Contradictory Mexico

Pride Parade 2012 in Ciudad, Mexiko

Coahuila introduces same-sex marriage. A step forward, but there are more and more conservative voices in Mexico– the Heinrich Böll Foundation promotes human rights and equality for lesbian, gay and trans* individuals.

Since September, lesbian and gay couples are allowed to marry in the southern Mexican state of Coahuila. On September 1, 2014, 20 members of parliament voted in favour of the Bill, and it passed with only one vote against it. As early as on September 20, the first gay couple married in Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila. Moreover, same-sex partners are allowed to marry in two further places in Mexico: in the capital Mexico City and in the state of Quintana Roo.

“As remarkable as this development might be, it also highlights the contradictory approach to this issue in Mexico. LGBTI issues are only accepted in isolated cases in the country, and discrimination continues to be significant”, says Annette von Schönfeld, head of the foreign office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Mexico. “The capital Mexico City is like an island. Gay couples have become a part of everyday life by now. However, it is different in certain parts of the city. The same applies when one leaves the capital. Unfortunately, there is a lot of discrimination in Mexico, and it is not ‘normal’ to come out, despite progressive laws. First of all, something needs to change in people’s minds.” That is why the Foundation has started to implement and support projects on LGBTI issues.

In 2013, the first initiative dealt with gender identity in the course of which individuals experimented with different aspects of gender identity. There was the possibility to participate in workshops with the performance artist Dianne Torr. The movie “Man for a Day” (2012) by Katarina Peters was shown, and it generated a good deal of interest. Overall, about 1,000 people watched the film during four film screenings. The director documents the course of a workshop in Berlin run by Dianne Torr, where a group of open-minded women becomes familiar with the secrets of manhood. When and where is gender identity formatted? Being held worldwide by now, Torr’s workshops are legendary and considered an open-ended social experiment. The workshop provided the participants with additional “tools” for everyday life. “I am aware of one participant who repeatedly recalls certain positions or gestures in order to deal better with difficult situations in everyday life”, Annette von Schönfeld recounts with a smile. According to the Head of Office, the discussions following the film screenings were particularly exciting. “It was great that the men present took part in the debate in a constructive and self-reflexive way.” This not only took her by surprise but Dianne Torr and Katarina Peters, too.

After this “trial run”, the foundation continued to support LGBTI projects in Mexico. During a regular meeting that dealt with issues in recent politics and in time for the Pride Day season at the end of June 2014, the topic “Identidades en movimiento: Género y diversidad sexual en México” (“Identities in motion: gender und sexual diversity in Mexico”) was discussed. More than one hundred participants were present. Diana Sánchez Barrios, a well-known transwoman from Mexico City, the social worker Berenice Vargas Ibañes and Patria Jiménez Flores, the coordinator of the lesbian association El Closet de Sor Juana, sat on the panel. The debate focused on the situation of LGBTI individuals in Mexico and the protection of their human rights. The debate emphasised that on the one hand, a series of progressive laws was being introduced in Mexico City, such as, protection against transphobia or the choice of the sequence of family names as well as the aforementioned new law in Coahuila. On the other hand, conservative tendencies are gaining more weight. For example, recently a family committee in the Senate was created that devises conservative family-related draft bills and opposes abortion and same-sex marriages. “It was a very successful event with a critical public that expressed the fear that progress can easily be reversed”, Annette von Schönfeld says. “One has the feeling of sitting on a powder keg.”

The Heinrich Böll Foundation also focuses its attention on young LGBTI migrants: “Many lesbian, gay and trans* individuals seek refuge, because they are exerted to discrimination, violence and encroachments due to their respective sexual orientation or gender identity. And when fleeing, these young people are often confronted with risks other than those non-LGBTI refugees face”, the Head of Office states. “Therefore, we decided to engage with their concerns and, in doing so, to draw attention to the problem.” Numerous tragic stories and fates attest to how much these individuals are at risk and in need of protection. Initially, the partner organisation “Migrantes LGBT” under the umbrella of Casa Refugiados  A.C. is going to produce handouts that will be introduced in the migrant hostels. Questions that will be raised are: How to deal with LGBTI refugees? How should they be addressed? How should they be accommodated? “It is a remarkable political initiative that intends to increase the visibility of the issue and which we consider particularly worthy of support”, says Annette von Schönfeld.

Another project that the Heinrich Böll Foundation launched together with the partner organisation “Jovenes LGBTI” this year seeks to bring together young LGBTI individuals throughout the whole of Mexico. Under the title “Fortalécete LGBTI” (“Strengthen LGBTI”), a virtual and interactive space, a platform for exchange among young lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and inter* people will be established for the first time in Mexico. “The aim is not only to produce a network. It is also about empowering adolescents to have a voice in, and to shape society in the areas of health, education, employment, technology and the environment”, the Head of Office says, and she adds, “These adolescents wish to establish their own national political agenda, created by young LGBTI individuals.” This ambitious initiative unites very different groups, such as, lesbian mothers from Monterrey with gay sports groups in Mexico City. The initiative attests to self-confidence and a determination to bring about change that is admirable.

“Altogether, there are many recent projects we promote. This is what makes it exciting, too. We are going to continue to attend to the issue of LGBTI in Mexico and are curious how the individual initiatives will work out”, von Schönfeld finally explains.