Being an American homosexual in Paraguay
by Carrie Coy
While I was living in Paraguay last year, the Bowling Alley – a Favorite dancing spot for Peace Corps volunteers was shut down by the government on the grounds that it was a haven for "drug addicts and homosexuals." The move surprised no one, least of all volunteers who for the most part shrugged and danced elsewhere from then on. Whether the change was legitimate or whether there was a qualitative difference between a drug addict and a homosexual hardly seemed to matter.
Homophobia is such a pervasive, accepted aspect of Paraguayan culture that being gay and being communist are considered the country’s two greatest sins – both ample grounds for imprisonment or exile. When Aldo Zuccolillo, editor of the country’s most Popular, suspended newspaper, received a Prestigious journalism prize in New York last October, the nightly state-sponsored radio station congratulated him for receiving an award from the association of homosexual Latin American journalists, and suggested he might also have AIDS. Obviously the much-touted abandon with which Latin Americans, specifically Paraguayans, kiss and touch each other does not reflect any open-mindedness toward homosexuality. In fact, it is probably only because being gay is so unthinkable that being demonstrative is as safe.
But Gay Peach Corps volunteers have lived and worked productively in the face of this rampant homophobia for many years – probably since the program’s inception in 1967. How do they do it? Unquestionably the answer is the informal support networks that spring up, evolve and thrive as groups of volunteers rotate in and out of the country every six months; friends who ride hours in dusty buses and walk kilometers in mud on closed roads to be there when they said they would. Being gay in such a culture – even with the relative freedom of a foreigner – is not easy. The price paid is remaining completely in the closet in one’s community the whole two years. In other words, the motivation for joining and staying has to be something other than a desire to affirm one’s identity.
While I was in Paraguay, the U.S. staff was relatively open-minded and supportive. Through the staff, names of gay contact volunteers were available to any interested new volunteer. Unfortunately, the climate was changing when I left in October. The leadership had recently changed (Directorships are political appointments) and the program was being energetically whipped into Yuppie-like condition – much to the resentment of most volunteers.
But we do survive and even grow in spite of or because of the obstacles encountered. One pair of my friends ended up in the same small town together and successfully masqueraded as a couple for two years, walking arm in arm in the streets. Their relationship baffled the town who couldn’t understand why she played basketball with the Mormons and swam in the river and why he loved to cook and write long letters home. "But you are so different" people constantly told them, to which they could cheerfully respond, "we’re just from a different culture."
All volunteers live in a fishbowl and must endure constant scrutiny and, for men in particular, intense interest in their sex lives. Inventing faithful, endlessly patient boy/girlfriends back home is an easy way to explain disinterest in local prospects – it is also a good way to skip Saturday night fiestas where men and women form separate lines and shuffle their feet for hours. Although volunteers might spend lots of time fantasizing about coming out to campesinos, no one I know ever has. The opportunities to enlighten or even understand the mentality of one’s new friends are rare. After people in her site saw the Newsweek cover, "Being Gay in America," one woman discovered they thought homosexuality was something vaguely hermaphroditic.
I had an unexpected opportunity one day to see into that world. My work consisted primarily of teaching farmers basic accounting and inventory management techniques to improve the operation of their small food coops. I heard through the grapevine one day that a key farmer had angrily quit his job and would not return. The only explanation for his sudden departure the other farmers would give me, red-faced and cryptically, was that he was a "homosexual." It dawned on me then why this suspiciously respectful, unmarried farmer/accountant was so marginally tolerated – in spice of his competence. Regardless of who he was or was not, his isolation enforced by the other farmers was almost complete.
There is a huge difference, obviously, between our lives as gringo gays and lesbians and the lives of gay Paraguayans. I think there is a level on which the way we are accepted by our adopted families transcends cultural expectations. This fact was brought home to me when a close relative of a friend was injured and died suddenly back home. She and her lover pieced the story together through numerous emotional phone conversations in her Paraguayan mother’s tiny shop. They returned immediately to the States leaving me to deal with those left behind. Shaken and trying to understand the interaction between the two women, Kathy’s mom repeatedly asked me, "son amigas intimas, no?" I knew that on some gut level she comprehended their relationship though she never stopped scheming of ways to get to the U.S. to meet Kathy’s fictitious boyfriend.
