Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ecuadorian homosexuals fight to defeat discrimination

By Kristin Nehls
Edited by: Steve Gartner

Francisco Guayasamín was just like any other 17-year-old in Quito, Ecuador, filled with anticipation for his future education prospects. In deciding which school to attend, however, the hopeful-eyed student came across one school’s pamphlet that contained a passage outlining a philosophy that both terrified and angered him.

“Homosexuality,” it said, “is the worst of all sins.”

In reading this, Guayasamín realized that his lifelong attraction to men was a gross abnormality in his culture. That was the start of a downward spiral of discrimination, misunderstandings and false accusations that he has continually faced throughout his life as a publicly homosexual man in Ecuador.

In a heavily Catholic country where homosexuality has only been legal since 1997, the new Constitution of September 2008 that legalized civil unions between homosexual couples has stirred controversy against the gay subcultures of Ecuador.

Guayasamín, a graduate of the Administración de Empresas business school in Quito, has dedicated his life to defeating what he feels is the harshest discrimination against homosexuals: their presumed role of silence.

In a 1997 research project conducted at the University of San Francisco in Quito, Guayasamín found that 97 percent of men sexually involved with other men keep their homosexual lives secret from family, friends and co-workers.

Sandra Monslave, the co-founder of the Ecuadorian Organization for Lesbian Women in Quito, believes that gay women face even more discrimination than gay men.

“Women are viewed as the reproductive element of our species, and their homosexuality defies this role,” Monsalve said. “As a result there exist these cultures of people who promote imaginary prejudices, myths, stereotypes and even different types of violence against lesbians,” Monsalve said.

Both Monsalve and Guayasamín allude to the “double lives” of homosexuals, where they pose as heterosexual persons with spouses and children, using separate, private lives to fulfill their homosexual urges.

Much of this privacy, Guayasamín said, is a result of the embarrassment that homosexual men feel from effeminate stereotypes imposed by the media.

Nancy Negrete, Web Editor at El Mercurio newspaper in Cuenca, said that while stereotypes of homosexuals still exist in Ecuador’s media, they are becoming increasingly less offensive.

“Those who are openly gay have conquered their fear of speaking with the press,” Negrete said. “They now feel confident enough to demand ethical and professional coverage.”

While news reports in the United States mostly cover homosexual Americans’ advocacy for legalized gay marriage, Monsalve and Guayasamín agree that this is not a priority for Ecuadorian homosexuals.

“It is not necessary for us to comply with civil requests or religious sacraments that affirm an established relationship,” Monsalve said, “The central idea wasn’t to eventually embrace marriage, but to recognize… that we as human beings were impeded by our inability to legalize our unions."

Guayasamín said he believes homosexuals are looking for a different type of love than marriage caters to, anyway.

“Most gay Ecuadorians don’t desire marriage, simply because of the sexist, disrespectful and irresponsible example set by heterosexuals towards the sacrament,” Guayasamín said. “Besides, how can people marry publicly when they won’t even admit their homosexuality publicly?”

Guayasamín said Ecuadorians would rather fight to defeat the continued brutality imposed upon gays by both the police force and the strong, highly-regarded religious organizations in Ecuador.

Catholic leaders and members of Opus Dei in Ecuador have punished what they call “homosexual sinfulness” with sexually harrassment, going so far as to insert objects into lesbians’ vaginas, Guayasamín said. Guayasamin also said that this abuse goes unpunished because of the religious devoutness of Ecuadorian society.

Monsalve said that in September 2008, some of her friends were beaten and arrested for public displays of homosexuality, especially when many government forces were bitter about the legalization of homosexual civil unions in the new constitution.

Despite some feelings of hostility in governmental agencies and state institutions, President Rafael Correa has been an ardent supporter of gay rights throughout his presidency.

Correa’s support led to Ecuador’s initial role as a frontrunner in the fight for equal rights. A 1998 referendum to the constitution made Ecuador the third country in the world and the only country in South America to ban discrimination against homosexuals.

Various outlets through Ecuador now support tolerance of gay and lesbian culture.

Psychology professor Teresa Borja at the University of San Francisco in Quito created the first educational course that covered sexual exploration and homosexuality in Ecuador, titled “Sexuality and Attraction.”

“There are still many people who think that a course on sexuality should not delve into topics like… homosexuality,” Borja said. “They can’t see the positive aspects of discussing these topics. They only view that lifestyle as perverse.

Borja said the tension surrounding homosexuality in Ecuador makes it impossible for her gay and lesbian students to speak out about their sexual orientation, but anonymous surveys have revealed that two to four percent of her students are homosexual.

“I think that even young people have some difficulty understanding that homosexuality is a variation on a relation[ship],” Borja said. “They still want to generalize it as an illness or a mental or hormonal problem.”

Outside the classroom many activists seek to educate people and sensitize people about homosexuality. One such group is Colectivo Desbordes de Genero, which consists of FLACSO graduate students and is lead by anthropologist Maria Viteri of Quito.

Viteri and the CDG created a documentary project called “Bodies/Borders” which explores gender and sexuality in Ecuador through theatre and art. The documentary debuted at The City University of New York in the United States on March 10.

“The discussion [at the debut] centered around what makes someone a lesbian or gay or transgender,” Viteri said. “The film was precisely trying to get people to think beyond categories, think about gender identity and not associate that identity necessarily with a sexual identity as both are different, changing, malleable, plural.”

Viteri said she is considering conducting a similar project about the United States in order to compare and contrast the cultures of homosexulity in Ecuador and the U.S.

Photos courtesy of blogspot.com and smh.com

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