Ecuador

“Sin Justicia No Hay Orgullo:” LGBTQI+ Activism in Ecuador

On the June 26th, the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador resonated with the words of LGBTQI+ collectives Maricas Unidas and Guayaqueercity, who delivered an auditory demonstration titled “A Message to the Nation.” From their respective quarantines, members of the LGBTIQ+ community came together to transmit a series of powerful spoken messages throughout various locations in the center of the city. The messages were read by the voices of Olmedo Guerra, Anthony Guerrero, Ericka Zavala, Emilio Villafuerte, Cattaleya Sierra, Andrea Alejandro Freire, Almendra Ortiz, and Víctor García. 

 

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Este es el registro de “Mensaje A La Nacio?n”, una accio?n sonora de @m4r1cas y Guayaqueer. El mensaje consiste en los textos de Olmedo Guerra (@olmedoguerra98), Anthony Guerrero (@efekamileon_96), Ericka Zavala (@erickita.zavala), Emilio Villafuerte (emilio_braveman), Cattaleya Sierra (@cattleya_sierra), Andrea Alejandro Freire (@drejanx), Almendra Ortiz (@almendance666) y Vi?ctor Garci?a (@vacivum), lei?dos por sus propias voces y reproducidos en parlantes en distintas posiciones del centro de Guayaquil. ? ? Como no podemos salir a marchar este an?o, queri?amos irrumpir el espacio pu?blico con nuestra mariconada antirracista antipatriacal, honrar la memoria, pedir ma?s educacio?n, reclamar por nuestra salud, lamentar las muertes de lxs nuestrxs, enunciarnos enteramente desde nuestras perspectivas, no olvidar que el Orgullo nacio? de nuestra ira y bu?squeda de justicia. ? ? Gracias inmensas a @juanfelipeparedes por el texto de la locucio?n, la voz de locucio?n de @sillmarwen, a Ybelice Briceño por prestarnos su espacio y a @maricondeghetto @cruz.invertida, @cocinayplacer, @lupa_the_cyberspace_plant, @kikecolmont, @mazurquica_social, @may____romero, @ahorsewithnoname1992 y @stephano_eg quienes reprodujeron y grabaron los videos ? ? ? #MensajeALaNacio?n #ElOrgulloFueUnaRevuelta #NoHayOrgulloSinJusticia

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This June marked the beginning of pride month around the world, and in Ecuador, the LGBTIQ+ community also celebrates the country’s 2019 ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in the month of June.

However, the annual pride parade celebrations that occur in Guayaquil and Quito were postponed. Instead, LGBTQI+ groups and community organizations opted for digital organizing and found creative ways to celebrate and share their messages.

While demonstrations, parades, community events, and actions are a critical part of pride month traditions around the world, this year’s pride month came at a time of intense struggles, in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted queer and trans communities.

“We decided to do this action, considering the limitations that we have due to the pandemic, not being able to gather together, we saw this as a good alternative to occupying public space in another form, that is to say, through sound,” Guayaqueer’s Stephano Espinoza told La Periodista.

 “To take this to the street being queer now is impossible. There would be immediate repression by those in the city. That is why we turned to alternative ways of occupying public spaces through political and dissident messages,” he continued. 

The action began with a voice who announced, “This is a message to the nation from sexual dissidents.”

Olmedo Guerra continued with a powerful message: “Your silence is killing us. Silence censors and aggravates us.”

The social and political significance of the term “sexual dissidents” is important to note; it was developed by social scientists in the last decade and refers to identities, cultural practices, and political movements that do not align with the social norms imposed by heterosexuality, as stated by Héctor Miguel Salinas Hernández. 

In its 20-minute duration, “A Message to the Nation” deconstructed acts of casual and institutionalized homophobia, transphobia, and sexism in Ecuadorian society. On the streets of Guayaquil, the voices demanded the attention of those passing by.

From their various locations in the city, the audio transmission and the voices of the speakers took up public space, sharing stories and messages of resistance and calling for those listening to acknowledge the continuous struggle for the collective rights of the LGBTQI+ community in Ecuador and around the world.

