For Matthew Shepard and his family

*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.

funeral de matthew2At 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.


Mexican Supreme Court rules on gay partner benefits

*This piece was originally published by Michael Lavers on Washington Blade on January 31, 2014.

Mexican Supreme Court rules on gay partner benefitsThe Mexican Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled the same-sex spouses of those who receive benefits under the country’s social security system must receive the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts.

El Economista, a Mexican newspaper, reported the justices in a 3-2 ruling said the Mexican Social Security Institute – Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social in Spanish – must extend the same benefits that married heterosexual couples receive to gays and lesbians who have either tied the knot or entered into civil unions.

José Alberto Gómez Barroso, who married his partner in Mexico City in 2012, sought legal recourse through the Mexican judicial system after officials denied his request to add his spouse as a beneficiary under the country’s social security system. A lower court last year dismissed Gómez’s case after he passed away.

“The court’s ruling without a doubt is cause for celebration,” Alex Alí Méndez Díaz, a lawyer who filed lawsuits in 2011 and 2012 on behalf of three same-sex couples who tried to apply for marriage licenses in Oaxaca, told the Washington Blade. “The Supreme Court has been at the forefront of taking up decisions in relation to the rights of the LGBT community in Mexico.”

The ruling comes against the backdrop of the movement in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Mexico that continues to gain momentum.

The Mexican Supreme Court last February ruled the Oaxacan law that bans same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. States must also recognize gay nuptials that have taken place in Mexico City since the Mexican capital’s same-sex marriage law took effect in 2010.

A lesbian couple last month exchanged vows in Guadalajara in Jalisco. Gays and lesbians have also married in Colima, Chihuahua and in Quintana Roo and Yucatán on the Yucatán Peninsula on which the resort city of Cancún is located.

Same-sex couples in Baja California del Norte in which Tijuana is located and other states have sought marriage rights through the Mexican legal system. Coahuila currently extends property and inheritance rights and other limited legal protections to gays and lesbians.

“Since the legalization of same-sex marriage in Mexico City, the Mexican Social Security Institute has been one of the toughest organizations to lobby, one of the most stubborn institutions when it comes to amending their rules and giving equal treatment to its affiliates who have same-sex couples,” Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade on Thursday as he discussed the Mexican Social Security Institute ruling. “This is another step towards equality for gay and lesbian couples.”

Méndez stressed gay and lesbian Mexicans continue to suffer discrimination as long as they are unable to secure marriage rights.

“The court responded within the extent of its authority, but the result is insufficient,” he told the Blade. “The respect of human rights should be the general rule and its violation is an exception that must be addressed.”


An amateur’s reflection on racism, classism within LGBT communities

*This post was originally published on The Huffington Post‘s Gay Voices and Latino Voices.

Last month I was in Los Angeles for the first time. I attended GLAAD’s second edition of the National People of Color Media Institute, an awesome project GLAAD launched to bring together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people of color working on different issues and in different communities, have them share their experiences, and enhance their potential as advocates and spokespeople for those communities. The aim of GLAAD through this institute and their Voices of Color program, led by Daryl Hannah, is to bring more Black, Latino, and Asian faces to our newspapers, magazines, blogs, radio and television shows. I was honored to be the first non-U.S. resident who participated.

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Brenda del Rio from Bienestar, GLAAD’s Monica Trasandes, and Enrique Torre Molina.

The work GLAAD has done to make media a more inclusive space for LGBT people (in the U.S. and increasingly elsewhere), and to make LGBT stories more present and powerful in that media for almost 30 years, cannot be understated. However, LGBT people of color are not visible enough on mainstream media. And I would say not even on LGBT media. Look at, for example, gay characters who are on TV shows right now: Louis on Partners, Kurt on Glee, Bryan on The New Normal, Cam and Mitch on Modern Family. All white guys.

According to The Opportunity Agenda’s Public Opinion and Discourse on the Intersections of LGBT Issues and Race 2012 report, LGBT issues are under-reported in Latino media in the U.S., although California’s Proposition 8 in 2008 drove those media to have a wider coverage of LGBT issues. Not surprising, considering the large population of Latinos in the state. The report also points out that much “of the anti-LGBT rhetoric, slurs, and derogatory language found in this media scan come from users’ online comments, not from the media themselves.” When I blogged for VivirMexico.com, I would often get very homophobic, moronic comments from readers, such as “Fags are shitty people. Fags themselves are to be blamed of being discriminated against. Their attitude is annoying and some times disrespectful. If they’re fags I don’t care. Fuck with each other and that’s it, but the sissy ones are disgusting.”

I have a hard time translating the concept of “people of color” with all its heavy, powerful meaning to our experience in Mexico. Race and racism are not topics present on the media, much less on off-screen daily conversations. We often think of Mexico as a racism-free society. But the strongest form of discrimination against black people, for example, is not ignoring their exclusion but actually thinking there aren’t any here, except for the occasional model on a Mexico City fashion week runway. The National Council to Prevent Discrimination (Conapred) has done research and spread information on discrimination against people of African descent. Other than that, they are practically invisible. According to Jonathan Orozco, a communication staffer at Conapred, there are no official numbers on the African descent community living in Mexico. Same goes for LGBTs, by the way: we don’t know exactly how many of us are there, working as what, living where, etc.

Except for a couple of pieces or documentaries on the muxes living in Oaxaca, I can’t recall seeing anyone who was LGBT and indigenous on screen. And I don’t foresee it happening any time soon, if even bouncers at some gay bars and clubs are responsible for leaving “indigenous-looking” people out.

Growing up in a privileged background, having a mostly harmless coming-out process, being surrounded by other gays and lesbians in my family, and living in the only city in the country where I can marry my boyfriend has let me experience a homophobic society. I can only imagine what things are like for someone on the other end of racist, classist Mexico.

Where are all those faces in the pages of gay magazines, on the ads of hookup websites, on TV shows? For a group that is such a target of bigotry, we as LGBT media could do a lot better to address those other types of exclusion happening within our community.