Life’s Better in Colour! The LGBTI Movement in Xela
Last month the world was once again shocked and saddened by a brutal mass shooting in the U.S. Attendees at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida were massacred by a lone-wolf gunman who had pledged allegiance to the self-declared “Islamic State” leaving 49 dead and injuring more than 50 others. A key difference in the Orlando shooting, however, was that it targeted a gay nightclub on Latin Night with most of the victims belonging to Orlando’s vibrant LGBTI community and over 90 percent being Latino. As the shooting happened to coincide with Xela’s yearly LGBTI pride march, we here at XelaWho HQ thought we’d take a break from our usual hilarious rants about chicken buses and garnachas to reflect on the state of the Xela’s LGBTI movement.
When it comes to progress on LGBTI civil rights and acceptance, Guatemala isn’t usually the first country that comes to mind — actually, it’s way down the list. When one of the most popular songs to mosh around on the dancefloor and chant along to in Xela has the chorus “amo al matón, matarile al maricón” (I love the bully, kill the faggot) it’s not a great sign.
Given that context, the powerful display of solidarity at last month’s Xela LGBTI Pride March was something rather extraordinary. Now only in its 6th year (the capital’s march is in its 16th year for comparison), this year’s marcha was the biggest yet, attracting around 150 attendees, up from the usual 30-50. Xela’s marcha is the only LGBTI pride parade in western Guatemala with people coming in solidarity from San Marcos to La Capital. Stunned onlookers in Parque Central were treated to impassioned speeches about LGBTI civil rights and some of the best lip syncing from a Guatemalan in drag this editor has ever seen.\
Part of the reason for the low attendance over the years is that many members of Guatemala’s LGBTI community are afraid of violence and discrimination if they come out publicly. To show their support but remain anonymous, many members of the LGBTI community travel to other cities to attend pride parades while not attending marchas in their home towns. After Orlando, prominent members of the gay community in Guatemala, including the organizer of the popular GayGuatemala Facebook page, who have spoken out about the need for more acceptance, have received violent threats to themselves and their businesses.
Xela’s parade is organized by Vidas Paralelas, Arco Iris and the Iniciativa por la Diversidad Sexual (IDSO), the three largest local organizations providing education, medical services, political advocacy and safe spaces for members of the LGBTI community. While being the largest local LGBTI organisations, they each have under 40 active members and volunteers. Almost all of the attendees at the marcha and these organizations are under 30 as many of the older members of Guatemala’s LGBTI community lived through even more homophobic times and are sceptical about the possibility of change.
All of the above organizations were founded in the last 6 years and it’s really been in that time period that progress has started gaining a little momentum in Guatemala. As Jordan Quijiuix of IDSO put it, “estamos avanzando muy lentament, pero si, estamos avanzando” (We’re advancing slowly, but yes, we are advancing). The organizers emphasized to XelaWho how important the attendance of extranjero allies is at the march so make sure you attend next year – we’ll be sure to keep you updated here at XelaWho.
If you’d like to get involved or learn more email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com