Fabu Olmedo is so nervous about clubs and restaurants in Paraguay that before going out at night she often contacts one to make sure she is let in and not attacked or harassed.
Olmedo doesn’t know if she can go outside without risk because everyday life is hard for transgender people in the capital, Asunción. Now a new group of allies in Latin America is trying to improve life by changing minds in this socially conservative and often highly religious region.
Look: “To be a Venezuelan child in a school in another country, you have to be strong”
Founded in 2017, the Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGBT+ Children lobbies governments to remove harmful laws, as well as fight violence and discrimination.
It’s a tough fight that will take patience and years of effort, but the moms are working together to help others and serve as a haven for LGBTQ children whose families aren’t as supportive.
It is about recognizing the strength and power we have as mothers to accompany our children and help other families, said Alejandra Muñoz, 62, from Mexico City. Her son Manuel declared himself gay 11 years ago and suffered so much bullying at school that he spent breaks with the teachers.
She acknowledges that her son is constantly at risk of being yelled at or worse on the street because of his sexuality.
Olmedo, 28, said he was barred from entering an Asunción nightclub with his friends in July.
The Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGBT Children held their first face-to-face meeting in early November in Buenos Aires, where they attended the annual mass gay pride march on November 5.
Our main battle is to make sure that our children enjoy the same rights throughout Latin America, said Patricia Gambetta, 49, leader of the Movement, which has members in 14 countries and the goal of expanding to all countries in the region.
The work of mothers is often further complicated by the influence of the Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexual acts are “intrinsically abnormal.” 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 institute protections for the LGBTQ population.
Same-sex marriage became law in every state in Mexico last month. Honduras and Paraguay 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 levels, there are bills and laws that prohibit or would prohibit information on sexual orientation and gender identity, said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher for Latin America and the Caribbean at Human Rights Watch. .
And the laws often don’t tell the whole story.
Regardless of the legal regime a youth finds themselves in, prejudice and discrimination in the region remain common, González Cabrera said.
Vitinia Varela Mora said her daughter, Ana María, decided to hide that she was a lesbian after seeing other gay students harassed at her school in Tilarán, Costa Rica, which is about 200 kilometers from the capital, San José. She confessed it to her mother for the first time until she was 21 years old.
In some countries, mothers trying to help their children deal with discrimination suddenly find themselves under scrutiny.
Claudia Delfín tried to seek help from government offices for her transgender twins, who suffered bullying and discrimination at their school in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, when they were 16 years old.
Varela Mora from Costa Rica says it took her almost two years to accept her daughter after she told her she was a lesbian, something that hit her like “a bucket of cold water.”
There is a lack of education, nobody prepares you for this, said Varela Mora, 59. Now she tries to make up for that by supporting other mothers whose sons have come out as gay.
LGBTQ parent groups are vitally important in showing that regressive political projects do not respond to the needs of the region’s diverse communities, said González Cabrera of Human Rights Watch.