Friday, April 24, 2015

Former Dominican Republic president's anti-gay comments are disparaging and offensive: U.S. Ambassador

In a letter dated April 10th, James "Wally" Brewster, U.S. Ambassador to the United States, calls former Dominican President Hípolito Mejía's anti-gay comments "disparaging" and "offensive" [Photo credit: Diario Libre]

Earlier this month I did a series of blog posts on Dominican Republic ex-president Hipólito Mejía and comments he made in New York and New Jersey opposing marriage equality and using the word "mariconcito" to refer to gays as he brought a new presidential campaign bid to the East Coast of the United States [the English translation for "mariconcito" is "little faggot"].

One of the things that bothered me so much about the comments and woke me up from my blogging slumber was that he seemed to feel it was perfectly good to make those comments while visiting the United States and get away with it. Thankfully, New York City council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito caught wind of my blog post and released a stinging rebuke which was then picked up by a number of media outlets.

By the time Mejía returned to the Dominican Republic three days later he was defending his usage of "little faggot" as a commonly used colloquial term and extending apologies to those who might have "misinterpreted" his intentions.

Apparently my blog posts also caught someone else's eye: Diario Libre reports today that the openly gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic sent what seems to be private correspondence on official letterhead directly confronting Mejía on his statements.

"Your remarks in New York and New Jersey regarding homosexuality and gay marriage recently came to my attention," Ambassador James 'Wally' Brewster states in a missive dated April 10th, "Using words like 'mariconcito' are disparaging and dismissive of a community to which I belong. I am specially shocked and disheartened by your recent insensitive dismissal of those who have different sexual orientation than you because we have spent time together in each others' homes."

The Ambassador goes on to explain how words like "mariconcito" can cause harm even if that might not be the intent and adds this: "It is particularly offensive that you chose to make your remarks in the United States. President Obama has worked tirelessly to fight discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people and communities. Same-sex marriage is legal inmost of the United States, including New York and New Jersey, and fighting anti-LGBT discrimination is integral to our diplomatic advocacy for the protection of human rights around the world."

It's unclear how Diario Libre got their hands on the letter or why the chose to publish it today - fifteen days after the letter is dated - but it comes two days before the Modern Revolutionist Party (PRM) decides whether Mejía will be chosen as their presidential candidate.

In the letter, Brewster also addresses Mejía's opposition to marriage equality on the basis of procreation calling them discriminatory: "In particular, your arguments surrounding marriage, as strictly for reasons of procreation, not only discriminates against the LGBT community but also eliminates a large number of people who either cannot have children or choose not to procreate."

The Dominican Republic has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage but, when asked about the Ambassador's letter this morning, it's the only topic Mejía addressed.

"On Friday, ex-president Hipólito Mejía said that his religious upbringing and Catholic beliefs prevented him from supporting legalizing marriages between people of the same gender," El Nacional reported, "Nevertheless he said he respected people who had the valor and responsibility of expressing their sexual preference for people of their same gender."

He might be highlighting his position on marriage equality time and time again because it resonates among the people he wants to draw votes from and the religious groups in the island who have always warned that the United States sent Brewster to the Dominican Republic to force same-sex marriage on the population.

According to Diario Libre, the Ambassador's letter closes with this: "As an ex-president of the Dominican Republic and public figure, your comments reflect a negative view of your nation's dignity. There are many Dominicans here and in the exterior who fight for equality for all of God's creations, a fight I hope you value and lead."

Brewster added that his husband, Bob Satawake, was available to sit down with Mejía to have a dialogue.

Diario Libre only posted an image of the first page of the Ambassador's letter.  Here is the excerpted text...
The Honorable Hipólito Mejía
Calle Juan Tomás Diaz #8
La Julia
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Dear President Mejía,

Your remarks in New York and New Jersey regarding homosexuality and gay marriage recently came to my attention. Using words like "mariconcito" are disparaging and dismissive of a community to which I belong. I am specially shocked and disheartened by your recent insensitive dismissal of those who have different sexual orientation than you because we have spent time together in each others' homes.

Young people struggling with their identity listen to public figures and when you say "little faggot" it wrongly reinforces self-doubt and that they are seen as something less by the community.  This isolates them from their family and can have terrible consequences, including suicide. Further, the use of pejorative terminology perpetuates bullying, discrimination against minorities, and encourages abuse throughout society. Even if you did not intend the words to be insulting they still had that effect.