Speakers shared lived experiences, inviting listeners to learn about the struggles and grievances the faced by the queer community, from daily occurrences of discrimination, to healthcare access disparities, state repression and tragic violence. At many times, the listener is called to directly. 

“There is a homosexual in your family and you don’t know it. There is a trans woman in your class, and you don’t acknowledge them. Behind a wall, there are homosexuals who love each other in secret. There are LGBTIQ populations wherever you set your eyes, but you evade their looks.”

“My queerness is not an offense, but your silence is and ours. Silence is the practice through which we invisibilize the existence of what passes by us and what we love. If you stay quiet every time they call your brother effeminate [a slur] as a joke, you are complicit. If you allow a trans woman to be called “he,” you are complicit.

If you tell your lesbian friend that she just hasn’t met a good [man] yet, you are complicit. What you say and what you don’t construct piece by piece the foundation of this homolesbotransphobic society.”

“We are fed up because they killed Javier, because my friend has a restraining order and a false judgement for being homosexual. Because our trans friends are not able to acquire decent work for being who they want to be. There are one, two, three homosexuals in your family, but they remain in secrecy.”

Justicia Para Javier

A month prior on May 28th, a young gay man’s life was violently taken in a tragic murder that activists are urging to be charged as a hate crime. Javier Viteri was 22 years old; he dreamt of becoming a medical surgeon and had plans to enroll at the Universidad Católica de Cuenca. Through hard work, he planned to purchase a house for him and his grandmother.

In his free time, Javier liked to play games online, read science fiction, dance, and watch movies. But above all, he loved to spend time with his loved ones. 

 

Javier holding a sign that reads “Hate, prejudice, and discrimination is combatted with love.”  Image: courtesy of Twitter.

 

“He was the type of friend who always made you laugh,” a friend described Julio to the online platform Vistazo. “When you saw him, you felt like his smile cleansed all of the negativity in the world.”

A virtual conversation and tips from Viteri’s friends led police to find and arrest 19 year old, Willinson Hilmar Corozo Medina, 19, a member of the armed forces. On the night of May 28th, Medina had made plans through an online chatting service to meet up with Viteri around 10 PM; That night, Medina stabbed Viteri to death 89 times in his own home. 

“Javier was a victim of a culture of hate and rejection, in a society where homophobia in many cases is maintained in impunity,” wrote Dominique Campaña and Gabriela Pinasco for Vistazo. 

These past few months, LGBTQI+ organizations have been fighting for #JusticeForJavier. Too many times, fatal violence against queer and trans communities continue with impunity. In this case, the state’s failure to charge the crime as a hate crime, invisibilizes and ignores the violent reality of Javier’s murder, and continues to perpetuate a culture that normalizes violence against queer people.

Claims that the motive for Javier’s murder was robbery, based on the fact that Medina attempted to steal a backpack from Javier’s home, shifts the narrative of this horrible crime and turns a blind eye to the violence of homophobia. Pedro Guitérrez, an expert lawyer in LGBTQI+ rights, says that Viteri’s death is a “symbolic message about what it means to be a gay man and confront discrimination and violence that continues to exist in Ecuador.”

More than 20 organizations that form part of the Alliance for Human Rights in Ecuador, among them Guayaqueer City, Fundación Mujer y Mujer, and others have joined together to compile a document of solidarity to demand that the death of Javier be charged as a hate crime and recommend that it be thoroughly investigated. 

 Many have taken to social media to raise awareness about Javier’s story through the hashtag #JusticiaParaJavier. On social media, an image of Javier smiling, cheeks painted with the pride flag, have inspired others to take pictures with the same makeup, holding up signs that demand justice for Javier.

 

Guayaqueercity’s graphic demanding justice for Javier was one of their most widely shared posts, courtesy of Guayaqueer on Instagram

 

The devastating truth is that Javier’s story is not a solitary, tragic instance of violence; while Javier’s story has received national attention through news and media outlets, there are many cases of homophobic and transphobic violence that occur in silence.

Silence, complacency, and the government’s lack of action to protect members of the LGBTQI+ community in Ecuador all contribute to a culture of violence, discrimination, and fear. 

