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Lesbian/ Gay Latinos Converge on San Diego, Tijuana

Conference Delegates from Central and South America

Spousal Rights, Immigration and Health are Basic Issues

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The opening session of the Tijuana arm of the LLEGO conference. Front row, from left to right, are Board Co-chairs Nicole Murray Ramirez and Olga Orraca Paredes, and openly lesbian Mexican Congresswoman Patria Jiminez. - Photo by Rex Wockner

By Rex Wockner

San Diego---In a meeting subsidized by government health agencies and AIDS-drug companies, about 1,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) Latinos gathered here and in Tijuana, México, Oct. 5-11 for the seventh national convention and the second international conference of the U.S.-based Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization (LLEGÓ).

Three days of meetings were held in San Diego, attended primarily by U.S. delegates. Two days of meetings were held in Tijuana, attended by delegates from the U.S., Puerto Rico, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela. There were also numerous dances, parties and other social events.

BenjaminLLEGO.jpg - 7.71 K LLEGO media spokesman Benjamin Sheppard
Photo by Rex Wockner
"The [U.S.] gay Latino community has a lot of priorities which are particular to it," said Benjamín Sheppard, LLEGÓ's media man. "Immigration is a big part of it, be it immigration for health or immigration for economic reasons, or for spousal reasons, for lack of a better word. We have to deal with these matters amongst ourselves. The mainstream cannot relate.

"There are also health issues," Sheppard said. "A lot of people who try to come to the U.S. from the Latino LGBT community do so for health reasons -- and, of course, there's also very political reasons. Latino gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks are isolated within their own community, not just for being gay, but for not following some of the traditions. In my country, Panama, there is a level of tolerance for lesbian and gay folk ... as long as it doesn't turn into something permanent. One of the sayings many mothers of gay men have is, 'He got stung by a bug and he'll be over it soon.' So we have to, in our own voices, tell our own families and our own countrymen that this is not something that is going to go away, this is who we are and we'd like to be accepted that way."

LLEGÓ Executive Director Martín Ornelas-Quintero said the U.S. portion of the conference was also about confronting racism.

"The manifestation of racism within the LGBT movement clearly has shown that issues that are important to us as gay, lesbian, bi and trans Latinos are not included [in the mainstream gay agenda]," he said. "Within the gay movement there is an attempt to separate our [gay and Latino] identities, as if that would be possible. Other organizations don't recognize our uniqueness in any way, form or fashion."

Workshops in San Diego dealt with everything from AIDS treatments, immigration and working the media to "Why We Don't Talk About Sex?", "Transgender Psyche," and "Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know about Sex Toys."

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The Tijuana event tackled fundraising, self-acceptance, asylum laws and transvestism, among other matters. In a keynote address, openly lesbian Mexican Congresswoman Patria Jiménez spoke of recent advances and problems of the GLBT movements in México and elsewhere in Latin America.

"The LGBT movement is constantly getting bigger and our horizon is being diluted but hopefully this will result in our gaining our rights and becoming citizens like everyone else," Jiménez said.

"Discrimination based on any human condition has no reason to exist, and I think that 20 to 30 years of work by activists has put us in a position of tremendous strength."

At a well-attended Tijuana press conference, LLEGÓ Board Co-chair Nicole Murray Ramírez said "the entire GLBT Latino/Latina movement across the world is realizing the importance of getting involved politically."

"The entire U.S. seems to be focussing on the growing Latino population," he said. "This speaks well for the Latino GLBT movement in Central and South America because as we get empowered in the United States, as we grow more and influence the politics of the United States, we will be influencing the politics of immigration and other issues facing Central and South America."

OlgaLLEGO.jpg - 5.58 K LLEGO Board Co-chair Olga Orraca Paredes
Photo by Rex Wockner
LLEGÓ also staged a special one-day summit in San Diego specifically for Latinos who live in California. Organizer Murray Ramírez said California GLBT Latinos need "to develop our collective response against the Christian right's courting of the increasingly influential California Latino voter."

Next year's LLEGÓ confab will be in New York City. For more information, phone (202) 466-8240.
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