It is particularly offensive that you chose to make your remarks in the United States. President Obama has worked tirelessly to fight discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people and communities. Same-sex marriage is legal inmost of the United States, including New York and New Jersey, and fighting anti-LGBT discrimination is integral to our diplomatic advocacy for the protection of human rights around the world.

In particular, your arguments surrounding marriage, as strictly for reasons of procreation, not only discriminates against the LGBT community but also eliminates a large number of people who either cannot have children or choose not to procreate.
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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

I apologize if I insulted anyone but I am not a homophobe: Former Dominican Republic president Hipólito Mejía

News portal Acento is reporting that former Dominican Republic president and current presidential candidate Hipólito Mejía is pushing back against reports first made by Blabbeando that he used derogatory words against the gay community last week during a campaign stop in the United States.

"I never meant to make fun or belittle human beings who have been marginalized and harassed," Mejía said in a statement. "If that was misinterpreted as an insult, I have no problem offering my apologies and reiterating that it was not, nor is, nor would be my intention; that's not how I behave."

Mejía was referring to the Spanish word "mariconcito" which translates to "little faggot" in English and which he used last week when he joking that a campaign consultant suggested he practice sitting down like a "mariconcito" when doing media appearances if he wanted his poll numbers to increase.


In today's statement Mejía defended himself by saying "mariconcito" was just a commonly used colloquial term which "activists" misinterpreted as being homophobic.

The comments caught wide-spread Spanish-language press interest in the United States last week and in the Dominican Republic this weekend after New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito released an official statement deploring them and asking for an apology.

LGBT groups in the Dominican Republic have mounted a campaign asking people not to support Mejía in his new presidential bid based on the comments.

In New York, well-known political commentator Gerson Borrero filed this blistering video op-ed on the Time Warner Cable's New York 1 en Español calling on New York City politicians of Dominican descent to stand up against Mejía's homophobia.



"I think there are Dominican politicians here in New York and in particular those who call themselves 'progressive' who should denounce that one of their presidents has shown up here to sow his hate," Borrero states, adding: "Did someone swallow your tongues? Or are you afraid of Hipólito? He who stays silent grants consent. Don't be cowards! Don't fear the pig! Or are you laying in the same pigsty?"

Last week Mejía also made comments opposing same-sex marriage during an interview with a local Univision affiliate and during a meeting with Latino reverends at the office of New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. in the Bronx - a leading opponent of same-sex marriage rights.

It's worth noting that at least one of the leading local Dominican politicians Borrero implicitly takes to task for not speaking up about Mejía was seen yesterday at Senator Diaz's office.
That would be New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat who would be a powerful voice against Mejía's homophobia but seems more beholden to Reverend Diaz these days.

At least one person in the Dominican Republic sees Mejía's attempt at an apology to be somewhat of a victory for LGBT rights in the Caribbean nation.
"I think it is the first time that a political leader in the Dominican Republic says he is sorry about his declarations" tweeted Jose Carlos Nazario late this afternoon.

Update #1: At least one Dominican LGBT rights organization is saying that the former president has apologized directly to them and wanted to meet with them on Friday. Here is what the organizers of the annual Dominican LGBT pride caravan tweeted tonight:
"Ex-president Hipólito forwarded us an apology today and asked us for a meeting this Friday to explain his reasons to the LGBT community"

Update #2: Other Dominican presidential candidates are responding to Mejía's homophobic outbursts.  Today during a radio interview Luis Abinader said that he was certain he would be his party's candidate for the presidential elections and that he would extend an invitation to Mejía to become one of his campaign consultants but he also said this...


"I believe we should respect the sexual orientation of all Dominicans. There cannot be prejudice, there cannot be any type of limitations or exclusions. That's where I stand."

In June of 2014 Abinader had already drawn fire from a prominent evangelical pastor for a letter he sent to LGBT organizations supporting their rights. Rev. Paulino Moya warned Abinader he could lose the Catholic vote if he continued supporting "sodomites."

Update #3: In the wake of Mejía's comments at least one LGBT-rights organization in the Dominican Republic publicly expressed support for the former president. "Hipólito has no ill will towards lesbians and gays," said someone who identified herself as Biemba from the Santo Domingo North Homosexual and Gay Collective when interviewed by radio station z101.