According to data from the Asociación Silhueta X’s Runy Sipiy report, there were 16 violent murders against the LGBTIQ + community, four of which were directed at gay men, and twelve at trans women. Ecuador in 2019 .

 

Figure: LGBTI Assassinations in Ecuador in 2019 by type of population. Courtesy of Vistazo

 

Guayaqueer’s Víctor Garcia told Vistazo: “We are outraged that these things continue to happen. Javier is just one example, because if we talk about trans women, more violent murders happen and those are completely forgotten, because they are a population that is more invisible and more abandoned.

The worst of this case is that Javier was such a young boy and that before he was killed he was denied by his family and admitted to conversion therapy clinics.”

La lucha sigue

22 years after the decriminalization of homosexuality, the fight for the collective rights of LGBTQI+ communities in Ecuador continues. 2019 marked an incredibly significant milestone in Ecuadorian LGBTQI+ history with the ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

While this was an incredible victory, the events of this year have reminded many people that the fight is not over.

Much like the US celebrates the heroic and radical efforts of the Stonewall Riots, LGBTQI+ folks around the world have fought against police repression, brutality, and violence. Many elders within the LGBTQI+ activist community in Ecuador have passed away this year, most recently Patricio Coellar on August 12.

Patricio was an inspiring force of energy who fought for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ecuador and will be remembered as a historic trailblazer for the queer community.

 

Patricio as “Briggite Sandoval” at Abanicos Bar in 1997. Image: courtesy of Bethania Velarde on Instagram.

 

At a time when there was rarely an extensive vocabulary to define various sexuality and gender identities, one thing was clearly defined within the eyes of the law: to be openly gay or homosexual was illegal. Patricio’s story is one that must not be forgotten. In 1997, Patricio was crowned the first “gay queen” at Abanicos Bar, a popular hang out spot for the queer community in the city of Cuenca. That same night, police raided the bar and arrested Patricio, along with several others, in an incident that would spark the struggle towards the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ecuador.

Patricio left behind a heroic legacy that bravely fought against Article 516 of the Penal Code, which considered homosexuality a crime that must be punished with prison sentence of 4 to 8 years. In 1997, Patricio’s defiant efforts inspired solidarity protests across Ecuador, whose persistence, unity, and organized efforts sparked LGBTQI+ movements that fought for the protection, visibility, and acceptance of the queer community. Social groups and organizations, such as Amigos Por La Vida in Guayaquil, Fedaeps y Triángulo Andino in Quito, SOGA in Manabí, collectives such as Coccinelle, and groups in Cuenca led these protests.

In Guayaquil, the police would go to gay bars to beat and brutalize queer communities illegally. With the help of various groups fighting for protection and visibility, a lawsuit was able to progress that called for Article 516 to be declared unconstitutional; 1,000 signatures were needed, along with copies of the certificates to make their demands happen. Several activists went around and collected signatures in nightclubs, bars, and even door-to-door to support this initiative, and a high percentage of the signatures were from cisgender women.

Around 1,450 signatures were presented to the Constitutional Court, and the first paragraph of Article 516 was declared unconstitutional for violating the rights of homosexual people in Ecuador in November of 1997. In 1998, the first Gay Pride parade was organized in Quito, and in Guayaquil, the first parades began in 2006. In recent years, there have been many efforts to make the history of LGBTQI+ social movements in Ecuador known. 

 

Patricio (middle) during an interview with Sin Etiquetas in 2019. Image: courtesy of Sin Etiquetas Instagram.

 

On October 20th, 2019, Patricio shared in an interview with Sin Etiquetas: “The young must learn their history, and then reflect on and think about how everything that they experience and live, comes from those of us who have lived through aggressions in life. Try to immerse yourself in the history of the community, how we have fought, because [you] are the ones that will continue this fight. Many people have left us, and there are only a few of us who are still here.” 

 

A sign reads “We understand the pandemic, but homophobia is more lethal”
Image: courtesy of Jorge Núñez / EFE for France 24

 

2020 has demonstrated that the need for protection, representation, and fundamental rights for queer communities is urgent. “A Message to the Nation,” highlighted and amplified the voices of many queer and trans people, their stories, and lived experiences. The demonstration brought up statistics that demonstrated the realities and experiences of the of LGBTQI+ community in Ecuador during a global pandemic. 

