Thursday, April 26, 2018

Latin America gays reach high government offices

BOGOTA, Colombia — Tatiana Pineros is a man by birth and a woman by choice.

Pineros, 34, is also a high-powered public servant who manages a $360 million budget and nearly 2,000 employees in Colombia's biggest and most powerful municipal government.

Her appointment by Bogota's new mayor to head the capital's social welfare agency was remarkable for how unremarkably it was received by Colombia's predominantly Roman Catholic public.

Across Latin America, public acceptance is gradually growing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, officials. It's a phenomenon that has accompanied activists' broader struggle to win rights to marry, adopt children or share financial benefits with same-sex partners, and to transform the way socially conservative nations view and treat gays.

"It's all about the mobilization of groups demanding their rights," said Colombia's best-known gay activist, Marcela Sanchez. "It didn't just spring up spontaneously."

Ecuador's new health minister, Carina Vance, 34, can attest to the change. She has a master's degree in public health from the University of California at Berkeley. She is also openly lesbian.

Brazil's first openly gay national lawmaker, Rep. Jean Wyllys, was elected last year, and activists say six other openly gay people have been elected to public office in Latin America's most populous nation.

Despite Wyllys' rise, openly gay Brazilians are rare in appointed positions. The gay community was outraged last year when a heterosexual was named to head the gay rights division in the federal Human Rights Ministry. The heterosexual never took the job, which remains unfilled.

Luiz Mott, an anthropologist and founder of the Grupo Gay da Bahia, said many homosexuals are in government posts but have kept their sexual orientation private in a kind of self-censorship.

Advances have also been made in other countries but through appointment or complicated election laws that allow legislators to win their posts without being directly elected.

Mexico, for example, has one gay national lawmaker, Congresswoman Enoe Margarita Uranga Munoz, who ended up high on the list of candidates for seats that Mexican law allots to parties by their share of the vote.

Sen. Osvaldo Lopez, the only openly gay member of Argentina's Congress, was named in July to replace a senator who died in an auto accident.

Lopez's country and Brazil are the only in Latin America to permit gay marriage nationwide, though Mexico City also allows it under a law promoted by Uranga before her election to Congress.

Same-sex couples also have gained rights to inherit from their partners or share insurance due to court decisions in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico City. Colombia's Constitutional Court is now weighing whether to join Argentina and Mexico City in allowing same-sex couples to adopt.

But other Latin American countries have done little if anything to recognize what for LGBT activists are basic civil rights. Activists also say the successes of a few openly gay officials hasn't stopped anti-gay violence.

"The general practice on the continent is of an open season on LGBTs that never closes," the gay rights group Colombia Diversa says in a regional report on violence against the community.

It found that 83 of 226 murders of LGBT people in Colombia from 2006 to 2009 were classified as hate crimes, with no motive listed for most.

Brazil's Grupo Gay da Bahia, which has been keeping records of gay-bashing for more than three decades, says 260 LGBT people were murdered in Brazil in 2010, or 113 percent more than five years earlier.

Proposed legislation to grant interitance rights to same-sex couples has been languishing for five years in Venezuela's National Assembly.

"The fight is for us to no longer be treated like animals," said Pineros, the Colombia heading the social welfare agency in Bogota. She said she has focused on building a career rather than crusading for gay rights.

Marcela Sanchez of the LBGT rights group Colombia Diversa said Pineros' appointment helps dignify the community by helping to "erase the negative image in society that (transsexuals) are only good for prostitution."

Mayor Gustavo Petro said via email her appointment "is a sign this mayoral administration recognizes diversity and doesn't discriminate based on sexual orientation, ethnicity or age."

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