2012 in Review at lgbrpcv.org

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 21,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

LGBT Ally Training in Paraguay

- Manuel Colon, former PCV

PC Paraguay (Jopara)

On Friday, November 2, 2012, Peace Corps – Paraguay hosted its first ever LGBT ally training with 16 participants, volunteers and staff, in attendance. The training comes as a response to the 2011 all volunteer survey (AVS) that stated roughly 25% of the incidents of harassment received by volunteers as a result of their sexual orientation came from either volunteer peers or staff. Peace Corps Headquarters is currently in the process of creating a training packet to address this issue specifically, but has yet to release anything more than the outline. Jopara, Paraguay’s volunteer diversity group, decided to step in and move forward with organizing and facilitating the training instead. Topics covered in the training included facts and history of LGBT events and legislation, correct terminology usage, a guided experience of the coming out process, and an overview of the in-country LGBT resources. Upon termination of the training, all participants were awarded “safe space” stickers to be placed anywhere of their choosing (desks, doors, notebooks, etc) to communicate their dedication as an ally to the LGBT community.

LGBT Resources in Paraguay

LGBT Resources in Paraguay

Organizations

Somosgay

  • República De Colombia 141 C/ Yegros.
  • (21) 495802, (+595) 981 616 203
  • Mon-Th 14:00 to 22:00 Fri. and Sat. 14:00 to 00:00
  • comunicacion@somosgay.org
  • http://somosgay.org/
  • Marcha de Orgullo, Besaton
  • Their center functions as a temporary relief shelter for LGBT youth who are homeless, they offer HIV screenings, and a general space to be rented for events

Paragay

Aireana- lesbian organization

  • Eligio Ayala 907 entre EEUU y Tacuary
  • 21 447976
  • aireanaparaguay@gmail.com
  • http://www.aireana.org.py/
  • La Serafina Bar, Friday night events, Feminist Conferences, Radio Show, Marcha para la Igualdad, LesBiGayTrans Festival de Cine

Panambi- Trans community

Grupo Ñepyru- Trans community and people living with HIV

  • O’leary 177 c/Cap. Carmelo Peralta y Padrea Molas, Cnl. Oveido
  • 0521200059
  • http://www.nepyru.neositios.com
  •  Services and focus: HIV screenings and education, human rights

Todo Mejora- Paraguay- entire LGBT community

  • Facebook page and YouTube account
  • A project that offers resources and support to LGBT youth
  • Offers a collection of videos on YouTube from LGBT Paraguayans sending messages of hope and support to LGBT youth for the future

LGBT Friendly Spaces

Babylon Dance

  • Dance club and bar
  • 760 25 de Mayo c/ Tacuari

Hollywood Dance

  • Dance Club
  • Independencia Nacional c/ Teniente Farina
  • 0982.488.652

Frogus Karaoke Gay

  • Estrella 852 entre Montevideo & Juan de Ayolas

La Serafina

  • Feminist Safe Space with Books, Internet, Space to Hang Out
  • Monday-Friday 9am-12pm and 1pm-5pm/Converted into a restaurant + bar and event space on Friday nights 8pm-1am
  • Eligio Ayala 907 c/Tacuary
  • 0921.447.976

Peace Corps – Paraguay Resources

Peace Corps Medical Officers/Counselors/ Security Officer

Jopara, Volunteer Diversity Group

Peer Support Network

You can contact Manuel at macolon2@gmail.com

Guarding My Sexuality in Botswana

- A Peace Corps Volunteer

The other day a fellow PCV invited me to an LGBT pool party coming up in Gaborone, the capital. This was strange to me to begin with because I don’t know any locals who are members of the LGBT community. My village is very small and very remote. And considering the climate in my area regarding issues of homosexuality, I am not out as a gay man. Since Botswana is very small (only 2 million people) I am always somewhat on guard to make sure I don’t accidentally out myself, because word travels fast.

For me this has been easily the most difficult part of my service. Back in the United States I was a very vocal advocate for LGBT issues. I first started coming out to people when I was 15. During my time in college I was the head of the GSA on our campus and the Diversity Committee of our Student Senate. So feeling the need to head back into the closet has been challenging to say the least. Nowadays the only time I mention anything related to being gay outside of my contact with other PCVs is when talking about respect and social responsibility towards all people with the kids I work with. Even then I still distance myself from my own orientation. I always lead off with, “I have friends back in the US who are…”

At times I feel that I am closing off a part of me, and that does make it harder to have friendships with the people in my community. When I am hanging out with teachers from the school, or the nurses over at the health post the conversation often drifts to, “Why aren’t you dating anyone? Did you have a girlfriend you left in the US?” And so on. So while I can have good conversations with people, eventually it leads back to me having to lie yet again, and keep guarding myself.