Another distinction – harder than being a gay/lesbian volunteer is coming out as one, in the solitude of one’s tiny community. There is a certain resolve and energy that comes from voluntarily sacrificing one’s support network that a new convert does not have. Motivated by ill-defined notions of escape and altruism, they are suddenly "out" in the middle of nowhere with a long time to wonder what next. Cutting ties to fiancees and straight lovers long distance might appear to be easier only at first glance. In reality it is a slow-motion exercise in frustration, crossed letters and bad feeling. Luckily friends are there – whether they are incarnated in the shape of cooks, tapes, telegrams, or exist in the flesh.
To end on a positive note, there are deserved benefits to being gay as a volunteer. One admittedly debatable advantage is the ability to avoid the intercultural dating game that so often ends in misunderstanding and broken hearts. It simplifies things considerable. Many straight volunteers who start off swearing to remain uninvolved in their sites find their resolve weakening after months of loneliness. Another — more definite advantage is the possibility of spending nights with a lover without tossing one’s reputation to the winds. In a culture where chaperons rule, the lengths to which straight couples have to go to snatch time alone would stymie any budding relationship.
On the whole our lives seem easy by comparison to the plight of gay Paraguayans. Any though I hesitate to generalize about South America as a whole, I think the situation is much the same everywhere. The only notable exceptions are probably the large cosmopolitan cities like Rio or Buenos Aires – both favorite volunteer vacation spots. Even Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization, will not accept people imprisoned because of their sexual preference as prisoners of conscience. As hard as it may be to believe, at times, gays and lesbians in the U.S. have much to be thankful for.
May 16, 2010 – IGLHRC
Paraguay: Protest Abduction and Violence Against Lesbian on the Basis of Her Sexual Orientation
On April 7, 2010, a 20-year old lesbian, Norma Machado, was abducted from her home in Asunción, Paraguay by five family members and a family friend. She was dragged into a car where she was suffocated, strangled and subjected to multiple blows, resulting in severe bruising to her body. According to multiple news reports, one of her abductors was her uncle, Viviano Machado, former commander of National Police.
According to the report filed by Machado at Police Station Number 20 and the submission to the Attorney General of Paraguay by a leading human rights organization, Coordinadora Derechos Humanos Paraguay (CODEHUPY), Machado’s abductors took her to Tapiti SRL, a private security provider co-owned by her uncle, Vidal Machado, currently member of National Police, dismissed in 2006 because alleged participation in crimes and reestablished by Supreme Court in March 2010. At Tapiti SRL, Machado was held against her will and subjected to three hours of humiliation and interrogation about her lesbianism. Her captors told her that she was the "black sheep" of the family, that she brought shame on the family, and that her lifestyle was perverted. They also accused her girlfriend of trafficking in persons and blamed her for Machado’s lesbianism. Machado’s abductors confiscated her cell phone and scrutinized its messages. Later the same day, she was taken against her will to her parents’ home in Villa del Rosario, in the town of San Pedro, where she was confined for nine days, denied any means of outside communication and subjected to further interrogations and threats related to her sexual orientation until she could escape.
Since her escape, Norma Machado has been in hiding. Attempts to get a response from authorities have only resulted in a shifting of responsibility from one government office to another. To date, no adequate steps have been taken to protect her or to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) joins the Paraguayan lesbian rights organization Aireana – Grupo de Derechos de las Lesbianas in an urgent call for protest and solidarity. IGLHRC and Aireana request that letters of condemnation be sent to the government of Paraguay demanding condemnation of this incident, a full and fair investigation into what transpired, and for all perpetrators to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, with a particular focus on the involvement and accountability of any police officers and private security agents.
July 20, 2010 – OnTop Magazine
Argentine Neighbors Uruguay, Paraguay To Debate Gay Marriage
by Carlos Santoscoy
In what is being described as a domino effect, two of Argentina’s neighbors will consider gay marriage bills. A gay marriage bill approved last week in the Argentine Senate and scheduled to be ratified Wednesday by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner makes the Roman Catholic stronghold the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage. The bill cleared Congress over the strong objections of the Catholic Church.