On Thursday, April 9th, Mejía was more than happy to appear at an unrelated protest surrounded with members of the organization carrying rainbow flags as their president asked gays and lesbians to forgive him


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Monday, April 06, 2015

NYC Speaker "appalled" about homophobic comments made by former Dominican Republic president Hipólito Mejía

The blog post I published yesterday has drawn a strongly worded statement from New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito:


THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
**For Immediate Release**                                                                                                             
April 6, 2015


 
Statement by Speaker Mark-Viverito

New York
I am appalled that a former Dominican Republic president and a potential future presidential candidate has used a derogatory term that is offensive, inappropriate and hurtful toward LGBT people. President Mejia needs to apologize to the LGBT community in his country and here in New York, where he made this unacceptable statement. Leaders are called to unite people, not divide us. That includes those who invited him here and stayed silent when discrimination occured and even worse, laughed at it. I stand with the LGBT community here, in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, and I will not be silent when bigotry shows its ugly face.

During a visit to New York City and New Jersey, President Hipólito Mejía made several remarks against LGBT people, including saying that his campaign handlers wanted to change several things about him and tried to convince him to sit "the way a little faggot does." You can read more about this from Blabbeando blog: http://blabbeando.blogspot.com/2015/04/i-wont-sit-like-faggot-for-poll-numbers.html 

Thank you, Melissa!

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

I won't act like a faggot just to increase poll numbers: Dominican Republic presidential hopeful Hipólito Mejía


Last week former Dominican Republic president Hipólito Mejía brought a new bid for the Caribbean nation's presidency to the United States.  I hadn't paid much attention until NY1 Noticias played a clip of statements he made while in New York citing the Bible and saying he opposed same-sex marriage.


"I call bread 'bread' and wine 'wine.' The other day [Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr.] asked my opinion regarding same-sex marriage," Mejia says, "Be fruitful and multiply? There is no way you can do it that way!" meaning gays cannot procreate and, hence, should not be able to marry.

Neither the statements nor the setting were a surprise. Mejía enjoys a strong relationship with Senator Diaz, perhaps the leading Latino anti-marriage equality voice in the nation, and has allowed the Senator to host previous press conferences.

For his failed 2012 presidential bid, you might remember Mejía questioning president Barack Obama's place of birth as Diaz laughed uproariously (NYS Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. endorses "birther" Dominican Republic presidential candidate).

But what may seem to be an impromptu response to an issue raised at the House of Diaz apparently is a campaign speaking point. Speaking to a much wider audience on the local NY/NJ Univisión affiliate Mejía reiterated his opposition to marriage equality using the same terms.


"There is no way you can impregnate your [same-sex] male partner, there is no way, or your female partner."

At the Diaz event Mejía admitted he once confronted gay issues with overt homophobia. "In the past I used to have a have a deadly antagonistic stance [against gays]" he says, "Nowadays I can even laugh about it."

If that was in the past, he seems to have forgotten about it the next day when he made a campaign appearance in New Jersey.


Standing before a campaign flag that promises "equality," Mejía doesn't mention same-sex marriage but jokes that his campaign handlers wanted him to wear a wig during media appearances if he wanted poll numbers to improve.  Then he says: "There are people who can change everything about you, even the way you sit down" and says they tried to convince him to sit "the way a little faggot does." The place erupts in laughter.

The fact is that the Dominican Republic is one of the few Latin American nations that bans same-sex marriage in its constitution so all this talk about being a bellwether against gays getting married is just pure political demagoguery.  It is also something being used by religious forces in the Dominican Republic to rile up opposition to U.S. ambassador James "Wally" Brewster who is openly gay and married.

Late last month Ambassador Brewster spoke at a gathering of openly gay U.S. ambassadors in Washington, D.C., and movingly described the attacks he and his partner Bob Satawake had received from Dominican evangelicals since their arrival. While the current government has been mostly mum on the issue, they certainly have backed and supported Brewster behind the scenes.

But in freely raising the marriage equality issue during his campaign visit to the United States, Mejía is sending a clear message to Dominican religious conservatives: Vote for me and I'll make the gay go away.

Updates:

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito reacts:
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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Miley Cyrus banned in the Dominican Republic for allegedly promoting lesbian sex


The National Commission for Public Performances in the Dominican Republic announced today that they were banning a September 13th Miley Cyrus concert for, among other things, promoting lesbian sex.

