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LATIN AMERICA: For a Day Against Homophobia

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, May 17 2007 (IPS) - “We don’t want more or less rights than anyone else; we want exactly the same rights,” says Mexican transsexual Sofía Valero, one of millions of Latin Americans who suffer discrimination and are at risk of gay bashings and murder because of their sexual orientation.

“We don’t want more or less rights than anyone else; we want exactly the same rights,” says Mexican transsexual Sofía Valero, one of millions of Latin Americans who suffer discrimination and are at risk of gay bashings and murder because of their sexual orientation.

In Brazil, 2,511 people were the victims of homophobic murders between 1980 and 2005, in Mexico 1,000 were killed in the last nine years, and in Argentina, 50 were murdered between 1989 and 2004.

These figures were presented in Mexico by Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) representatives, activists and Mexican officials in a conference held Thursday, the International Day Against Homophobia celebrated in the Mexican capital in accordance with a city government decree.

May 17 was chosen in 2005 as the day of the event by the International Day Against Homophobia Committee (IDAHO) because the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders on May 17, 1990.

Activists in Latin America want the United Nations and cities and countries in the region to officially recognise the international day.


May 17 “is a very important date, because it is the occasion to recognise that our rights are still being violated, that we are still being killed, and that there is a long way to go before we achieve respect for our rights,” Valero, an activist with the Mexican Citizen Front for the Rights of Transsexual and Transgender persons, told IPS.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the region with the largest number of homophobic crimes in the world, says PAHO in a study on anti-homophobia campaigns carried out in the past few years in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

Valero, 23, almost joined the ranks of the victims. She said police officers once picked her up and threatened to haul her in on charges of public indecency even though she was only walking home.

She was driven around in the patrol car for several hours. “When they saw I didn’t have any money, they told me I had to pay in a way that I would even enjoy; they told me I would have to give them both head. When I refused, they pulled out a pistol, put it to my head and forced me to do it. After that they abandoned me in the middle of nowhere, all alone, humiliated and abused.”

“Is that the price I have to pay for being different, for being honest with myself and for being brave enough to be what I feel I am: a woman?” she asked.

There are no available statistics on the number of homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals in Latin America and the Caribbean, but PAHO estimates that between six and 20 percent of men in the region have had sex with other men at some point.

Discrimination against and violations of the human rights of millions of people because of their sexual orientation are seen across the region, said PAHO/WHO representative in Mexico, Dr. Philippe Lamy.

That complicates the fight against the spread of HIV, the AIDS virus, and makes it difficult to ensure that those living with HIV receive the necessary treatment, he said.

Some two million people between the ages of 15 and 49 in Latin America and the Caribbean are HIV-positive, and gays, transsexuals and bisexuals are among the highest-risk groups.

“We are vulnerable because we are discriminated against and suffer harassment, ridicule and aggression,” said Valero.

Transsexuals are calling for laws that would make it easier for them to change their identity documents and carry out sex-change surgery. “Without those rights, we are harassed by society and trapped in a body that doesn’t fit,” said Valero.

To fight homophobia and curb the spread of HIV, governments, with the support of activists, carried out media campaigns between 2002 and 2005 in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico at a total cost of 4.2 million dollars, according to PAHO.

The campaigns showed non-heterosexual couples in everyday situations, and took advantage of the controversy triggered by the ads to generate a public debate, “which in some cases was without precedent,” between civil society and government, said PAHO.

The theme of the campaign in Argentina, carried out from August to November 2004 and March to May 2005, was “There are more things that DON’T transmit HIV/AIDS than things that DO”.

In Brazil, where the ads ran in June and July 2002, the theme was “Respecting differences is just as important as using condoms”. And in Colombia, the slogan of the 2004-2005 campaign was a play on words referring to the transmission of HIV/AIDS that ended with “What side are you on?”

In Mexico, the ads were aired from April to December 2005, under two slogans: “Homosexuality is not a disease; homophobia is”, and “For an inclusive, tolerant and plural Mexico”.

PAHO applauded the initiatives, but suggested that mechanisms for assessing their impact be included in the future.

But among the signs that indicated that the campaigns had been successful, PAHO pointed to the strong support they enjoyed from the authorities, despite the political risks, the broad dissemination of the ads in the media, and the fact that new actors joined the fight against homophobia and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Activists urged that such initiatives be continued. “We have made a lot of progress, but new laws are needed, as well as a change of attitude, so that we all have the same rights,” said Valero.

 
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LATIN AMERICA: For a Day Against Homophobia

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, May 17 2007 (IPS) - “We don’t want more or less rights than anyone else; we want exactly the same rights,” says Mexican transsexual Sofía Valero, one of millions of Latin Americans who suffer discrimination and are at risk of gay bashings and murder because of their sexual orientation.
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