves crash like thunder on the shore. Being crazy about body surfing, this is my idea of paradise. I love riding six-footers and being tossed about by man-sized breakers. Apart from me, however, few queers venture into the surf. ‘I’d love to go swimming,’ says one Muscle Mary, ‘but saltwater messes my hair.’ Gay-curious teenage boys and married men–here on holiday with their families–wander along the boardwalk behind the gay beach. Looking and wanting, most are too nervous to join the fun. You sometimes see them later, as the sun goes down, at the spot where gay men meet for romantic
Situated on a forested headland at the far end of Playa los Muertos, it is the most exquisitely beautiful place in PV. Queers have taste when they choose cruising locations! To get there, you climb a small, narrow gully. Couples–and those hoping to get coupled–rendezvous on a rocky ledge 60ft above the beach. Even if you don’t meet some gorgeous guy, you are guaranteed to witness a sensational fiery sunset over the Pacific.
After all that exertion, you’ll be bound to have a big appetite. PV has great eateries to suit all tastes and budgets. Family-run takeaways serve gobsmacking, meal-sized burritos for 90p. Alternatively, there are five-star restaurants, many at two-thirds of London prices.
Check out Kit Kat, a high-class gay-straight melting pot that serves the best cocktails in town. My favourite? Chocolate martini (vodka and chocolate liqueur). Bliss! The food’s not bad, either. Roasted tomato, mango and ginger soup, cheddar corn tart with nopal (cactus) salad, key lime pie and angelica. Wow.
For modern Mexican cuisine in a stunning tropical setting, try the hacienda-style Remembranzas, with its garden terrace of palms, eucalyptus and bamboo. It is easy to get distracted by the atmosphere. Don’t forget to eat. My delights were sweet coconut cornbread with tortilla soup, sesame-seeded shrimp and mole sauce, and Mexican coffee (a giant coffee with tequila, Kahlúa and ice cream).
After dining out, most boyz head for the gay bars: El Morbo (fluorescent-graffiti interior), the Ranch (cowboy-themed), Apaches (dykes, artists and writers), Los Amigos (roof terrace) and The Palm (drag and cabaret). From midnight, the crowd drifts to queer dance clubs. There are only three, but they are hot–and I am not talking about air-conditioning
Paco Paco is an industrial warehouse-style disco with an open-air rooftop bar. Anthropology has a chic Mayan-influenced decor, plus strippers, lap-dancers and drag. Los Balcones’s main dance floor is opulent Mexican art deco, overlooked by an all-white, hi-tech chill-out room – perfect for showing off that newly acquired tan. If, like me, you get bored with the gay scene, other adventures are available. The south side of Banderas Bay is flanked by mountainous jungle. There are no roads. The only way to get to these wilder shores is by boat. The Princesa Yelapa sails daily, with free food and an open bar. At Yelapa, if you’re still sober, you can trek to a picture-postcard waterfall and lagoon.
Closer to PV, the cascades, rockpools and hiking trails at El Eden and Chino’s and Chico’s Paradise teem with exotic creatures, including red-green parrots and giant blue butterflies. The Marieta Islands are snorkelling heaven, with shoals of rainbow-coloured fish, dolphins, turtles and giant manta rays. They’re also the nesting place of the rare blue-footed booby bird, and the location of a tiny secret beach, La Playa Del Amor, that is only accessible by swimming through a rock arch at low tide.
For those seeking culture, stunning modern sculptures grace the ocean-front malecón (promenade) and more than 20 art galleries display works by some of Mexico’s most exciting contemporary artists. My verdict? I’m not easily pleased but PV’s got it all. Art, nature, beach and nightlife. What more could any well-balanced homosexual want?
Factfile: Peter Tatchell travelled with Respect Holidays, London (0870 770 0169) which offers packages to Puerto Vallarta. Prices start at £629 ($900) for flight, airport transfers and seven nights’ accommodation, including meals and drinks (14 nights from £789). He flew with Air 2000 (0870 757 2757) which flies direct to Puerto Vallarta from Gatwick and Manchester. Summer flights from £460 ($658) return.
