Joaquín Puerto, a mental health advocate for the LGBT community in a Mayan community in Southern Mexico

Photo story

Discrimination and stigmas are emotional burdens experienced by members of the LGBT+ community, and the young activist seeks to give them attention

Joaquín Puerto with rainbow flag

Text and photos: Abraham Bote Tun

Joaquín Puerto Cámara, 22 years old, a psychology graduate, in the company of male and female volunteers, faces several taboos and stigmas that persist with regard to mental health and the LGBT+ community, a part of the conservative society that rejects them, but this does not diminish his actions. Resist, fight and exist.  

The young activist reflects: that from birth, you are immersed in a society that prioritizes the binary. In novels, in the family, at school and in other spaces. There is only male and female.  A person who doesn't "fit" these standards grows up wondering “Am I wrong for feeling this way or thinking this way?”.

While still a student, he suffered discrimination in his community, Tekax, for the simple fact of openly expressing affection towards his partner. 

On 14 February, Valentine's Day in Mexico, he was in the community's central park, showing his affection to another boy, like any other person exercising the free development of their personality; However, at that moment, members of the municipal police arrived and, without any legal basis, told him that he could not do this. "That's not normal," the officers pointed out to him.   

These words, loaded with hatred, discrimination and ignorance, penetrated Joaquín's soul. Far from getting angry, but rather with that joy that characterizes him, he decided to make a change: this was one of the triggers that prompted him to take action to combat this problem.   

Given the context of hate speech and violence against the LGBT+ community, he decided to create a project that seeks to support people from this sector of the population, who face daily discrimination and other abuse which often causes mental and emotional health problems.   

In 2021, thanks to the Mission Resistance program, which seeks to identify and promote the development of skills among Mexican youth, with strong leadership potential and commitment to service within their communities, encouraged by his alma mater, the Private University of the Peninsula (UPP) and La Jornada de Derechos Humanos, he was able to put his ideas into practice with the creation of the LGTB+ Centre for Psychological Attention and Social Assistance(CAPAS+).

Joaquín is aware that violence against sexual dissidents is alarming in Yucatán, a conservative state, where, after 13 years of two illegal votes by the local Congress, only last August 2021, the reforms to the Family Code and the Civil Registry Law were unanimously approved so that people of the same sex can marry in the state without the need to file an injunction.

Until just a few weeks ago, in La Ermita de TeKax, a well-known viewing point in the community, a homosexual tourist couple was discriminated against, in just the same way, for sharing their love. “They were taken away from that place”.   

The psychologist comments that his activism is motivated by his university days; Part of the UPP's mission is to train human beings to disseminate their knowledge in order to grow and share their talent positively within their environment. “In college, I had teachers who encouraged me along the social action route," he said.   

Currently, the group is in the process of establishing links with other institutions, civil organizations and government agencies that can contribute to its actions.   

Over the course of a year, they have provided psychological counseling to more than 40 people from Tekax, who have been linked to government institutions focused on mental health, social assistance and legal counseling.   

60% of the people who have come to CAPAS+ have been treated mainly for anxiety problems, with the rest being treated for depressive conditions.  

They have also trained more than 160 students from the Basic Education program at the Universidad del Bienestar Benito Juárez, in Tekax, not to replicate hate speech towards their LGBT+ students, in order to highlight their plight and prevent discrimination and homophobia.  

Mental health, a stigma

Part of his human rights activism involves using his knowledge of psychology to support people in his community. He fights against various stigmas towards mental health and its treatment. “Mental health matters, it exists, but it is not addressed," he says.   

Therefore, CAPAS+, offers comprehensive care coupled with a human rights and sexual and gender diversity perspective, since many LGBT+ people, who have managed to be seen by a psychologist are judged, discriminated against, and sometimes even offered so-called conversion therapies.   

Public, private and social institutions prioritize a binary sexual system, i.e., female and male, and when someone does not fit this standard, he or she is perceived as "strange”; this causes people in the LGBT+ community to come to the conclusion that what they feel and think is wrong.   

“We live in a society that forbids us the free development of personality, to be who you are. From the time you are an infant, you see that everything is about a man and a woman: all that collective reality doesn't resonate with you," he says.   

Then you grow up wondering why you don't fit in. That question stays with you until you are an adult, and if you survive. “This causes these people to have obsessive thoughts, even to reject themselves and thus triggers anxiety and depression," he said.

Hate speech generates wounds

Also, to help people heal their inner wounds, they have held film forums, talks and safe circles to provide their testimonies and attest to their struggles so that they can free themselves from the negative feelings that can assail them.   

Since the birth of the LGTB+ Centre for Psychological Attention and Social Assistance, they have dealt with three cases involving premature abandonment of the home: Mothers and fathers, not having the capacity to understand the process their sons and daughters are going through, have chosen to banish them from their homes. “I haven’t raised a hustler, a faggot", a painful phrase that they have unleashed on their offspring.   

“They are people who continue with their studies, with their lives, and legally they have the obligation to keep them in their homes," the human rights defender indicated.   

Threats, a common problem

Their struggle has not been easy, as they have faced discriminatory comments from anti-human rights groups, including threats, and have received phone calls questioning the raison d'être of their collective.  Authoritarianism seeks to impose a single vision of love, of the family, of human relationships.  

But this does not dampen his spirit. “This is not for me, it's for the community, for future generations, for our children. It motivates me that one day there will no longer be a need to come out of the closet, that being gay is normal, that there are no hate crimes, and that love for all people prevails," he says.

This photo story was produced with the support of the Global Support for Democracy Unit of the  Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union. They are part of the dossier "Youth & democracy in Latin America. Young voices on the rise".