Caracas, Venezuela, July 3, 2006 —Thousands of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender (GLBT) marched in this year’s GLBT Pride parade in Caracas yesterday. This marks the sixth year in a row that Venezuela has held a gay pride parade.
The colorful and lively parade, which marked the closing event of a month of GLBT activities, ran from Parque del Este in the eastern side of the city through the affluent municipality of Chacao and ended at Plaza Venezuela with jubilant music, dance and speakers. Marchers expressed their gratification for the extended route, which is at least twice as long as past years, and for which the marchers had to struggle to obtain.
This year’s parade was additionally marked by the official name change from the “gay pride” parade to the “GLBT pride” parade, in order to include those individuals that identify themselves as bisexual and transgender
“The proposal hasn’t changed,” said Jorge Gonzalez Duraud, a member of Contranatura, a sexual diversity study group at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). “This is a day to celebrate that we are different, and that we are having a good time.”
The GLBT Pride parade was organized by the Lambda Alliance and for the first time, in coordination with a number of other organizations including the ASES group, Divas de Venezuela, and the National Youth Institute.
Georgi Martinez Torres, 21, is a Lambda organizer and a nationally recognized champion gymnast who marched bare-chested and flipped his way down the street to great applause.
“[We are here] to show the community that we don’t just go out at night, as many believe,” he said “And we are going to demonstrate how many of us there are. And that’s what we want to show to the community, that we are growing and that people are becoming aware of this.”
The march was unusually apolitical for the Venezuela’s polarized climate, where it is common for two marches to be held on the same day for the same issue: one against and one in support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.*
Most participants laughed when asked whether the organizers ever considered holding two separate marches. UCV student Gonzalez verified that there are many groups in the Venezuelan gay community: some in support, some against and some entirely neutral to Chavez. But traditionally since the first AIDS cases in the 1980s, the gay movement in Venezuela was fairly apolitical.
Although there is no exclusive protection for GLBT rights in the Venezuelan constitution, most participants in the march didn’t express any doubt as to the fact that the situation of tolerance and respect for the GLBT community in Venezuela is improving.
“We now have the support from the Mayor [Juan] Barreto and the Mayor from the municipality of Chacao,” said Daniel Romero, gay health promoter with the ASES Group, which offers HIV & Aids Education and Health Consultation. “There is still a lot of discrimination, but things are a bit freer. Here in Caracas things are pretty well liberated. There’s not as much discrimination as before… and each year the level of participation in the march has increased.”
The first gay pride march was held in 2000, one year after President Chavez took office, and attended by 100. Participants insisted that their numbers have increased every year since.
Regardless, it appears that there is still a long way to go. Kelly Komenda is a queer activist from the United States who has been studying social movement organizing with her partner in Venezuela for the past six months. Although she recognizes that Venezuela has come a long way, she admits that she expected more from those who consider themselves to be “revolutionaries.”
“Neither of us could imagine being publicly out in the same way as in the States… it was a safety factor that we chose to closet ourselves and we’ve had a lot of hard times being around self-proclaimed revolutionaries who are really discriminatory and vocally discriminatory to us and even how they pick people out in the street,” she said just before the start of the march. “Everyone plays it off as the culture, but I think it’s too easy for us to do that…. it’s a much more deep routed problem of heterosexism that we share, and patriarchy and gender pressure.”
Lambda member, Martinez, agrees that the largest challenges are social. “Right now, I would say that the largest challenge that we have is that everyone tells their mother and father that they are gay… Our goal is that not one homosexual stays in the closet in Venezuela. We want everyone to come out, until we are accepted.”
Various HIV and AIDS organizations also participated in the march. Although Venezuela is one of only three countries in Latin America that provides HIV and AIDS sufferers with free treatment and medicine, HIV is still a huge problem in Venezuela, where there is a lack of sexual and health education. According to Romero, from the ASES group, 40,000 Venezuelans are infected in the country and about 70% of those who are infected don’t even know it.
According to Gonzalez, from Contranatura, the Venezuelan “gay movement” began in 1980 with the magazine Entendido (understood), catering to the homosexual community. There are now over a dozen GLBT organizations in Venezuela catering to a population that Christina Speed, a transvestite from Caracas estimated at 700,000 GLBT in Venezuela.
Although Gonzalez said that the gay community is organizing, coming to agreement is not always easy. Their major problems boil down to “personal differences.” Venezuela’s “gay movement” is currently pushing for the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in the National Assembly, and in the planning stages for the 2nd Congress of Sexual Diversity, which is set to take place next year.
Official Site for the March: www.orgulloglbt2006.com.ve
* Opposition and Chavez Supporters March Separately for Mayday in Venezuela
Struggling for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Venezuela
Venezuela’s Sexual Revolution Within the Revolution