There has only been one instance during my service that caused me severe discomfort, and even some fear, regarding being gay here. I was at a multi-day event and one of the teenage girls had told another PCV that she was a lesbian. The PCV asked if I would be willing to talk to her since the girl had a lot of questions she was unable to answer. There were many reasons in my head why I should not do it, all of them concerning self-preservation of my hidden identity. First of all, with how small Botswana is, if word got out the people back home would probably know I was gay before I even showed up back there. Secondly, the girl lived in my shopping village, so there was a chance I would run into her often.

Despite this I decided to go ahead with the conversation. I came to Botswana to help people, and this was a way that I was uniquely qualified to give help. She mostly was looking for advice on how to talk to her family about being a lesbian. She was already out to a few friends, so I told her to use them for support, and also not to feel rushed to tell her family if she wasn’t ready. All in all it seemed to go pretty well.

In the next few days that girl ended up telling some other event facilitators that she was a lesbian. As soon as I had heard about this from the other facilitators I grew quite nervous since I was not sure if she had told them about me as well. From what I was able to gather from her, she did not. There is still the chance that she could tell people somewhere down the road, which is a risk I knew I was taking, but one I felt necessary to try and help her out.

I still think that at any day people here could start to figure out I am gay. Not only because of that event, but also because I have started to become closer with my co-workers to the point where I even have a few of them on Facebook (which considering some of the things I post is a big deal). I have even lately been considering telling some of them who I am closest to. Yet, I have not quite reached that point, and until then I am completely isolated in my village regarding even people to talk to about being gay.

But I do have a friend who lives much closer to the capital. She has LGBT friends (mostly people of other cultures working here). They have movie nights, and other events aimed at bringing LGBT people in Botswana together. In a sense Botswana is 2 different worlds. In the bigger areas, and especially the capital, you can go around fairly unnoticed. This means you can find other LGBT people and not have to worry about censoring yourself all the time. But in the remote areas, you are lucky if you are able to walk to the tuck shop without stopping and talking for a minute with at least 5 different people.

And for me, I am starting to meet some more LGBT people. I did end up going to that pool party in Gaborone. And to my big surprise (since I thought I would never even be able to talk about it during my time in Botswana at all) I actually met someone there who I am now seeing regularly. And while our relationship is very under the radar (although several of my PC friends know) it is still liberating to be able to express that part of myself.

So I think I would have to say that Botswana has some LGBT culture, but unless you are posted to a large area you may not find it that easily. And while yes, being gay in Botswana can be very challenging, the work we do here is very rewarding. I have tough days, when I just want to go home and beat my head against the wall, but ultimately the work I do with the youth in my community is more important to me than my discomfort about closeting myself. After having been here a year, I can say you get a little more comfortable about covering your orientation, and that I have made small headway with at least being able to talk about homosexuality with some people in my community, though always devoid of personal identification.

All in all though, I am actually very grateful to be a gay male in Botswana, even if I am closeted. This experience has taught me much more about myself, my limitations, and my strengths and has caused me to appreciate how much I have grown. I would say to anyone that don’t let being a member of the LGBT community stop you from engaging in challenging situations, at the very least you will learn a lot from it.

You can contact the author at lgbrpcv-news@lgbrpcv.org

Peace Corps Service and Finding a Partner in Honduras

- Erica Brien and Camila Fiero, RPCVs

Erica and Camila at Boston Pride

Erica’s Story:
Being openly gay as a Peace Corps Volunteer was, for me, impossible. I lived in a community of 300-people in the mountains of Comayagua, Honduras. Upon my arrival, I spent days visiting the homes and getting to know the families that lived in them. I was given incredible amounts of coffee, what amounted to loaves of sweet-bread, hundreds of tortillas and plenty of beans. When I left these homes to head back to my host-family’s home, I was given freshly-laid eggs to take with me. As time went on, I spent the majority of my days in my small town simply getting to know these people. They opened up to me. We talked about so many things. I remember having discussions about the meaning of life, the truth of an inevitable death, the importance of family, love and the many existences of god. We obviously talked about the state of the community, the hopes people had for the future. We would talk about the world and where it is headed. Families would invite me over to make bread or tamales, depending on the time of year. Through all of this, I can truly say that I grew close to many of my community members. However, nonetheless, there was one thing that I knew we could never talk about, one thing they could never know: my sexuality.

