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Mothers of LGBTQ children join forces in Latin America


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Fabu Olmedo is so nervous about clubs and restaurants in Paraguay that before a night out, she often contacts one to make sure she’ll be admitted and won’t be attacked or harassed.

Olmedo is unsure if it is safe to go out in public as daily life is difficult for transgender people in the capital, Asunción. Now a new group of allies in Latin America are trying to improve life by changing minds in this socially conservative and often very religious region.

Founded in 2017, the Latin American Movement of LGTB+ Mothers lobbies governments to eliminate harmful laws and better enforce existing prohibitions on violence and discrimination.

It’s an uphill battle that will take patience and years of effort, but the mothers work together to help others in their position and function as a haven for LGBTQ children whose families aren’t as supportive.

“It’s about recognizing the strength and power we have as mothers to support our children and help other families,” said Alejandra Muñoz, 62, from Mexico City. Her son Manuel came out 11 years ago and suffered so much bullying at school that he spent recess with the teachers.

“He is at constant risk of being yelled at or worse on the street because of his sexuality,” she said.

Olmedo, 28, said that in July she was kicked out of an Asunción nightclub with her friends.

“A lot of times they let you in but there are violent people inside,” Olmedo said.

The Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children held their first in-person meeting in early November in Buenos Aires, where they attended the annual Big Gay Pride March on November 5.

“Our main fight is to ensure that our children enjoy the same rights throughout Latin America,” said Patricia Gambetta, 49, leader of the Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children, which has members in 14 countries and whose objective is to extend to all the countries of the region.

The work of mothers is often made more complicated by the enduring power of the Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disorderly.” The increasingly popular evangelical faith also often preaches against same-sex relationships.

There are marked differences in the acceptance of sexual minorities in Latin America. Argentina and Uruguay have been regional pioneers in marriage equality and transgender rights. Other countries in the region have yet to put in place protections for the LGBTQ population.

Marriage equality became law in every state in Mexico last month. Honduras and Paraguay both prohibit same-sex marriage. In Guatemala, a conservative congress has repeatedly tried to pass legislation that would censor information about LGBTQ people. In Brazil, at the federal and state level, there are bills and laws that prohibit or would prohibit information about sexual orientation and gender identity, said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher for Latin America and the Caribbean to Human Rights Watch.

And laws often fail to tell the whole story.

“Regardless of the legal regime a young person finds themselves in, prejudice and discrimination in the region continue to be commonplace,” said González Cabrera.

Vitinia Varela Mora said her daughter, Ana María, decided to hide her lesbian identity after seeing other gay students being bullied at her school in Tilarán, Costa Rica, about 200 km from the capital, San Jose. She came out to her mother at 21.

In some countries, mothers who try to help their children deal with discrimination suddenly find themselves under scrutiny.

Claudia Delfín tried to seek help in government offices for her transgender twins, who faced bullying and discrimination at their school in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, when they were 16.

“They told me to go to church and look for a better way. They practically sent me to pray,” Delfín said.

Varela Mora from Costa Rica says it took her about two years to come to terms with her daughter after the girl came out as a lesbian in what hit her mother like “a bucket of cold water”.

“There is a lack of education, nobody prepares you for that,” said Varela Mora. Now she’s trying to make up for that by supporting other moms whose kids have come out of the closet.

“It’s important for young people to feel like they have a mom who understands them when they’re not supported at home,” the 59-year-old said.

LGBTQ parent groups are “vitally important in showing that regressive political projects are not meeting the needs of diverse communities in the region,” said González Cabrera of Human Rights Watch.

Delfín said she is one of two mothers in Santa Cruz who are activists fighting for their LGBTQ children. Elena Ramírez, Olmedo’s mother, also says that many trans children who have problems at home come to her for refuge.

“I’m a mom to all of them,” Ramírez, 66, said. “I know there are mothers that I will not be able to convince, but there are other children who are really in need.”

Gambetta says all the mothers in the organization end up training each other during their monthly virtual meetings.

“As mothers we have a bigger reach, we can raise more awareness,” Gambetta said. “When your family supports you, you’ve already won 99% of the battle.”

Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story.


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