There are a number of ways in which I could write this article. I could give you a detailed study about the consequences of denying basic rights to women and LGBTQI+ people. I could write an academic essay about why “gender ideology” is fiction that does real harm. Instead, I’ll just tell you some stories that show our humanity. Maybe this is all we need, to understand each other more, to see that we are all human beings impacted by societal issues in similar, yet different ways.
I’ll start with my most recent anecdote: A couple of weeks ago, I went for my usual afternoon walk in a beautiful park near my building and saw a girl in her mid-twenties learning how to ride a bike. Sometimes she would lose her balance and fall, but she never gave up, always encouraged by the words of her partner, another young woman who was half jogging alongside her: “You are doing great sweetheart, just keep going.”
When I went home, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. My first thought was that it’s never too late for anything, whether that is learning to ride a bike, going back to school, changing careers or anything you were told you were “too old” to do, especially when you enter your thirties. My second thought was that their unapologetic love was beautiful and that they probably have many plans together like most couples do.
Perhaps they want a puppy or a cute apartment. Maybe they want to complete a cycling marathon together or maybe they would like to get married and adopt a child one day. However, some of these things they can’t do, no matter how badly they want them. My country, beautiful and revolutionary Venezuela, doesn’t have specific LGBTQI+ rights legislation. A void that has festered exclusion, hate and the rise of anti-rights groups.
A lot of people have told me that as a leftist woman, I shouldn’t write or even care about these things. Many think that gender is an imperialist construct, an ideology being imposed on the Global South as if we were idiots. What is actually being imposed is the fascist anti-rights movement that is also against women’s sexual and reproductive rights. Truth is, the LGBTQI+ community has always existed and will continue to exist and the fight for its rights in Venezuela began decades ago. It precedes any “gender ideology” fiction.
Another common complaint is, “Why focus on this? It doesn’t have any impact on the world and its problems.” Except it does. Everybody benefits from a society that is more accepting and less discriminating. When we affirm the rights of a minority, such as the LGBTQI+ community, we open the path for every other minority group. When women and black people earned political and economic rights, everybody won because we became more democratic, even if there’s still a lot to do regarding racism and gender inequality.
You can think about LGBTQI+ inclusion the same way as a building that has access for people with different disabilities. It won’t affect you or make you disabled, but it will positively affect a bunch of other people. Everyone gets to enter the building with their humanity intact.
More importantly, legislating for queer people to have the same rights as everybody else would reduce homophobia and violence against this community, which is a huge problem right now. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of LGBTIQ+ Violence, last year there were 97 cases of violence, including 11 murders. The aggressors were mostly heterosexual men, civilians, but also state security officers. The crimes happened everywhere: public parks, workplaces, restaurants, radio stations… anywhere where everyday life occurs.
This includes homes, where sometimes parents reject their children because they were taught to hate queerness. Recently, I went to an art exhibition about the lives of three LGBTQI+ people. There I met Julio, a 68-year-old gay man who was kicked out of his house at sixteen and made to feel unloved. He went on to become an unconfident adult, hiding in order to be accepted. It wasn’t until later in life that he learned that the most revolutionary act of activism he could ever do was to simply love himself: “Why should I live less, be less?” This is a lesson that touched everybody listening to that day, queer or not. Haven’t we all felt unloved or put on a facade to feel accepted at some point in our lives?
His story made me reminisce about my first year in university when I saw a mob attack two boys because they were kissing in a bathroom. Those 17 or 18-year-old boys were perhaps experiencing romantic love for the first time. And they almost got killed because of that.
While I was writing this article, 33 adult men were arrested and publicly humiliated for being together in a private sauna. Their crime? Being gay and perhaps having consensual and protected sex (condoms were presented as “proof” of their “indecency”). Nobody with any sanity could ever justify this perverse behavior, and of course, I’m talking about the authorities that criminalized them.
This shows you the kind of world we are living in, where marrying or loving someone of your same sex is illegal or discriminated against, but not hate. Hate is free to roam anywhere, anytime, to target anyone, with little to no consequences.
Venezuela comes from several progressive steps taken during the Hugo Chávez era when there was a crusade to guarantee peoples’ rights. Some laws prohibit discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, but there are few mechanisms to stop this from happening. With Chávez, queer people also began to openly celebrate Pride Day in 2002, but now there are more attacks against them and fewer progressive initiatives. We are moving backward.
For example, this year more than 30,000 people marched in Caracas’ Pride Parade to demand gender identity rights, same-sex marriage, parental rights for same-sex couples, and healthcare programs. Also protection against hate crimes and to be treated with basic human decency in a society that does not stop the criminalization of their very existence. The political class mostly ignored the march as well as its demands as it has done for years.
In contrast, several recent initiatives led by Evangelical groups have been openly welcomed by state officials. In July, they marched to the parliament to reject an anti-discrimination law that is still under discussion and to defend what they call the “original design” of the family. They were received on a huge platform by a delegation of PSUV deputies and the head of the Government of Caracas, Nahum Fernández.
We can only hope that our government, which holds the banner of being revolutionary, starts thinking more about people’s rights and less about votes, which is the reason behind this state-church rapprochement. Long gone are the days of loudly proclaiming that religion is the opium of the people or recalling Chávez’s liberation theology arguments to lift the oppressed through collective efforts.
Never mind that Venezuela is supposed to be a secular state, independent of any religion. At least in theory, because since July 2022 the Socialist Party has a Vice President for Religious Affairs, who is also the son of our country’s head of state. His main task has been opening a channel of communication between the government and religious groups to answer their demands. This has resulted in two state programs to fix churches and hand bonuses to Evangelical leaders.
Most concerning is the flirtation with the anti-rights groups’ proposal to ban sexual education in schools. Yes, the “gender ideology” specter has officially entered Venezuelan politics with the same backward arguments as everywhere else, claiming that children are being “indoctrinated” to turn gay and change gender, with the ultimate goal of unleashing unthinkable perversities, including pedophilia, upon the world.
Those pedophiles that they are so afraid of are much more likely to be found inside their religious temples and even their homes. Last year, the Catholic Church revealed that priests sexually abused an undisclosed (!) number of children across Venezuela, while an Evangelical pastor drugged and abused ten kids. Since 2022, there have been more than 7,000 reports of sexual abuse against minors, with 51 percent of cases committed by family members.
Around the world, sexual education has played an important role in preventing sexual abuse against children as well as STDs and teenage pregnancy. Currently, Venezuela has the third highest teenage pregnancy rate in Latin America.
Under these circumstances, it would be monstrous to ban sexual education from schools. These teachings give children tools, always according to their ages, to understand and protect their bodies in order to develop respectful, loving, and consensual social and sexual relations. It transcends sex to teach them tolerance towards all kinds of families.
I read one of the school texts that the anti-rights often complain about in their protests. It’s a beautiful book filled with poetry, stories about our Indigenous roots, science-based facts about our bodies as well as messages of self-love and respect. One single page shows images of different types of families, including single parents and same-sex couples. The horror!
Recently, I heard a song by Brazilian singer Gonzaguinha that stuck with me: “I’ll stay with the purity of children’s answers. It’s life, it’s beautiful and it’s beautiful.” He’s right. We could make it possible for children to grow up in a more loving and accepting world. After all, love is so much easier than hate. Kids have to be indoctrinated to hate, whereas they automatically understand love. As grown-ups, we ought to remember that.