The people in my community took religion very seriously. All families belonged to either the Catholic Church or the Evangelical Church, and being gay was a horrible sin. There was one openly gay man of 24 years, who I will call Tio, who at times I would verbally defend when I heard other people criticize him. I’d say simple things like, “It’s okay that he is gay. It doesn’t make him a bad person.” After defending him, I would be asked by various community members to step aside to have private conversations. They would tell me, “Erica, I heard that you defended Tio, but love is between a man and a woman. You can not defend this boy for committing such a sin.”

After a trip home for the summer, I returned to my community with a new hair-cut. It was short. The Evangelical pastor, a woman who invited me frequently to her house for dinner with the family, told me she would have to pray for my soul because I went against God’s will; women are supposed to have long hair. These incidents made me realize the impossibility of being completely honest within my community. No matter how welcoming and friendly the people of my community were, no matter how fond of me they had grown to be, if I told them that I was a lesbian, I truly believe that my work would have ended right there. No one would have wanted to work with me. People would have closed up. I had to pretend I was straight. As a straight person, people accepted me. I was able to work with their kids. I was able to build great relationships, and I will say that in the end, it was worth it. For me, it was worth it to be in the closet for two years. It was worth it to sacrifice a certain part of me in order to truly make the most of a meaningful experience. However, to be able to say that I could have had the same experience as an openly gay person within a culture that does not understand the truth of human-sexuality would be naïve and a lie.

Camila’s Story:
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was never explicitly told to lie about my sexual orientation. Instead, I was asked to understand the culture and community I was trying to become a part of. It was more difficult than I had anticipated. Although I am from the Mid-West and have very traditional parents, I had spent the last four years at a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts and had finally learned to be proud of my sexual orientation. Thus, Honduran culture, for me, was especially difficult as it is steeped through and through in machismo and intense patriarchy. At the same time, the generosity and amiability of the people almost make up for it. About six to seven months into my service I had to be site changed from my mountain community of 300 people to a larger “rural city” community further south. A community partner had displayed some bizarre behavior that made me feel outed within the community. Thus, I felt I had to leave because the rumor mill would stop short anyone who was at one time willing to work with me. I also felt unsafe. I remember that night before I was set to leave, and I was fighting visions of people busting through my front door with the idea of “corrective rape.” I don’t personally know of any of these cases happening in Honduras, instead, people would just get killed.

In my new community I felt extremely cautious. I was constantly analyzing myself. Eventually, I got settled in and made a few close friends. I worked with a local Honduran environmental NGO and worked with other volunteers on environment classes, HIV/AIDS classes, and improved stoves projects. However, I never told any Hondurans about my orientation. Miraculously, Erica and I started dating, and I say miraculously because we never considered dating one another until it happened. We were both in the Protected Areas Management Group, which has since been cancelled and lumped together with the Business Program. Sadly, there are no current programs that have a specific goal of addressing issues such as loss of biodiversity and environmental education. We were about one year into our sites when I would go visit Erica and she would come visit me, taking turns doing the 8-hour bus ride. We both feel that we looked somewhat innocent since close friendships between females are not unheard of or frowned upon. Yet, we had no time to confirm or disprove our notions because we were evacuated about seven to eight months before our official completion of service.

The day before I left I came out to my closest friend in my community. She said she already knew and knew within the first month of meeting me! I was surprised and sad that I missed out on a deeper more honest relationship with her because I was afraid. Yet, the real tragedies are the thousands of individuals that are beaten, murdered, and subjugated because of who they love. Honduras has seen an increase in violent hate crimes, although reporting is spotty on the subject. Also, with a friend, we re-started the LGBTQ support group for volunteers in Honduras and were starting to make connections with Honduran “clubs” or support groups. Yet, that too was cut short. There has been straight forward reporting on exactly why the program was cut short: Peace Corps could no longer guarantee our safety due to the ever-escalating drug war. We have since called back to friends in Honduras who have said the situation has only gotten worse, violence is spreading and rural communities are cut off from the larger cities because the roads are too dangerous.

