*I originally published this post on The Huffington Post on June 18, 2014.
I wrote and read this piece on June 3, right before a special performance of The Laramie Project that I co-produced with the U.S. Embassy and the Matthew Shepard Foundation at Mexico City’s Teatro Milán.
At the end of my first year in college, just when I began to come out to my family and friends, I read about a young man in the United States, Matthew Shepard, who had been brutally murdered for being gay. This shocked me for many reasons — first, because I identified with a few of Matthew’s traits: My age at that time was almost the same as his when he was killed. We were both university students studying international relations. We both enjoyed traveling and learning new languages. We were both gay.
But what caught my attention the most was the fact that he was a regular guy. Matthew was not a famous activist whose work made someone in power feel uncomfortable. He was not a politician getting in the way of another. Matthew was just at the wrong spot at the wrong time with the wrong people. This terrified me.
A couple of years after that, I was living in New York, and I met Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mom and the co-founder of the organization named after him. Judy spoke at the city’s LGBT Community Center. At the end of the event, I came up to say hello, mentioned how much I admired her work, and asked her a couple of questions. Judy gave me a purple plastic bracelet that I have worn every day since then, for five years now. It has two simple but very strong words on it: “ERASE HATE.”
The hate that took her son away. The hate that ended Matthew’s life in 1998 in Wyoming, Brandon Teena’s in 1993 in Nebraska, Daniel Zamudio’s in 2012 in Santiago, Agnes Torres’ in 2012 in Puebla, and the list goes on. The same hate that ends relationships between friends because of one’s sexual orientation, or between a mother and her transgender daughter because the mother doesn’t understand her daughter’s identity.
The message sent by people like Matthew’s murderers (and everyone else’s) is that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is wrong. It is a problem. It is dangerous. It’s best to get rid of them. Alarming, right? Far from the promises of campaigns like It Gets Better, for people like Matthew and many more it actually got worse.
The amazing thing is that, 16 years after that episode, and thanks to the work of many, many people, Matthew is still “alive.” His story and the story of the small town that knew him keep traveling, moving hearts and minds, inspiring playwrights, filling theaters around the world, pushing laws forward against discrimination, driving young men and women to promote respect for diversity.
Today I celebrate that Matthew’s life did not end for nothing. If he, a 21-year-old, ordinary student, is here tonight and has made us come and know his story, we now have the task of erasing that hate and replacing it with respect and understanding.
*Michael Lavers originally published this piece on The Washington Blade on May 16, 2014.
LGBT rights advocates in more than 120 countries will commemorate this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) with a series of vigils, conferences and other events.
Geena Rocero, a transgender Filipino fashion model who founded Gender Proud, a trans advocacy group, is among those who are scheduled to take part in an IDAHOT event outside of Manila, the country’s capital, that the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines has organized. Rocero on Thursday also participated in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong that local LGBT rights advocates organized.
The Rainbow Pride Foundation, a Fijian LGBT advocacy group, on May 10 held its own candlelight vigil at a church in Suva, the Pacific island nation’s capital. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education on the same day held a “conga against homophobia” in the Cuban capital as part of a series of events throughout the country that will commemorate IDAHOT.
The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays on Friday will hold a symposium at a hotel in the Jamaican capital that will examine challenges that LGBT people in the Caribbean country continue to face. María Eugenia González, co-founder of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, is scheduled to attend an anti-bullying conference in the Peruvian city of Iquitos on May 21.
So-called rainbow flash mobs are scheduled to take place in at least 11 Russian cities on May 17. An estimated 100 people are expected to gather in Khabarovsk to release rainbow colored balloons in an IDAHOT demonstration that city officials have allowed to take place.
Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade earlier this week that her colleagues are “willing to defend their rights” in spite of the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights. These include a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.
“Whatever the difficulties, many LGBT (people) and their supporters in Russia are looking forward to participating in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said Zakharova.
Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays Executive Director Dane Lewis had a similar view, noting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in the country.
“We need to begin to have discussions about the layers of stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBT Jamaicans and the challenges faced by those who identify as Christians,” he said.
Kate Montecarlo Cordova, chair of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, noted to the Blade that LGBT Filipinos lack legal protections and access to health care. She said hate crimes and speech, anti-trans harassment and bullying in the predominantly Muslim portion of the country that includes the island of Mindanao often go unreported.
