Venezuelan LGBTQ Activists Denounce Homophobic Aggression by Government Official

Venezuela’s LGBTQ movement denounced the closure of a Caracas office tasked with safeguarding the human rights of the sex and gender diverse community last week.

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Activist Leandro Villoria protests outside Carolina Cestari's office in downtown Caracas with poster that reads: "No to the repeal of the anti-discrimination decree." (Aporrea/Paola Martucci)
Activist Leandro Villoria protests outside Carolina Cestari's office in downtown Caracas with poster that reads: "No to the repeal of the anti-discrimination decree." (Aporrea/Paola Martucci)
By Jeanette Charles
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Los Angeles, Tuesday March 21, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan grassroots organizations denounced the unannounced forced closure of the Sex and Gender Diversity Integral Attention Office and subsequent arrest of LGBTQ activists by authorities last week. While Caracas Chief of Government Carolina Cestari ordered the closure under unclear circumstances, activists have pointed to a history of homophobic and transphobic actions taken by the local official.

Leandro Villoria, self-identified Chavista and president of the LGBTQ Liberation Army, told Venezuelan press that the office closure last Monday came as a surprise, stating that staff never received official paperwork and only a phone call moments before authorities sent by Cestari arrived citing “budgetary limitations”.

The office in question has been responsible for implementing Caracas’ groundbreaking Anti-Discrimination Decree 006 which declares all spaces in the South American capital free of homophobia, transphobia and lesbophobia. 

In its last and first year, the office has provided a wide range of services including organized political education and skills training, support for trans women especially in regard to dignified employment opportunities, as well as legal, psychological and HIV/AIDS treatment for the LGBTQ community among others.

“We’re a small office but carry out a lot of work on a national and international level. When authorities [National Bolivarian Guard] came, they removed us from the office and we were detained overnight,” Villoria explained.

Activists are additionally concerned as there are rumors Cestari plans to repeal the anti-discrimination decree implemented last May by former Caracas Chief of Government Daniel Aponte.

“We came to protest in front of Cestari’s office to denounce her abuse of power today [Wednesday]. She is going against the Homeland Law and international recommendations for Venezuelan on the rights of LGBTQ people,” he continued.

Co-coordinator of the Caracas LGBTQ office, Koddy Campos, was arrested during the peaceful protest in downtown Caracas. Authorities released Campos following nearly two days in detention after the Caracas Chief of Government office could not provide evidence to sustain charges of death threats and damages.  

Villoria remarked that in Cestari’s previous government post as the Vice-Minister of Supreme Happiness, she eliminated services for trans women, gay men and lesbians.

“We call on the government to respect our rights. These are homophobic acts,” he stressed.

Venezuelan grassroots organizations have publicly denounced last week's actions calling Cestari’s unilateral move a step backward and roll-back of the gains won by LGBTQ movements under the Bolivarian revolution. 

“We wish to remind all these officials that you momentarily occupy a place of institutional power, while we every day fight for the right to public space, to health services, education without discrimination and especially dignified labor. We call for solidarity from the organized and Chavista people, and social movements... we call for the restitution of the Sex and Gender Diversity Integral Attention Office,” reads a communique released by the Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance last Thursday.

Additionally, the human rights collective SurGentes echoed similar sentiments, highlighting ongoing contradictions in the Bolivarian process in which the government has yet to rectify wrongs done to the LGBTQ community.  

“The work that this office does constitutes the first step in what should be a public political conversation that recognizes the historical and structural discrimination that this sector of society has suffered and that the government should adopt positive actions that overcome these inequalities in practice and in rights. However this continues to be a debate within some sectors of Chavismo despite the fact that President Nicolás Maduro has called on the sex and gender diverse community to defend the revolutionary process,” reads their statement published in Venezuelan magazine Sacudón.  

Despite significant outrage and disappointment, the Chief of Government’s office has remained publicly silent on the matter.

Villoria and others continue to demand answers from the Bolivarian government regarding the issue and hope to restore their office as soon as possible.

In 2012, then President Hugo Chávez named the sex and gender diversity community in his Homeland Plan, now law, as an historically marginalized and vulnerable sector of Venezuelan society, underscoring the need for specialized programming and services to rectify historical negligence and mistreatment. 

Special thanks to Paola Martucci for her contribution in reporting on scene during last week's protests.