Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Equality on the streets of Bolivia: an LGBT perspective

On a tour of La Paz we visited Plaza Murillo, the central political plaza. Hanging from the Precedential Palace was what looked suspiciously like a gay pride flag (see image). It turned out to be the wiphala, one of the Plurinational State Flags of Bolivia. When Evo Morales came into power in 2006 he brought with him a raft of constitutional changes, including several positive ones for the LGBT community. His vision was to create a state based on ‘equality’ so much so that in every shop, cafe, bar and restaurant there hangs a plaque reading, “we are all equal in the eyes of the law”.

You can imagine how positive I was feeling in the first week: what a treat, living in a country where everyone is equal. It wasn’t long until the bubble burst. The tag of ‘other’[1] doesn’t hold much worth in a society that holds the nuclear Latin family above all.

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in big cities, among them London and Seville. One of the things that I love most about them is that they tend to attract people from all walks of life; you see such a vibrant representation of the countries society, including many that would be classed as the ‘other’. What shocked me the most about La Paz was the sheer lack of visibility of the LGBT community. 

I interviewed Alberto Moscoso Flor, the director of AIDESPROC Libertad[2], who said, “(In Bolivia) you are not going to see very many gay people marching for gay rights - why? Because society still holds a double moral discourse and because the community is still in the closet; not everybody, but a majority (…) you are going to notice that the community isn’t very public: in a sense there is still a lot of social prejudice, there is a lot of stigma attached to LGBT topics.”

It seems rather baffling to an outsider how a country can define itself as so inclusive, so non-discriminatory and yet have this “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture when it comes to LGBT rights. Alberto claims this culture is interlinked with the strong religious values most hold dear: “The Political constitution of the state says that it respects and guarantees your rights regardless of your sexual orientation and your gender identity; however, this doesn’t happen because the church has much influence in the family and in schools. It is therefore very difficult for boys and girls to embrace their sexuality.”

Here, as in many Latin American countries, you don’t wash your dirty laundry in public. The ‘other’ is seen as dirty laundry: “they prefer to hide the sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins and any other member of the family behind closed doors, believing that they will never live the ‘normal’ life that was socially created for them.”[3] But thanks to organisations such as ADESPROC Libertad public perceptions are slowly changing. The organisation is currently focusing on the legalisation of same sex marriage. The ‘Defensor del Pueblo de Bolivia’ Rolando Villena advocated for this right at the Legislative Assembly (July 2014) “Taking into account the international recognition of the rights of the LGBT community and the prohibition of all forms of discrimination, which is explicit in the Political Constitution of the State, we believe that a comparable institution should be included in future legislation with respect to marriage or civil union for same sex couples, the regulation of legal aspects in respect to financial earnings; inheritance; social security, both short and long term; family assistance; fair legal representation and the termination of any such agreement.”[4]

Small steps are being made with regards to LGBT rights, but it’s a slow process especially in a Latin America. On the 2nd of September of this year the northern state of Coahuila, became the second region in Mexico to officially allow same-sex marriage. Examples such as Coahuila show that equality is always achievable, regardless of the context. The right to love and be loved is universal and inalienable.

Written by Fran Walsh
Edited by Kelly-Marie Roberts

[1] The term “the other” refers to the LGBT community.
[2] AIDESPROC Libertad is an established LGBT charity with offices in La Paz.
[3] Translated quote from the annual report on the state of human rights in the plurinational state of Bolivia produced by Martin Vidaurre.   
[4]Translated quote from http://www.libertadglbt.org/noticias/el-defensor-del-pueblo-de-bolivia-pide-a-la-asamblea-legislativa-el-reconocimiento-de-las-parejas-del-mismo-sexo/

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