Story source: (http://www.observer.co.uk/travel/story/0,6903,655936,00.html)
June 29, 2002
Many March for Gay Rights in Mexcio City
Thousands of gays and lesbians and their supporters marched through Mexico City on Saturday to demand equal rights for homosexuals. The 24th annual gay pride march had the theme, " For the right to be different, a society of coexistence," and featured floats carrying dancing celebrants. Marchers waved bunches of colored balloons. Some men marched along the main boulevards in skimpy bathing suits and cowboy hats.
Mexico is a predominantly Roman Catholic country in which open homosexuality is not widely accepted. Several Mexico City lawmakers have introduced legislation that would eliminate discrimination against gays and grant them health and housing rights enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. Mexico City is a federal district with its own legislature.
June 15, 2002
Gay cultural event in Mexico honors Spanish poet
The upcoming Gay and Lesbian Cultural Week in the Mexican capital will be dedicated to Spanish poet Luis Cernuda, organizers said Friday. Cernuda, who died in 1963, has been honored in Mexico several times this year in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. The event, which opens Wednesday in Mexico City, was organized by the Gay Cultural Circle, a gay-rights group endorsing "vocation of creative freedom, plurality and defense of the rights of all without differentiating social classes, tastes or preferences," El Chopo University Museum director Alma Rosa Jimenez said.
As part of the cultural week, the museum will exhibit more than 100 works by artists including Carlos Gutierrez, Nahum B. Zenil, Yolanda Andrade, Elena Villaseñor, Irma Palacios, Francisco Castro, Carlos Jaurena, Carla Rippey and Luciano Spano. Other events include round-table discussions of issues important to gays and lesbians as well as workshops.
Action called against Tecate Council disrimination
The local council of Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, has passed an amendment to the city’s "Police and Good Governance Act", penalizing "men who dress as women and move around public places, causing perturbation" (Article 34.15, Chapter VI) with arrest and a fine equal to 40 days’ salary at the minimum wage. According to reports from the newly formed gay organization Grupo Arcoiris Comunidad Gay Tecate, six men have already been arrested under the Act; one of these has faced physical abuse at the hands of police.
IGLHRC joins Grupo Arcoiris Comunidad Gay Tecate in asking for URGENT letters to be sent to Tecate local councilors, condemning the new formulation of Article 34.15 and demanding its immediate elimination. Please write to: Presidencia Municipal Ortiz Rubio # 1310 Zona Centro, C.P. 21400 Tecate, B.C. México Fax: (52 665) 654 1175 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org And please send a copy to Grupo Arcoiris Comunidad Gay Tecate at: email@example.com
" Dear Council Members, We are writing to express our concern for the amendment to Tecate’s "Bando de Policía y Buen Gobierno" that penalizes "men who dress as women and move around public places, causing perturbation" (Article 34. 15, Chapter VI). We find the expression "men who dress as women" dangerously ignorant of the complex realities of human sexuality and identity. We urge you to consult experts in medicine, sexology and psychology so you can learn about the lives of transgender people, that is, individuals who were born into a particular biological sex but whose perception of themselves corresponds to another.
"These are not "men who dress as women": these are individuals who do not see themselves as men, and who dress in a way that brings their appearance into harmony with their inner being. Some of them call themselves "gay men", others "transvestites". Please keep in mind that being a transvestite or a gay man is not a crime. A particular mode of dress or a "mannerism" is a public expression, and hence subject to protection. The right to free expression is a basic human right, recognized by international treaties that Honduras has ratified, such the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Inter-American Human Rights Convention.
"The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Mr. Abid Hussein, has stated that restrictions to "the ability to publicly express one’s sexual orientation and gender identity–for instance through clothing … and public and social behavior"–is a violation of the right to freedom of expression, and as such falls within his mandate. The association between "men who dress as women" and "causing perturbation", as expressed in the text of the amendment, is also a source of deep concern–not to mention the consideration in Article 34.15 of "men to dress as women" as a "moral offense". We can safely assume that the aim of Article 34.15 is to protect "public morals". This is a dangerously ambiguous concept, usually enforced against communities that are already vulnerable or excluded. No modern, complex society can operate under a single, exclusive idea of what constitutes "morality." Those in power impose their own idea of morality upon others, a fact testifying to power relationships and not to the quality of the "morality" itself.