Now comes word that two of Argentina’s neighbors – Uruguay and Paraguay – will also consider legalizing gay marriage. Uruguay appears the likeliest to succeed. Former President Tabare Vazquez turned tiny Uruguay into a gay rights leader in the region. During his 5-year tenure the country dropped its ban on gay troops serving in the military and gave gay couples the right to adopt children. It also legalized civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Last year, Vazquez signed a groundbreaking transgender law that sets the legal guidelines for people who want to change their gender.
The gay rights group which lobbied for passage of the civil unions bill in 2007, Ovejas Negras (Black Sheep), says the time has come for full marriage equality in Uruguay. “We have respected Uruguayan political tradition of progressive changes, but now we are ready to achieve full equality at the legal level, so the next goal is marriage,” Diego Sempol of Ovejas Negras told Argentina’s Telam. Sempol added that initial discussions with leaders from Frente Amplio, the nation’s ruling party, were promising. But President Jose Alberto Mujica Cordano’s leftist credentials on gay rights remain untested.
Opposition to a yet-to-be-introduced gay marriage bill in Paraguay is already mobilizing. Roman Catholic Bishop Adalberto Martinez of San Pedo told La Nacion that the church is wasting no time in preparing a campaign against gay marriage. “We are going to put out an intense educational campaign on Christian values, to avoid the law of marriage between people of the same sex that was approved in Argentina from coming to Paraguay,” he said.
This after the gay rights group SOMOSGAY (we are gay) tweeted on Thursday that they will lobby for passage of a gay marriage bill in October. Paraguay Vice-President Federico Franco has already come out against the proposal. “God created man and woman to form a family,” he told UltimaHora.com. “I am a Catholic. I have always tried to be as direct and honest as possible.” Franco went on to say that he did not want to imagine a child being raised by gay parents or how the child would react upon learning that his/her parents are gay.
In a television appearance on Paravision, Senator Alfredo Jaeggli said he was in favor of legalizing gay marriage. Chile is preparing to debate a bill that recognizes gay and lesbian couples with civil unions.
October 02, 2010 – Ontop Magazine
Dueling Gay Marriage Rallies Held In Paraguay
by On Top Magazine Staff
Proponent and opponents of gay marriage will stage dueling rallies in Paraguay on Saturday. Just days after Argentina became the first country to legalize gay marriage in Latin America, gay rights group SOMOSGAY (we are gay) announced they would lobby in October for passage of a similar bill in neighboring Paraguay.
With the backing of the Roman Catholic Church, opposition to the yet-to-be-introduced bill quickly mobilized. “We are going to put out an intense educational campaign on Christian values, to avoid the law of marriage between people of the same sex that was approved in Argentina from coming to Paraguay,” Bishop Adalberto Martinez of San Pedo told La Nation in July.
Saturday’s Festival Por La Vida Y La Famalia (Festival For Life & Family) urges opponents of gay marriage to protest the institution at town squares throughout the nation. The group’s Facebook page has attracted more than 13,000 followers. The loudest protest is expected to take place in Asuncion, the nation’s largest city and its capital, just a stone’s throw away from Argentina. Gay marriage advocates are gathering in front of the Pantheon of Heroes, Asuncion’s memorial to the country’s fallen soldiers.
“This festival would not be taking place, if not prompted by the Queremos Papa y Mama (We want a mother and a father) campaign,” Simon Cazal, president of SOMOSGAY, told UltimaHora.com.
At the event’s Facebook page, over 1,000 people had agreed to attend Saturday’s demonstration.
October 05, 2010 – OnTop Magazine
Activists In Paraguay Optimistic About Upcoming Gay Marriage Debate
by Carlos Santoscoy
Supporters of gay marriage in Paraguay say they have a good chance of having the legislation approved. The debate on whether to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in the Roman Catholic stronghold kicked off Saturday with two large demonstrations. Opponents of marriage equality protested at town squares throughout the nation, while advocates gathered in front of the Pantheon of Heroes, Asuncion’s memorial to the country’s fallen soldiers, to urge Paraguayans to support gay marriage.
The gay rights group SOMOSGAY (we are gay) will present the gay marriage bill to legislators this month. Opposition, however, began mobilizing just days after neighboring Argentina approved a similar law in July. “We are going to put out an intense educational campaign on Christian values, to avoid the law of marriage between people of the same sex that was approved in Argentina from coming to Paraguay,” Bishop Adalberto Martinez of San Pedo told La Nation.
