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.

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Mexican Supreme Court finds gay marriage ban unconstitutional

*This piece was originally published by Michael Lavers on Washington Blade on February 19, 2013.

Mexican Supreme Court finds gay marriage ban unconstitutionalThe Mexican Supreme Court on Monday formally released its ruling that found a Oaxacan law that bans same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

The 56-page decision cites two U.S. Supreme Court cases that specifically addressed race-based discrimination and segregation: Loving v. Virginia that found state bans on interracial marriages unconstitutional and Brown v. Board of Education that struck down laws that allowed separate public schools for black and white students.

“The historic disadvantages that homosexuals have suffered have been amply recognized and documented: public scorn, verbal abuse, discrimination in their places of employment and in the access of certain services, including their exclusion from certain aspects of public life,” the judges wrote. “In comparative law it has been argued that discrimination that homosexual couples have suffered when they are denied access to marriage is analogous with the discrimination suffered by interracial couples at another time.”

They further point out the U.S. Supreme Court said in Loving v. Virginia that restricting marriage on the basis of race is “incompatible” with the Equal Protection Clause under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

“In connection with this analogy, it can be said that the normative power of marriage is of little use if it does not give the possibility to marry the person that one chooses,” the judges wrote.

The court released its decision more than two months after the judges unanimously struck down the Oaxaca law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Three couples tried to apply for marriage licenses in the state, but local authorities denied their applications. Lawyer Alex Alí Méndez Díaz filed lawsuits on behalf of two of the couples in Aug. 2011 and a third in Jan. 2012 who sought legal recourse — an “amparo” in the Mexican judicial system — to ensure local authorities would protect their constitutional rights.

The ruling also comes roughly six weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in cases challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

“They do it when in our country there is no previous rulings on the subject,” Méndez told the Washington Blade from Mexico City when asked whether it is common for Mexican Supreme Court judges to cite cases from other countries in their decisions. “These rulings are the first at the national level that support the topics in the way in which we had planned.”

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the Mexican capital since 2010, and the Mexican Supreme Court has ruled other states must recognize gay marriages legally performed in Mexico City. Gays and lesbians have also married in Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula, while the state of Coahuila offers property and inheritance rights and other limited legal protections to same-sex couples.

The Uruguay House of Representatives in December overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot. Same-sex marriage advocates expect the measure will easily pass in the country’s Senate in April — President José Mujica has said he will sign it into law.

A Colombian Senate committee in December also approved a same-sex marriage bill. A court in the Brazilian state of São Paolo later that month ordered registries to begin offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples without a judge’s approval.

Argentina has allowed same-sex couples to marry since 2010, while Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in 2011 said he would introduce a bill that would allow gay men and lesbians to enter into civil unions. Same-sex couples would be allowed to tie the knot and adopt children in French Guiana under a proposal the French Senate is scheduled to begin debating on April 2.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Feb. 2012 ruled in favor of lesbian Chilean Judge Karen Atala who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband in 2005 because of her sexual orientation. Three gay couples from Chile who had been denied marriage licenses filed a lawsuit with the tribunal last September after the South American country’s Supreme Court ruled against them.

The Mexican Supreme Court cited the Atala case its decision that only applies to the three same-sex couples who had sought marriage licenses in Oaxaca.

“It just confirms that fighting for marriage equality on a federal level makes more sense and is becoming an increasingly global trend,” Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT activist and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade.

The Mexican Supreme Court on Wednesday is expected to formally announce its decision on whether the Oaxacan law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman is discriminatory. The judges will have to rule on an additional “amparo” from Oaxaca before gays and lesbians can legally tie the knot in the state.

“For there to be same-sex marriage throughout the country, if there is not a reform of the civil laws of each state, we will need five rulings in each one of the states that comprise the federation [of Mexico,]” Méndez noted.


Mexican Supreme Court rules against same-sex marriage ban

*This piece was originally published by Michael Lavers on Washington Blade on December 6, 2012.

Mexican Supreme Court rules against same-sex marriage banThe Mexican Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously struck down a law in the southern state of Oaxaca that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Three couples — Lizeth Citlalli Martínez Hernandez and María Monserrat Ordóñez Narváez, Jesús Reyes Álvarez and Guillermo Emmanuel Martínez Pimental and Karina Mendieta Pérez and Gabriela Castellanos Mota — tried to apply for marriage licenses in Oaxaca, but local authorities denied their applications.

Lawyer Alex Alí Méndez Díaz filed lawsuits on behalf of two of the couples in Aug. 2011 and a third in January who sought legal recourse, known as an “amparo” in the Mexican judicial system, that would ensure local authorities would protect their constitutional rights. Geraldina González de la Vega, a lawyer who advised Méndez, noted to the Washington Blade this “remedy can be used against laws or acts of authority” in Mexico.

A Oaxacan court in April ruled in favor of Martínez and Ordóñez, but against Reyes and Martínez and Mendieta and Castellanos. An appellate judge in August cited the Mexican constitution that bans anti-gay discrimination in his ruling that ordered Oaxacan authorities to allow same-sex marriages.

The state’s governor and Congress petitioned the Mexican Supreme Court to review the case — Méndez also asked the tribunal to determine the criteria under which the Oaxacan marriage law should be understood.

“The court did not declare the unconstitutionality of the law, but the effect of its application is that the justices said that one would have to understand marriage is a contract celebrated between two people without any reference to the sex of those who enter into it,” Méndez told the Washington Blade during an interview from Mexico City hours after the justices issued their decision.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in the Mexican capital since 2010, and the Mexican Supreme Court has ruled other states must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in Mexico City. Same-sex couples have also married in Quintana Roo, which includes the resort city of Cancún on the Yucután Peninsula.