"By contrast, democratic societies employ dialogue and negotiation to arrive at inclusive understandings of what can and cannot be restricted–adopting the basic principle that the law targets only what harms others, and taking into consideration the needs of all communities. The effects of Article 34.15 are already damaging the gay community in Tecate. Six men (Enrique Espinoza Apodaca, Rubén Obregón Mange, Jesús Alexandro Reyes Castro, Jaime Valdez Avila, José Alberto Villagómez Machuca and a young men who only wants to reveal his first name, Luciano) have already been arrested and fined under the amendment. Luciano was also physically abused by local police officers, according to reports from local gay organization Grupo Arcoiris Comunidad Gay Tecate. In all cases, police officers failed to fulfill the requirement of recording the cause of arrest and amount of the fine on standard forms.
"Thus, there is no written evidence that these arrests ever took place. We urge you to conduct a full investigation into procedural violations and abuses that took place during those arrests, and to punish those who are found responsible for them. Above all, we urge you to reconsider the amendment to the Bando de Policía y Buen Gobierno. It constitutes discriminatory treatment against a section of the Tecate population, and an offense to their human dignity and their uniqueness. Please consider that modern societies are diverse, encompassing many communities. Authorities should actively promote dialogue and understanding through lines of diversity, based on the idea enshrined within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights." When the State punishes one particular expression of identity, while others are considered "moral" and legitimate, this is a violation of the basic principle of equality. We are aware of the recent creation of the non-governmental organization, Grupo Arcoiris Comunidad Gay Tecate, which aims to promote and protect the human rights of the Tecatean gay community.
"We encourage you to meet with their representatives and to listen to their testimonies, their perspectives about gay and transgender identities, and their information about human rights protections enjoyed in other parts of Mexico (like in the Federal District, Aguascalientes, and Chiapas, where discrimination based on sexual orientation is forbidden by the respective Penal Codes) and in the rest of the world as well. Sincerely, (Your name, organization and address)
On October 21, 2002, the Tecate City Council passed an amendment to the city’s "Police and Good Governance Act" that defined "men who dress as women and move around public places, causing perturbation" as a "moral offense" and punished them with arrest and a fine equivalent to 40 days of the minimum wage (Article 34.15, Chapter VI). Eight councilors (from the three main political parties in Mexico), including the Presidente Municipal (a mayoral figure in the city council of small Mexican towns), voted in favor of the amendment. Four councilors voted against the measure. Six men (Enrique Espinoza Apodaca, Rubén Obregón Mange, Jesús Alexandro Reyes Castro, Jaime Valdez Avila, José Alberto Villagómez Machuca and a young men who only wants to reveal his first name, Luciano) have already been arrested and fined under the amendment. Luciano was also physically abused by local police officers, according to reports from local gay organization Grupo Arcoiris Comunidad Gay Tecate. In all cases, police officers failed to complete the necessary forms noting the cause of arrest and the fine paid.
Thus, there is no written evidence that those arrests ever took place. The amendment and its enforcement have galvanized the gay community in Tecate. A group of gay men and transgender people organized themselves as an association called Grupo Arco Iris Comunidad Gay Tecate and managed to attract the attention of national media as well as some reporters from the USA. As a creative reply to the city council’s attempt to erase gay men and transgender people out of the public view, activists are planning a Gay Cultural Week in mid-December that will feature a Christmas float.
The city’s "First Gay Pride March and Protest" is also planned for November 5; participants will demand the repeal of the amendment.