In the end, I think your service is what you make of it. I am proud and happy with my time spent in Honduras. However, I would caution that one shouldn’t expect to be out and shouldn’t expect understanding.

Erica Continues:
It is hard to say if people in my community ever grew suspicious of the relationship I had with Camila. She came to visit me at my site more consistently than any other volunteer. And while we tried very hard not to seem suspicious within my small-community, there were times when I questioned certain comments made by my community members. Was it all in my head? Maybe. Maybe not. I remember taking Camila to my host family’s house where my host mother gave us coffee and tried to convince me to date the family’s cousin who recently came from out of town. My host-mother would describe how nice of a man he was, and how he is different than most men. Camila would play along, saying things like, “wow, he sounds like a catch” as she would throw me a mischievous smile. Camila even took a picture of this man and me standing together outside of my host family’s home. They thought it was essential to our future together. When Camila and I would return back to my house, hiding behind the privacy of closed doors, we would talk about the same questions that today we still ponder, such as how much does “respect” and being “culturally” sensitive turn into tolerating intolerance? What is our role as queer Peace Corps Volunteers and allies in educating around sensitive subjects such as sexual orientation? How are we to facilitate change if we, ourselves, are doing our very best to uphold cultural norms? These are the questions we would like to leave with you.

You can contact Erica at ebrien03@gmail.com  and Camila at camiximena@gmail.com.

Strachey Takes on Gay Media and Pot – a Book Review

- Mike Learned, RPCV Malawi

Dick Lipez is an RPCV Ethiopia, former PC staff, longtime journalist, a contributor to our website, and on top of most things in pop and current culture. He has just published his thirteenth mystery in his Don Strachey series, The Last Thing I Saw. He started the series 31 years ago. His protagonist Strachey is an Albany, NY private eye in a longtime relationship with Timothy Callahan, who had been in the Peace Corps in India prior to their relationship. Peace Corps experience, values, insights crop up in almost all the books. Timmy always has good advice to offer and incisive questions to ask. He’s that voice way back in Strachey’s head whispering in his ear.

Lipez, writing as Richard Stevenson, actually Dick’s first and second names, has had his finger on the critical issues facing his gay brothers and sisters throughout those 31 years. His protagonist Strachey has dealt with it all: AIDS, outing, curing homosexuality hustles, political corruption, gay marriage, gay assimilation, the lures of Southeast Asia, and all sorts of homophobia. Private eye Strachey has taken all of it on.

This time around, things become increasingly complex. Strachey has been tasked to find a missing Eddie Wenske, a popular investigative reporter and memoir author. Wenske has been working on an expose of a predatory gay media corporation. Strachey moves around Boston and New York, and finally ends up in Northern California. The two big issues in this latest book in the series is the consolidation of power in the gay media, and as a sidelight, the question of marijuana growth and distribution in a political and social environment that increasingly calls for the legalization of personal use. And in this case, the seemingly unrelated meet head on.

What’s always been great about Lipez’s (Stevenson’s) Strachey series has been his insight into recent and current political and cultural issues. And over those 31years since his first, Death Trick, those of us who been around and reasonably alert have, like Strachey, seen our progress and the negative reactions to that progress. What our author explores in his most recent chapter in Strachey’s life is a key issue. As our LGBT sisters and brothers have gained rights, political and cultural power, so have those economic forces, who want to tap our wallets, moved in for the kill. A key question: “When does targeted marketing morph into economic exploitation?” Is this surprising when issues of economic consolidation, monopoly, and economic exploitation are increasing issue throughout our society?

When compared to many of the blockbuster authors of the mystery, thriller genre, private eye Strachey sees fewer deaths, and much less overt violence. Satire, often tongue in check, is an important tool of our author. And another great thing, gay guys are not always the good guys; straight people are not always the enemy. Straight women and lesbians often come out well.

Great color, great insight, highlighting current LGBT concerns, and very good writing, is what you get with a Strachey book. And it moves fast. I you haven’t followed Strachey, now’s the time. Lipez’s (Stevenson’s) current publisher, MLR Press, has reissued the entire series in paperback. You can order the most recent or any of the others on Amazon. It’s available September 22, 2012.

You can buy the The Last Thing I Saw on Amazon. Visit the Donald Strachey Mysteries homepage.

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