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Lesbians and gays in Mexico at the end of the millennium. (Rights).

The gay and lesbian movement in Mexico went public at the end of the 1970s with the formation of the first gay and lesbian groups. Although groups have come and gone, the movement has maintained a constant presence since that time. Today, a significant number of groups are more than five years old, and some have even opened offices in other Mexican cities as well.

From the beginning, the Mexican movement focused on the defense of gay and lesbian rights, especially in response to the razzias, police raids of meetings, arbitrary detentions, extortion and blackmail. At the same time, we challenged discrimination directly with our physical presence by gathering en masseto face those who tried to violate our rights. Soon, those involved in the movement sought a higher degree of visibility. One strategy for achieving greater public visibility was the use of electoral campaigns: activists publicized their proposals by presenting themselves as candidates for the 1982 congressional elections even though they had no real chance of winning.

However, the campaigns did lead the movement to identify with other struggles and to forge alliances with those who supported gay and lesbian issues. These new allies included the feminist movement, democratic initiatives and the Trotskyist party.

In more than 20 years of struggle, significant gains have been made. Two of Mexico's oldest, annual street demonstrations are the Gay Pride Day Parade, which has taken place every June since 1979, and Gay-Lesbian Culture Week. The latter is organized by the Circulo Cultural Gay(Gay Culture Circle) and has preceded Gay Pride Day for the past 14 years. Both events have served to link different currents and cultural expressions within the movement itself and to create ties with sympathizers and allies.

The end of the millennium has been highly significant in crystallizing the efforts of these last twenty years. Despite their immense popularity and high visibility, the two events mentioned above have not been our only achievements. Important sectors of the gay and lesbian population have begun to come into the open, an indication of the level of security we have attained. This has occurred both in public declarations of sexual orientation, and in everyday life. Many gays and lesbians, although not yet the majority, feel secure enough to break their silence and to face their fears. Social coexistence with openly gay people is already a part of daily life for many heterosexuals in Mexico, and many gay couples and individuals are able to live openly at school, at work, on the street and with their families.

This is not to say that homophobia has been eliminated. Conservative sectors still try to repress and intimidate not only lesbians and gays, but also the heterosexual population. The ecclesiastic hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Mexico still issues threats against our free expression. Nevertheless, in recent years public opinion has become more positive towards gays and lesbians, as expressed in television and radio broadcasts. Even the police force in Mexico City has begun to change its stance towards lesbians and gays.

It hasn't been easy. With funding being almost exclusively reserved for the organizations combating the AIDS epidemic, the continuity of the other, mostly volunteer-driven groups has been challenged. Lesbian groups have been significantly marginalized. However, gay and lesbian groups continue to fight actively with few resources--designing strategies, planning events and taking action--moving from individual to political interventions. In 1997, the Fundacion Arcoiris and the Comision de Derechos Humanos del Distrito Federal (Mexico City's Human Rights Commission) published "La Cartilla contra la discriminacion por orientacion sexual" (Guidelines for Combating Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation). The guidelines were distributed throughout Mexico and have been used in other countries, as well. They identify gay and lesbian rights, common legal problems and strategies for dealing with police extortion.

A significant number of the groups have also developed work at the international level, participating in international events and joining ILGA, the International Lesbian and Gay Association. For example, El Closet de Sor Juana is presently acting for the second time as the headquarters for the Women's Secretariat of ILGA after being re-elected to this position at the ILGA General Assembly in 1999. Some Mexican leaders also have begun to act as consultants to international organizations.

Mexico is also one of the first countries to have an openly homosexual member of Congress. Patria Jimenez, a well-known leader in the movement, was elected as a federal Congresswoman in her third bid. Even though her election opened widespread debate within the gay and lesbian movement and her fitness as representative was questioned, Ms. Jimenez's work has been recognized by many, especially by her colleagues in Congress themselves. Beyond defending the sexual rights of gays, lesbians and transsexuals, Ms. Jimenez has been a staunch defender of human rights across the board, including the defense of displaced indigenous peoples, women in prison, disappeared children and child victims of prostitution.

In spite of having arrived in Congress as an "outsider," Ms. Jimenez frequently has risen to the podium to address its 500 members on her legislative initiatives. In recognition of her work, her party first appointed her Secretary of the Comision de Poblacion y Desarrollo (Population and Development Commission) and later head of the Coordinador de Seguridad Nacional (National Security Committee). The media have also included Ms. Jimenez on its list of the most active legislators.