IN THE LAW
Right to freedom of expression Protected by the UDHR (Article 19), the ICCPR (Article 19) and the IACHR (Article 13). Special Rapporteur Abid Hussein’s quotation is taken from the letter that he and five of his colleagues addressed to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities all over the world inviting them to report and denounce human rights violations (June 2001). Right to freedom from discrimination and right to equality before the law Protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in its Articles 2 and 7, by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in its Articles 2 and 26, and by the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights (IACHR) in its Articles 1 and 24. The United Nations Human Rights Committee affirmed in its decision in Toonen v Australia (1994) that existing protections against discrimination in Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) should be understood to include sexual orientation as a protected status.
Numerous other human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have subsequently condemned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Three States–South Africa, Ecuador, and Fiji–have adopted Constitutions that expressly include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination provisions. Article 1 of the Mexican Constitution forbids all discrimination based on "ethnic or national origin, gender, age, different-ableness, social condition, health condition, religion, opinions, preferences, legal status or any other that damages human dignity …".
Following the UN Human Rights Committee, sexual orientation would be protected under "sex" – and the reference to "preferences" can be of particular use in this case. The Constitution of Baja California affirms for the State inhabitants "all individual and social guarantees consecrated by the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico as well as the other rights granted by the Constitution". At State level, on September 2, 1999, the Mexico City Legislative Assembly passed an Amendment to Article 281 of the Federal District’s Penal Code that incorporated discrimination as a crime. It was the first Mexican law of an affirmative nature that recognized sexual orientation as a right.
The article sets punishments of "one to three years in prison, a fine of fifty to two hundred days and twenty five to one hundred days of community service to anyone who on the basis of age, gender, pregnancy, marital status, race, language, religion, ideology, sexual orientation, skin color, nationality, origin or social position, work or profession, economic status, physical character, disabilities or health status * provokes or incites hate and violence * in the exercise of his professional, trade or business activities refuses services to a person who is entitled to it * ostracizes or excludes a person or group with those actions causing material or emotional harm * denies or restricts work rights"
In March 11, 2001, the Aguascalientes State Legislature passed an amendment to the State Penal Code (Article 205 bis) written in similar terms to that in force in Mexico City. And, in August, 2001, the Chiapas State Legislature passed a similar amendment to its Penal Code (Article 205 bis). Right to freedom of movement Protected by the UDHR (Article 13), the ICCPR (Article 12) and the IACHR (Article 22). Right to liberty and security of the person Protected by the ICCPR in its Article 9, and by the IACHR in its Article 7. Right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment Protected by the UDHR in its Article 5, ICCPR in its Article 7 and IACHR in its Article 5. Mexico ratified the ICCPR in 1981 and the IACHR in 1982. The UDHR is considered part of customary international law, and binding on all member States of the United Nations.
25 March 2003
Pride and war protests mix in Mexico and Lebanon
While many GLBT activists participate in anti-war demonstrations in the United States and Europe, gays and lesbians in other parts of the world are breaking new ground as they publicly protest the war in Iraq. On Friday, about 500 lesbians marched in Mexico City to protest the war, according to an Associated Press report. The event was also reportedly the first public Pride march for the city. Led by Mexico City independent lawmaker Enoe Uranga, the group marched through the city’s main streets to the central plaza, where they celebrated gay pride and voiced opposition to the war.
On March 15 in Lebanon, a group of 10 gay people participated in an anti-war demonstration while displaying the rainbow flag. It was the first time gays participated in such an event while publicly stating their identity, the newspaper An-Nahar reported. In addition to the rainbow flag, gay participants in the Beirut demonstration carried a sign that read: "Out against war." When asked if he feared being harassed, one of the group’s members said, "Absolutely not. We have the right to unite and reveal our identity just like the others."
June 3, 2003
Gay leader killed with his partner–Hammer apparently used to kill them He was a Convergence councilman candidate
by Rubén A. Ruiz [English Translation by William B. Kelley, firstname.lastname@example.org ]
The president of the Lesbian and Gay Collective (Colectivo Lésbico-Gay) in Sonora, a candidate for city councilman for the Convergence party, was brutally beaten to death along with his partner in their home.
