Monday, June 26, 2006

Salvadoran Gay Pride

The month of June is International Gay Pride Month. In large metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago, London or Paris, there tend to be large parades and events celebrating the diversity of sexuality, gender, gender identity and the millions of individuals who have struggled for equality and positive visibility. June is a month of awareness and acceptance for gay communities all around the world, in hopes that one day, people won’t be violated, discriminated against or shunned by their families. It’s a month of education and empowerment, of entertainment and conversation and maybe an extra push for some, to finally come out of the closet.

Here in El Salvador events for the month of June within the gay community are on a smaller scale, yet still alive and growing in vibrance and visibility. And this year, the big day was the 24th of June. The morning began with various groups setting up tents in the central park of El Centro, across from the cathedral. There, these groups displayed their work and held education forums on issues ranging from STDs, HIV / AIDS, condom application and other safe sexual practices.

(Side commentary: I was disappointed to find that the majority of conversations and information were based on sexual practices and disease prevention. On one hand, this heavy emphasis certainly reinforces certain stereotypes of the gay community, but on the flip side, the highly attended educational campaign reached individuals ranging in sexualities and sexual practices. I would have liked to have seen more conversation on gender identity and sexuality as a whole, however, I was quite surprised and impressed with the amount of people who courageously participated in such a taboo event in this homophobic country of El Salvador.)

Some highlights to this part of the day included the passing out of free condoms (male and female). I also got to watch one man transform into a woman (and a very attractive woman at that). I watched as another man applied his makeup, as they picked out his outfit and later, as she marched in the parade (notice the pronoun switch from he to she).

In addition to learning some new things about AIDS in El Salvador, I also had a lot of personal conversations with people who were willing to share their stories of being gay in El Salvador. I met one man, who I will not name at this time, who is a soldier in the Salvadoran military. This young man talked with me about his time in the military and his boss who forced him to have sex. He spoke about how his boss hit him and threatened his life if he did not engage in relations with him. In addition, when he reported the incident, the military denied the incident took place, and now there is a lengthy court case which could result in this soldier being put into jail. At the moment, this young man is not only suspended from the military while his case is pending, but he can't apply to any other jobs to make money because he is tied up in this case. He has been kicked out of his family (a military family) and has been staying with his grandmother. He further explained that he just wants this all to be over with, understanding that his boss will never be brought to justice with the amount of corruption here, and that he just wants his life back.

I met a lot of people who had similar stories of being shunned by their families, of moving from their pueblos to the city and finding acceptance among a few people here. The stories are not unlike many other gay people I know in the US and unfortunately, this seems to be the reality.

However, I did meet a mother who accompanied her son to the march because she wanted to support him. I met another young boy who guided us from the bus stop to where the march would take place, and he had many interesting things to say, at the ripe ate of eight. We asked him if he was involved in the movement at which he happily replied "yes!" We then asked him if anyone in his family was gay.

He nonchalantly replied, "No, I just have an uncle who dresses like a queen."

We later saw this boy walking through the march as if he had no care in the world. He seemed to know a lot of people, including a lot of the other men who dress like "queens". And I couldn't help but hope that this young boy, and his attitude, would develop into the future of this country and the handling of homosexuality.

In all, I had a really good and interesting time at this march of solidarity. I certainly had a unique experience that other foreigners were not getting. I found myself being very grateful for the community I have in the United States, and yet I also realized that there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the US as well. And so, as June is coming to a close, I wish all my GLBT friends and those who support us, a Happy and Healthy Gay Pride Month.