“We, from the transgender community, feel that the IDAHOT celebration is important in our advocacy and in our lives,” said Cordova.
The Mexican government this year is officially organizing IDAHOT for the first time.
Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade earlier this week that he is hopeful that President Enrique Peña Nieto will speak at an IDAHOT event.
The British Council Mexico on Friday hosted an event that government officials, local LGBT activists and journalists attended.
“The conversation will go beyond the government’s official position and public policy on the subject of homophobia,” said Molina. “Fighting homophobia and promoting respect is, at the end, a task that concerns us all.”
The Finnish government on Thursday announced it will increase its contribution to the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership founded by C-SPAN co-founder John Evans that seeks to promote LGBT rights, by one million Euros. A State Department press release noted that Helsinki will continue to work with the governments of Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the Arcus Foundation and other groups to “build on our shared commitment and partnership to advance freedom, equality and dignity for all.”
“Today of all days, we are reminded that the cause of justice can and must triumph over hatred and prejudice,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “This is a day of action for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities and their allies all over the world. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to the equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Gays, trans people gain rights in 2013
IDAHOT first took place on May 17, 2005, to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.
This year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of significant progress in the LGBT rights movement in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and other regions of the world.
Ten U.S. states, Brazil, Uruguay, France, England, Wales and New Zealand have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples over the last year. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The Dutch Senate last December approved a bill that would allow trans people to legally change the gender on their birth certificates and other official documents without undergoing sterilization and sex reassignment surgery. A similar measure advanced in the Chilean Senate earlier this year.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a bill that bans anti-discrimination in his state. A similar measure took effect in neighboring Delaware last year.
The Indian Supreme Court last month issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”
Jamaican and Belizean judges last year heard lawsuits challenging their country’s laws that criminalize homosexuality. A Lebanese judge in March struck down the Middle Eastern nation’s anti-sodomy statute in the case of a trans woman who faced charges for allegedly having a relationship with a man.
Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn into office last December. Angélica Lozano, a former Council woman in the Colombian capital, in March became the first openly LGBT person elected to the South American country’s Congress.
LGBT rights crackdowns continue in Africa, Russia
In spite of this progress, anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in many parts of the world.
The U.S. and several European countries cut aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in February signed into a law a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay bill that, among other things, bans membership in an LGBT advocacy group and punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison.
The 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia, in February against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.
Police arrested 10 activists who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the country’s national anthem near Moscow’s Red Square just before the games’ opening ceremony began. Authorities earlier in the day arrested four Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg as they marched with a banner in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.
The Indian Supreme Court late last year recriminalized homosexuality — it announced in April it will consider a motion to reconsider the controversial decision. A new Brunei legal code that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death has sparked global outrage that includes calls to boycott hotels the Bruneian government owns.
A report the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released earlier this week found discrimination and violence against lesbians, bisexual women and trans people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan remains pervasive. Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian LGBT advocacy group, noted more than a quarter of the 338 reported LGBT homicide victims in Brazil in 2012 were trans.
Carlos Vela of the Homosexual Community of Hope in the Loreto Region (of Perú) told the Blade that one LGBT person a week is murdered in the South American country. This violence continues to take place, even as Peruvian lawmakers debate a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.
“It is the most extreme expression of systematic violence,” said Vela, referring to the murders of LGBT Peruvians.
Jasmine Kaur of Oceania Pride, which took part in the May 10 candlelight vigil in the Fijian capital, noted homophobia, anti-LGBT hate crimes and violence is “quite strong for the LGBTIQ community” in the South Pacific country. She said the Fijian constitution includes a non-discrimination clause, but it is “flawed.”
“The bill of rights has many limitations,” said Kaur. “It is not one that can guarantee its citizens protections.”
The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday released a report that documents advances and setbacks in the global LGBT rights movement over the last year.
“Despite entrenched homophobia and transphobia in many nations around the world, the global fight for LGBT equality made historic gains in 2013,” said HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb. “At the same time, last year included horrific new anti-LGBT laws as well as alarming trends in anti-LGBT harassment and violence. These serve as important reminders of the many challenges ahead and the tremendous amount of work left to be done.”
Henness Wong, a Hong Kong activist who helped plan IDAHOT events in the former British colony, said the climate for the city’s LGBT residents is slowly beginning to improve in spite of lingering institutional and cultural homophobia and transphobia.