Jorge Luis Armenta Peñuelas, 27, and Ramón Armando Gutiérrez Enríquez, 33, both of 157 Calle San Juan Norte in the San Carlos district [of Nogales, Sonora], are the victims of the tragic event. According to Public Security, the bodies were found at 7:45 p.m. last Sunday, when Carlos Alberto León Gutiérrez, 29, brother of one of the victims, went to look for them at the dead men’s home. He saw that the back door was open and, on entering, observed the couple’s bodies in a room, and both victims showed blows and bruises on most of their bodies.
Evidence of meeting
Some bottles of liquor were found at the scene, which suggested that the victims could have drunk with their killer, and it appeared that a hammer was the instrument with which the couple were beaten to death. Neighbors of the victims said they had seen nothing and had heard no noises the previous night, until last Sunday evening when municipal police arrived at the scene and removed the bodies. "We heard nothing. We left Sunday about 10 in the morning and we returned about 2 in the afternoon.
We knew nothing," said one woman interviewed. "They were very quiet. Recently they had parties there but most recently not. The two boys lived very quietly. At times they arrived with beers and went inside. They were not heard at all," said another of the women. Homosexuals interviewed Sergio Biebrich Guevara, second investigative agent of the Public Ministry, said that as of now there are no suspects in the two men’s murders and that forensic physicians are still working to complete the autopsies.
In the offices of the Fátima Base of the State Judicial Police, agents were seen to interview several homosexuals in their attempt to shed light on the killings. Several attempts were made to contact Pedro García Palazuelos, Convergence mayoral candidate, in order to learn his opinion of the events, but he could not be found at home or in his campaign office.
[Translator’s Note: An online search of El Imparcial shows an October 6, 2002, story about two young men’s having broken Jorge Luis Armenta Peñuelas’s nose during a late-night assault in a Nogales bar frequented by gay men. In his Internet postings, Armenta listed himself as a journalist. The Colectivo’s Web site at http://colectivolesbicogay.tripod.com.mx/ contains no news of his killing, though he himself may have been its Webmaster.
June 21, 2003
Gay pride parade crosses socially conservative Mexican capital
by Alonso Soto
Mexico City – Thousands of men and women crowded Mexico City’s central avenue Saturday afternoon, openly celebrating gay pride in a capital city that is showing new signs of tolerance for homosexuals. The parade that was just a trickle when it started in the 1970s on Saturday filled four traffic lanes with mostly young men and plenty of curious bystanders. "This is a valuable way to show people that there are more of us than they think," said Javier Picaso, 45, of Mexico City, who marched shrouded in a gay-pride rainbow flag. "Mexico likes to guard its traditions – and its myths." Marchers, some dressed in drag or next to nothing, gathered at the base of The Angel, a well-recognized monument to Mexico’s independence.
Organizers expected the 25th annual march to attract more than 60,000 people, which would make it one of the biggest gay parades in Latin America. The first gay marches were met with surprise and incomprehension by the public, according to parade coordinator Francisco Javier Lagunes. "The march is an indicator of the level of tolerance and democracy in Mexico," Lagunes said. "But in political terms the movement still is in a very early stage of its development." Two weeks ago President Vicente Fox signed an anti-discrimination law that provides protection for groups including homosexuals.
The law has drawn criticism for lacking teeth, but gay activists said it’s a step in the right direction. Enoe Uranga, a lawmaker in Mexico City’s legislative assembly, said her life in politics as a lesbian has been hampered by stereotypes and stigmas. "In political life you’re always faced with finger pointing because of your sexuality," Uranga said. "It’s commonplace to be dismissed just for being a lesbian and not for your political stance." Uranga’s proposal to recognize the rights of same-sex couples who live together has drawn opposition from the Roman Catholic church in a country where about 90 percent of the population is Catholic. Meanwhile, a new, leftist political party has joined the fight for gay rights in Mexico.