“58% of sexual dissidents do not have medical or health insurance. 60% of those who do, utilize public health services,” the demonstration announced. 

“SARS-COV-2, after HIV, has shown us once again that we live in a world where we are disposable. That there are structural conditions that are almost invisible, that make it impossible for us to survive a simple cold.”

Many voices echoed similar sentiments of frustration towards the lack of adequate healthcare access, specifically affordable, non-discriminative, non-pathologizing healthcare for queer and trans people. In “A Message to the Nation,” Emilio Villafuerte, a founder of Valientes de Corazón Ecuador, spoke about struggles with healthcare faced by the transmasculine community in Ecuador.

While gender identity is a protected category within the anti-discriminatory law in Ecuador’s constitution and under the American Convention of Human Rights, there is no governmental policy or program to ensure access to non-discriminatory and comprehensive healthcare for trans people in Ecuador. 

“Hormone treatments are part of the transition process of transgender people to adjust their physique with the gender which with they identify. For the use of sexual hormones, the Panamerican Organization of Health recommends qualified medical supervision for these treatments and public policies that guarantee comprehensive care for trans people.

However, in Ecuador there is no program aimed at this group that covers the transition, and those who wish to do so resort to self-medication or care with personnel who are not specialized in these treatments, which can lead to health conditions,” wrote Víctor Hugo Carreño for Vistazo.

 

Valientes de Corazón Ecuador. Image: courtesy of Valientes de Corazón Facebook.

 

Alongside issues relating to healthcare access, lack of employment opportunities, hiring discrimination, and economic vulnerability are other issues that have been exacerbated for queer and trans people in Ecuador in recent months. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the LGBTQI+ community have been among some of the most economically impacted.

In April, LGBTQI+ groups organized protests to call attention to the difficulties that some of the most vulnerable populations have been facing amidst the pandemic.

Groups called for real government aid, stating that the government was minimizing and ignoring the vulnerabilities faced by the LGBTQI+ population in Ecuador. Many organizations claimed that none of their community members had been direct beneficiaries of the alleged social services the government had promised for vulnerable populations.

The Federation of LGBTI Organizations in Ecuador urged the state and authorities to “protect the right to a decent life for all people who find themselves in Ecuador, without discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.” 

Trans women and queer migrants, in particular, have continued to be the most impacted by the social, economic, and sanitary conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ecuador, “especially considering that trans women in this country are often forced to resort to sex work due to the discrimination they find in other work spaces.

Sex work does not offer any type of security, and with the pandemic, this insecurity has increased,” Stephano Espinoza states. Venezuelan migrants are another community that have been gravely affected by the pandemic. “Many have had to leave their homes because they could not pay rent. Many did not even have homes, so they have been forced to return to their country,” Espinoza continued. 

The importance of community care and LGBTQI+ unity and solidarity is as relevant now as it was in 1997. While justice for queer Ecuadorians is a broad topic that encompasses various social issues and calls for improvement in material and social conditions, justice takes shape in various forms.

When the state and larger society fail in providing just treatment and opportunities, communities take it upon themselves. Re-envisioning a just society, what it can look like, how it can support, respect, and protect all people, regardless of who they love, how they present, and how they express and exist in this world requires unlearning and listening to what the LGBTQI+ community has been saying for decades. 

Featured Image: Pride 2019 Celebration in Quito, Ecuador, Credit, Reuters, courtesy of Primicias

 


Dani Garcia | Pitzer College
Daniela García is a rising junior at Pitzer College majoring in Critical Global Studies with a minor in Foreign Languages. She was born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission District to two immigrant parents from Jalisco, México. Daniela is passionate about issues related to human rights, sustainable development, and social justice throughout the Global South. As a Latin American correspondent for Ecuador, El Salvador, and Brazil, she hopes to explore how local communities are building power and responding to current challenges. In addition, she aims to highlight the stories of women, afro-descendants, LGBTQ+ and indigenous communities in these regions, while building transnational solidarity and connections.