The state of Coahuila offers property and inheritance rights and other limited legal protections to same-sex couples.

The latest Mexican Supreme Court decision only applies to Oaxaca, but advocates maintain these cases will open the doors to same-sex marriages across the country.

González noted the court needs to issue five rulings before the “amparo” will “have general effects” throughout the country.

“We already have three,” she said.

“These cases set a precedent that can be invoked in any other state in Mexico,” Méndez added. “While it is not obligatory for those who must resolve these new cases, there is a high possibility that the result will be the same as what we have obtained in Oaxaca.”

Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT activist and blogger in Mexico City, agreed.

“It’s not going to be long before same-sex marriage is a reality in the whole country,” he told the Blade on Wednesday. “It’s a matter of same-sex couples who have been thinking about getting married and haven’t done it either because they’re not in Mexico City and traveling is not an option or because they were going to get no for an answer. It’s just a matter of time of trying it out as these couples in Oaxaca [did] and sort of contribute to this history.”

The Mexican Supreme Court issued its ruling hours after a Colombian Senate committee approved a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. Senators in the South American country are expected to debate the bill on Tuesday.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Argentina since 2010. Neighboring Uruguay allow civil unions for gays and lesbians, but the country’s lawmakers are expected to debate a same-sex marriage measure on Tuesday.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in February ruled in favor of lesbian Chilean Judge Karen Atala who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband in 2005 because of her sexual orientation. Three gay Chilean couples who had been denied marriage licenses filed a lawsuit with the tribunal in September after the country’s Supreme Court ruled against them.

The Mexican Supreme Court cited the Atala case in its decision.

“Our country has already been sanctioned on many occasions by the IACHR,” Méndez said. “Our country, being part of this Inter-American system, will have to follow this trend in regard to protecting the human rights of the LGBT community.”

J. Lester Feder, a former Politico reporter who has covered the same-sex marriage throughout Latin America for four months for his blog AfterMarriage.org, noted to the Blade from Oaxaca that courts throughout the region often look to those in other countries in reaching their own decisions. He said the Atala case is one of the legal precedents the Oaxacan couples used in their successful lawsuits.

Justice José Ramón Cossío told CNN en Español he expects the same-sex marriage could become a reality throughout the country within a few months.

“The three cases are effective with respect to the state of Oaxaca,” he said. “By the position that we have on the Supreme Court as the country’s highest tribunal, it is foreseeable that if other people from other federal entities challenged a code that had a similar condition, the court would reiterate its criteria and within the next few months will guarantee the juris prudence that will become mandatory.”

Feder agreed.

“It means that it’s very likely universal marriage rights are going to be available in Mexico well before the United States,” he said. “International human rights law in the Americas is [increasingly interpreting] marriage rights as human rights, but the United States legal system doesn’t internalize international norms. We’re not participating in that trend.”


Talking to Fred Karger

On March 23, 2011, Fred Karger was the first to announce he was running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. On June 29, 2012, he quit the race.

Before that he had worked at nine other campaigns, including Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He is the president of Rights Equal Rights, has investigated the Mormon church and the National Organization for Marriage‘s campaigns against marriage equality in California and Maine.

Fred was the first openly gay presidential candidate from a major political party in his country’s history. This interesting character agreed to talk to me a few weeks ago:

Why do you want to be president of the United States?I am very concerned about the direction of our country under president Obama. He has not done all the things I had hoped he would do, which was to bring our economy back, lift the spirit of Americans, and he has failed. And I think I have the ability to excite this country, to bring back its American spirit that Ronald Reagan was very successful in – and I worked for Reagan for seven years. I think it’s time for an openly gay candidate to run and be successful. I think that will do a tremendous amount of good for our civil rights movement all over the world.

One of the most common reactions to your character, to your background, is the shock of you being American, Jewish, gay, and a Republican. What do you have to say about this to those people who view U.S. politics in such black & white terms? You know, the Republican Party has done a lot of bad things, particularly in the last 35 years in our gay civil rights arena. All the bad that has come out of politics seems to come from republicans, and that is not the Republican Party I grew up with. It has become very different. It was never a party that was for discrimination. It was never a party that talked about social issues the way the candidates do now. So, I think it’s important that we do not give up on the Republican Party. To those of us who believe in a different Republican Party of inclusion, of bringing younger people in, of opening it up to women, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people, and everyone, I think that tide is now moving back. And in this country we’ve been successful because of Republicans.

Tell me about the campaign. What sort of feedback are you getting? Can you tell me about other openly LGBTs or straight allies in the Republican Party? Are there any gay nonprofits supporting you? I got my first endorsement from an LGBT state organization, Equality Michigan, and I was very honored. It’s the first time they’ve done that. And I’ve appealed to other state organizations. They’re a little slower to move because of my Republican connection and affiliation.

That someone who is openly gay can run for the highest office in our country sends a very strong message to them that they’re okay, that they can do anything they want in life, even run for president. I’ve spoken in high schools, to teenagers, to gay-straight alliances, in colleges and universities. I’ve been to clubs, bars, drag shows. You name it. I’ve been all over this country.

What is the value of having openly LGBT politicians? What is the value of having an openly gay candidate in your country? Just by virtue of candidates running, it sends a message that we are now stepping up to the place where we’re no longer hiding. I was in the closet for most of my adult life. I’ve always been gay, but I kept that secret. And I don’t want others to have to live the way I did. So, I think that’s an important message for our community, that it’s okay now. Times are very different. It’s still difficult to many of us to come out, but more and more are every day, younger and younger. To have openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender candidates sends a powerful message all over the world to our community, to our opponents, to our allies, that we are to be taken seriously, that we are going to have an impact on the political process.