"We believe that in a modern and democratic country we need the equal treatment of all people, including gay people," said Jorge Javier Romero, a spokesman for the Mexico Possible Party. The party, which was first formally recognized by the Mexican government in 2002, has drawn fire this year from the Catholic church for supporting the recognition of homosexual marriage. Mexico Possible has 32 "gay activists" among its candidates in the midterm congressional and local elections July 6, Romero said. In May the party accused three Roman Catholic bishops of trying to influence voters in violation of federal election laws.
The constitution in Mexico prohibits religious officials from engaging in political activities, including lobbying for or against candidates or political parties. Rodolfo Millan, legal coordinator for the Citizens Commission against Homophobic Crimes, said hate crimes are still common in Mexico and most of the victims are homosexuals in rural areas. The organizers of the march said they invited several high ranking city officials, including Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, without receiving a response. The mayor’s press office refused to say whether he was going to the march.
July 4, 2003
Mexico’s Transvestite Candidate May Win
by John Rice
Ixhuatan, Mexico – Four female impersonators, all exquisitely made up, lip-synch and dance to pop music in Ixhuatan’s town plaza. Traffic freezes as drivers and pedal-cabbies halt in the street to watch. Then out comes candidate Amaranta Gomez – the first transvestite to have at least an outside chance of winning a congressional seat in Mexico. Campaigning in a flower-print skirt, and making no attempt to hide the fact that she lost an arm last year in a bus crash, she has become a symbol of the tolerance for diversity promoted by a small, new political party, Mexico Possible.
"Our themes are very clear," Gomez said after she performed in this Pacific Coast fishing town of 10,000 people, 360 miles southeast of Mexico City. "We don’t go around with ambivalence or double-talk. We call things by their names." Gomez, born Jorge 26 years ago, is running both for Congress and her local government. Even if she loses locally, she could get a congressional seat if Mexico Possible wins 3 percent or more in the nationwide vote Sunday. Polls indicate it may not even get that many votes, but the party has won national attention by filing legal complaints against Roman Catholic priests and bishops who had urged Mexicans to vote against parties favoring abortion and gay marriage. Under Mexican law, clerics are forbidden to meddle in partisan politics.
Mexico Possible also has attracted human rights and environmental campaigners, left-wing academics and gay rights activists with a platform that includes calls for broader legalization of abortion, homosexual marriage and legalizing marijuana. Several leading intellectuals signed advertisements endorsing the party. They said they were disillusioned with a larger left-wing party, Democratic Revolution. Gomez is part of a Zapotec Indian culture in the Juchitan area of southern Mexico that treats male homosexuality with unusual openness. Homosexuals, or "muxe" (pronounced MOO-shay), are generally accepted in the community as home helpers, embroiderers, decorators, cooks and entertainers. It’s common to see transvestites in the streets of Juchitan, 35 miles west of here.
According to anthropological studies, some women encourage sons’ muxe leanings because they tend to stay home and care for their parents rather than getting married. Until now, however, few have ventured into politics, and none so dramatically as Gomez. Gomez said she was working in transvestite shows about nine years ago when "I saw that my friends were dying, that relatives, too, were dying of a problem that we saw as very far off, that we saw as a problem of the big cities."
She helped found and develop an AIDS education program that gained international support. She uses her campaign for AIDS education. Her brief speech appealing for honest, open government was followed by a condom-promoting skit, partly in drag, that drew roars of laughter. The leader of the dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party in Juchitan, Jesus Mendoza Ferra, insisted he wasn’t worried by Gomez’s campaign. Yet he repeatedly mocked her by calling her "Amaranto," putting a masculine ending on the name.
And Mendoza’s party obviously took note. It held its own rally for muxes last weekend. Gomez said her high-profile sexuality tends to obscure her record on political and economic issues, but she hopes voters will recognize that transvestites have a place in politics. "You don’t have to stop being a transvestite," she said. "You don’t have to stop wearing makeup. You don’t have to stop being what you want to be to be involved in politics." Gomez’s openness impressed Fulvio Toledo, a 36-year-old brewery worker among some 500 onlookers at her campaign stop. "I admire her," he said. "She doesn’t have complexes about anything."