The church is backing the campaign Queremos Papa y Mama (We want a mother and a father), which sponsored Saturday’s anti-gay marriage Festival Por La Vida Y La Familia (Festival For Life & Family). SOMOSGAY President Simon Cazal said that while his group will present the gay marriage bill this month, lawmakers aren’t expected to take up the bill until early next year. “There is a possibility that it’ll be approved,” Cazal told On Top Magazine in an email.
9 de Marzo de 2011 – Sentidog
Organizaciones LGBT de Paraguay exigieron justicia para los crímenes de odio – LGBT organizations in Paraguay demand justice for hate crimes
Este martes, frente a la fiscalía general del estado Paraguayo, integrantes de Panambi (grupo trans) y la Coalición LGBTI de Paraguay, (Aireana, grupo por los derechos de las lesbianas, Grupo de Acción Gay-Lésbico, Paragay, Ñepyru, La Comuna de Emma Chana Las Ramonas, y militantes), en un acto de protesta presentaron una carta al Fiscal General del Estado, Rubén Candía Amarilla, exigiendo que se investiguen los crímenes contra las personas trans y que no quede impune el caso de Norma Machado, la joven lesbiana que fue violentada y privada de su libertad por su propia familia. A casi un año de los hechos, el fiscal a cargo desestimo el caso sin hacer ninguna investigación, considerando que el hecho es dentro de la familia y así se debe tratar. La Coordinadora de Derechos Humanos del Paraguay junto a Aireana, apelaron la decisión del Fiscal Ortúzar presentando una querella adhesiva.
La acción frente al Ministerio público consistió en un acto simbólico donde se colocaron lápidas con los nombres de las asesinadas y pintadas en el asfalto representados con tacones altos y la palabra JUSTICIA, por cada uno de los crímenes que han sido archivados sin realizarse investigación alguna, mientras se gritaban consignas como “fiscal, ficala no se sea indiferente se matan a las travestis en la cara de la gente”, “37 muertes, hagan su trabajo”, “justicia ya, ni una muerta más” “basta de archivar a las tortas y a las trans”
Alicia Muñoz de la Asociación Panambi dijo que tienen registradas 37 muertes desde el año 98 hasta el 2011. “Los fiscales intervinientes no concluyen sus investigaciones cuando se trata de una persona travesti, sino que solamente alegan que algunas se suicidaron, que hubo crimen pasional, ajustes de cuentas y archivan la causa de los crímenes que se cometen, a pesar que la mayoría de los crímenes fueron cometidos en la vía pública, perpetrados por desconocidos y a la vista de otras trans. Desde la Coalición LGBTI de Paraguay se seguirán llevando acciones así como estas para continuar denunciando y visibilizando la violencia y la discriminación hacia las personas LGBTI.
24 April 2011 – somosgay.org
(Translated from Spanish)
LGBT Paraguayan Federation, Holds First National Conference
The First National Congress of Paraguay LGBT attended by the partners of the organization Panambi, who from this joint effort seeking to join the Federation as founding members, so as to complement the work conducted for the approval of the law of identity gender. Under the slogan "guar tekopuahu guasupe Teta" (To the great nation a new soul), the Congress brought together activists from across the country lines of action agreed on cross-cutting themes that affect health, civil rights, labor and civic participation. From these reflections, the Paraguayan LGBT Federation will develop its own strategic plan.
With the First National Congress LGBT, began a process of strengthening the foundations of activists inside the country. This objective is key shows the goals of the Federation, mainly in terms of creating opportunities for exchange and learning that seek to empower activists across the country, responding to the centrally placed so far by the movement in the capital.
The Congress is a historic step for the LGBT population, giving an opportunity to be heard and building political demands of mobilization to various government institutions and civil society. One of the main issues were addressed, is the demand to the governments (central, departmental and municipal) to deepen the efforts, thoughts and actions towards consolidating the Paraguayan Secular State, free from prejudice and guided by universal principles of the Charter Human Rights. Congress also initiated the discussion of specific demands of each segment that makes up the LGBT population in relation to public policies of the Paraguayan State, then transferred those claims to the authorities of several organizations in the state, involving MERCOSUR LGBT Seminar.