“Hong Kong is definitely safer than Brunei who will stone gays,” said Wong.
I commentated on a member of the Mexican Football Federation‘s homophobic statements regarding a simulated kiss by two players, the complaint that journalist Gabriel Gutiérrez García filed with Conapred, and articles in response by Darío Ramírez (director of Artículo 19) on Sin Embargo and María José Evia on ExpokNews.
Awareness of transgender youth in Spanish-language media
Last month, Univision.com published a 22-page photo essay titled “The 7 Signs of a Transgender Child,” that began with Chaz Bono’s story and explained his role in transgender visibility. The piece delved into transgender people in history and legal challenges, debunked myths and offered parental advice on how to best support a transgender child. In late September, CNN México published an article titled “Transgender children, the difficult path to their true identity,” that details the story of two American transgender youth, Tammy Lobel and Mario. Despite some inconsistent gender pronoun use, the article shed light on the stories and struggles of some transgender youth.
Ricky Martin Faced Anti-Gay Opposition in Honduras.
Ricky Martin’s October concert in Honduras garnered controversy after far-right activists demanded that the government deny his visa. In the weeks leading up to the concert, anti-LGBT religious leaders sought the help of Africo Madrid, the nation’s Minister of the Interior, who stated Martin’s family “is not the type of family that Honduran law and society wants to construct and promote to youth.” An age restriction limiting concert entry to those 15 years of age and older was added as a result of the protest. Nevertheless, the concert went off without a hitch in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. This story was extensively covered by the Honduran media as well as U.S. outlets such as Univision.com, Impre.com, Telemundo’s Al rojo vivo and Mega TV’s Paparazzi Magazine among others.
Developments in LGBT-inclusive telenovelas
In the last edition of LGBT en Español, we introduced you to Harold and Alcides, the two gay protagonists of the Telefutura re-airing of the Colombian telenovela, El último matrimonio feliz (The last happy marriage). Things are getting complicated as the two find themselves in a love triangle with Daniel (Felipe Calderon), Harold’s much younger and financially dependent ex-boyfriend who hasn’t come to terms with the relationship’s end. Meanwhile, Alcides is struggling with coming out to his friends and dealing with his feelings for Harold. El último matrimonio feliz airs weekdays on Telefutura at its new time 8:30p.m. ET/OT and 7:30 p.m. CT. Meanwhile in Mexico, a news outlet, El Gráfico, mentioned in an article that the Mexican television network TV Azteca is in the development process for a telenovela, Cada quien su santo, which will feature a gay character and his relationship with his homophobic father. Neither an air-date nor U.S. syndication were mentioned in the article.
LGBT in Mexico: Catholic Church challenged on LGBT equality; LGBT bloggers. Mexico’s nationally-distributed newspaper Milenio published an article about the LGBT community organizing to phone bank to reach Catolitel, the hotline of the Archdiocese of Mexico. The nature of the calls is to complain about LGBT exclusion from the Catholic Church, specifically the opposition to adoption and marriage for LGBT people. Reforma, another nationally distributed and high circulation newspaper, unveiled a new blog by columnist Genaro Lozano, who writes about LGBT issues in a positive way. Lozano recently posted a piece about LGBT equality in Latin America. And the Mexican political website Animal Político published an article by writer and journalist Miguel Cane, in which he tells of his experience as a victim of homophobia.
LGBT occupation of Wall Street, adoption, and Hollywood
Los Angeles-based Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión published an article by Yurina Melara Valiulis about the inclusion of LGBT people and organizations in the Los Angeles version of the national Occupy Wall Street Movement. Another article by Valiulis appeared in San Francisco’s El Mensajero, about Los Angeles County’s campaign “Raise a Child,” which aims to encourage LGBT couples to adopt children. In honor of Coming Out Day, English-language publication Latina Magazine published a piece on the top six openly gay Latino celebrities in Hollywood. And Univision.com reported in an article that Eva Longoria’s intimate scenes with Kate del Castillo in the movie Without men have been censored in Spain. The article is also linked to a video interview that Univision did with the movie’s director Gabriela Tagliavina, who talks about some of the film’s LGBT elements.
– Daniel Alvarenga, Brian Pacheco, Monica Trasandes, and Enrique TorreMolina contributed to this report.