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Latin America's First Openly-Gay Member of Congress Speaks

Mexico's Patria Jiménez

An Interview by Rex Wockner

Tijuana, Mexico -- Patria Jiménez won election to the Mexican Congress' Chamber of Deputies last July 6 and took her seat as a representative of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) on Sept. 1.

She is one of 200 legislators in the 500-member body who are selected by political parties rather than by direct voting. Each party gets to appoint a certain number of specially listed candidates to represent a several-state region, based on the percentage of the vote the party received in the region.

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Patria Jimenez,
the first openly gay or lesbian congressmember
in Latin America,
at Tijuana's fourth annual
gay pride parade June 20.
(Photo by Rex Wockner)

In Jiménez's case, the PRD needed 16 percent of the vote in the states around Mexico City to put her in office -- as she was listed at number 12 on the PRD's proportional-representation candidate list. To everyone's surprise, the PRD captured about 36 percent of the vote in those states and even snagged the mayor's seat in Mexico City -- stunning the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had clung to power for 68 years amid routine allegations of electoral fraud.

Jiménez holds the distinction of being the first openly gay or lesbian congressmember anywhere in Latin America. I spoke with her in Spanish as she waited for the step-off of Tijuana's fourth annual gay-pride parade.

Wockner: Tell me about the recent gay conference hosted by the Mexico City government.

Jiménez: It was a legislative forum on sexual diversity in which we could express different points of view regarding legislative proposals on political, social and cultural matters and other topics of interest.

Wockner: How many people took part?

Jiménez: Each day there were more than 150 participants, persons from different disciplines -- anthropologists, sexologists, artists, politicians, some members of Congress from the PRD and the [socially conservative] National Action Party. It was very diverse.

Wockner: What was the significance of the conference for the gay/lesbian community of Mexico City?

Jiménez: It was very important. First off, it was historic because it was the first one -- a forum in the voice of the gay/lesbian community in which we could tackle three matters of great importance for us: the Penal Code, the Civil Code and the political Constitution of the United States of Mexico. As for the Constitution, they need to modify Article 1 and Article 4 to include sexual orientation in the rights of citizens. In the case of the Penal Code, they need to revise Article 126 which over- penalizes homosexuality -- making it an aggravating factor in the crime of perversion of minors. This is unconstitutional and must be revised. In the Civil Code there is an article that says if one spouse engages in abnormal or perverse conduct they can lose their parental rights. ... This is discriminatory because it's a weapon the judge can wield arbitrarily.

Wockner: The demand of today's march [in Tijuana] is for a national anti-discrimination law.

Jiménez: Yes. Article 1 [of the Mexican Constitution] says we are all equal under the law with the same obligations and the same rights, but discrimination still exists and it is not penalized, so what we are hoping to see is a secondary law punishing discrimination based on sexual orientation at the federal level.

Wockner: Tell me about your first few months in Congress.

Jiménez: The first months have found us in an historic period in which the opposition [parties] for the first time were the majority in Congress, which threw the political system into crisis. At the moment, the system is adjusting. The majority party finds itself stunned by the entry of a majority of opposition deputies. ... There have been alliances between the PAN, the Green Ecologists, the Workers' Party and the PRD for the creation of a legislature that reflects who we are. For myself specifically, I've been figuring out what it means to be a congresswoman -- to understand the dynamics, the system, how do you present initiatives, how does the rostrum work, how to petition it, how do I validate my rights as a citizen- congresswoman. For me it was an intensive course.

Wockner: Have you had the opportunity to introduce any gay- related legislation?

Jiménez: We are coming to an agreement to legislate against all discrimination including [based on] sexual orientation. We have planned a forum for September when the next group of legislators arrives so we can introduce the question of the penalization of discrimination. September to December is the opportunity we have to get this legislation into law.

Wockner: What other plans do you have for the gay community?

Jiménez: Well, a bill of human rights for persons with a different sexual orientation -- bisexual, transsexual, lesbian, homosexual -- to be published by the Federal District Human Rights Commission. The idea of a gay-community center has been official submitted to the Mexico City government and it is possible they will give us a building or a house. We also introduced the proposal of condom dispensers [and] a campaign on the use of the condom. This was channeled into a government program and the head of the project has decided to put condom dispensers in streets, Metro stations, schools -- and we just have to wait one or two more months for the dispensers. It is approved but the project leader made some modifications and that set it back a bit but it's very, very advanced. Another situation is the organization at a national level of a network of lesbians and homosexuals.

Wockner: How have you been accepted by the other congressmembers?

Jiménez: I think I've created a climate of respect. I have taken the floor on occasions to push an initiative of general law for persons displaced by internal conflicts. I have been able to promote a commission in the Chamber of Deputies ... on women's issues. We already have held the first women's parliaments, and in different months dealt with sexual diversity and sexual orientation.

Wockner: What has the press said about you being the first lesbian in Congress?

Jiménez: Each time I have the opportunity in press conferences as well as when I visit states of the country where there are homophobic attitudes, I make declarations to the press as a lesbian congresswoman and I have met with mayors and municipal representatives of some cities of the Mexican Republic regarding homophobia. This is the manner in which I have gotten press. Also the [Mexico City] forum received prominent press explaining what sexual diversity is and what are the human rights of lesbians and homosexuals.

Wockner: How long is your term of office?

Jiménez: I finish in September 2000. I hope there are other people who can occupy this space that I have. I hope there'll be others. I saw, for example, in Veracruz, the last time I was there, there was a transvestite man, a very dynamic man who is drawing a great deal of interest, and it is said he's going to be the next candidate for mayor. It seems he has every chance of winning.

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