Ms. Jimenez achievements for the gay and lesbian movement include the proposal for the creation of the Commision de Equidad de Genero (Commission on Gender Equity). She was also successful in removing homosexuality and homosexual practices from Article 201 of the Penal Code, effectively eliminating any legal justification for the persecution of gays and lesbians. The resolution was approved by both the Senate and the National Congress, and a similar action was taken by the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City. Ms. Jimenez also presented the plenary session of Congress with a constitutional proposal against all forms of discrimination and new forms of slavery, which unfortunately was not debated during her term in office.

In Mexico's controversial 2000 elections, at least two political parties offered to run candidates from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual communities. However, not all these candidates have a clear public position or a history of fighting for gay and lesbian rights. Nonetheless, these are still significant opportunities in terms of maintaining ground already won.

Gains continue to be made. In addition to legislative achievements, we have also had an impact at the executive and judicial branches. The Mexico City government recently opened a special clinic for people with HIV/AIDS and the Attorney-General has developed a special program for handling cases involving sexual orientation. The Secretaria de Desarrollo Social (Department of Social Development) and the Instituto Mexicano de la Juventud (Mexican Youth Institute) have become cosponsors of this endeavor.

Change has also taken hold in academia and education, fundamental agents of cultural transformation. In 1997, the UNAM's Gender Studies Program inaugurated the area of "Studies in Sexual Diversity" which generates debate and theoretical discussion and lends academic support to research endeavors. For a number of years, there have also been regular broadcasts on long-established educational television and radio stations Chanel 11 and Radio Educacion, both organs of the Ministry of Public Education. These broadcasts have included discussions on sexuality and sexual orientation, practices and identity. Subsequently, these issues have been taken up by commercial radio and television.

However, the movement has had difficulty in maintaining its own publications. Commercial magazines are scarce, comprising only a few free newsletters and two new lesbian magazines.

Nevertheless, the occupation of the country's principal public square--Mexico City's Zocalo--for the closing ceremonies of this year's Pride Day Parade is one more indication of the maturity of the movement. Mexico's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual movement is committed not only to continuing the struggle for the full recognition of our rights, but is also ready to confront any form of discrimination that impedes the construction of a democratic country, where all men and women have a rightful place.

This inclusive spirit has even led the movement to recognize and accept internal differences. In addition to different forms of expression and different ideologies, there is a deepening recognition of the degree of sexual diversity that exists within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual movement today. Widespread participation by those from diverse perspectives in legislative and political forums held in recent years clearly shows advancements in the analysis of our situation and in the ways in which we respond to the challenges which have arisen in the struggle.

This diversity is also expressed in the emergence of an annual LGBT pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadelupe. Similarly, opportunities for discussion with religious groups have opened up, illustrating that new sectors are beginning to promote analysis of this issue.

Today, the movement is making efforts to heal the wounds caused by past disputes and to seek consensus and agreements among factions. These efforts will allow us to move forward by consolidating projects being developed and maintaining territory that we have already gained. Links are being strengthened and joint projects undertaken--expressions of the mutual trust which has developed. This process has also included support for sister initiatives as an expression of respect and solidarity which favors mutual growth and new ways of relating.

However, the existence of permanent, regular contexts for meeting and discussion is still a distant reality. Attempts to hold meetings have not yet crystallized. Similarly, coordination through national networks that support and strengthen the work of local groups remains a utopia. Disputes still prevail as a result of intolerance towards different perspectives and modes of working. The struggle for representation and power undermines initiatives.

Still, given the centralized nature of the country, the process of democratization initiated in Mexico City could constitute an important resource for greater critical participation on the part of citizens and a greater political participation of the sector. Likewise, the participation of young people in new groups with clearly political overtones is a good omen for the strengthening and continuity of the movement.

The author is a lesbian feminist who has been involved in Mexico's gay and lesbian movement for more than ten years. She was instrumental in the creation of the first academic group for the study of sexual diversity, part of the Gender Studies Program at the Universidad Nacional de Mexico, UNAM. A member of the board of directors of El Closet de Sor Juana and of the Fundacion Arcoiris, Gloria is also a consultant to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
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Title Annotation:history, social and political aspects of the gay rights movement in Mexico
Author:Perez, Gloria Careaga
Publication:Women's Health Collection
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:1760
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