"The National Commission for Public Performances in the exercise of the powers given by the Constitution of the Republic through Regulation 824 of Law Number 1951Article 4306 - the purpose of which is to prevent public performances that offend the morals, good customs and relationship between friendly countries - imposes this ban based on Miley Cyrus' common engagement in acts during her concerts that defy morals and customs in ways usually penalized by Dominican law," a statement reads.

They add that Cyrus "uses inadequate attire, corrupts language, uses perverse imagery and phrasing, uses phrases with double meanings, glorifies crime, violence and denigrating acts against civility and promotes sex, lesbian sex and the use of inadequate objects in public."

Being gay or lesbian is not a crime in the Caribbean island but religious fundamentalists have grown increasingly vocal in their opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and have, as of late, targeted the openly gay U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic James "Wally" Brewster and his husband Bob Satawake.

Dominican president Danilo Medina has so far offered veiled support to the U.S. Ambassador by appearing with him at public events and praising his work. But he has yet to use his huge popularity to push back against the rising tide of homophobia in the Dominican Republic and certain government offices including national police authorities that say that accepting gays in the police force would violate the Dominican constitution and, now, this ridiculous step by the National Commission for Public Performances.ff
The New York Post and the Associated Press have already picked up the story.  The National Commission for Public Performances in the Dominican Republic deserves every bit of international ridicule they receive as a result of today's actions.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Esteban Paulón gets married to Pablo Cirlini


In the four years since Argentina became the first Latin American country to pass a marriage equality law 9,362 same-sex couples have decided to get hitched according to the latest numbers released last week.

The law would not have become a reality without the years of patient and expert lobby work of the Argentine LGBT Federation (FALGBT) and this week the agency decided to mark the anniversary by accompanying a Russian lesbian couple as they received their marriage license (same-sex couples can get married in Argentina regardless of immigration status or nationality).

Marina Mironova and Oxana Tamofeeba are seeking political asylum in the South American country and news of their wedding came on the same week that Russian president Vladimir Putin arrived in the country to visit Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Putin has been pillared as of late for his lack of action and outright defense of several so-called "anti gay-propaganda" laws that have flowered in Russia under his watch and as the relationship between Russia and the United States has increasingly deteriorated he has looked to left-wing governments in Latin America for support.

Last week alone he touched ground in Cuba, Nicaragua, Brazil and Argentina and met their respective presidents Raúl Castro, Daniel Ortega, Dilma Rouseff and Cristina de Kirchner and also connected with Evo Morales of Bolivia, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Fidel Castro as well.  None challenged him on Russia's homophobic policies at least publicly.

In the meantime a more personal story was taking place behind the scenes.

Four years ago Esteban Paulón was single 32 years of age and fighting for marriage equality with the FALGBT as a volunteer. Yesterday at 36 and as president of the organization he married the love of his life Pablo Cirlini.

As Argentine Senator Rubén Giustiniani put it yesterday on Twitter "When we passed the marriage equality law one of its principal advocates used to say 'I don't even have a partner!', today Esteban Paulón gets married. Congratulations!"
In the days before the wedding the couple made the usual arrangements and applied for a marriage license. To their surprise - four years after Argentina passed their marriage equality law - the marriage license application they were given at the Santa Fe notary still listed spaces where a "husband" and a "wife" could sign the document.

Esteban took to Twitter to say that it was a little shameful that the local civil marriage bureaus had yet to update their forms but said that having to sign the document as a "wife" was not going to keep the couple from getting married.

Others shared similar stories: @alejodip also said that when he and his partner applied for a marriage license in Santa Fe he also had to write his name in a line where the word "Ms." had been penciled out and the word "Mr." had been penciled in.

The Santa Fe government took no time to apologize to the couple on Twitter and vowed to work with the FALGBT to modernize documents in the near future.

At the end of the day all three couples are legally married, Congratulations to all three couples.


Friday, June 13, 2014

U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic and husband celebrate LGBT Pride


Through a tweet sent this morning on the official Twitter account of the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic ambassador James "Wally" Brewster and his husband Bob Satawake sent this powerful message to all Dominicans in observance of the month of June as LGBT pride month.

Since his nomination to the diplomatic post Brewster has weathered constant attacks from conservative and religious fundamentalist in the United States and the Dominican Republic and, in response, he has not shied away from engaging those attacks head on with dignity and, as this powerful video shows, strength.

"A message in light of LGBT pride month":


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Monday, June 09, 2014

Sen. Ruben Diaz offers free rides to DC, doesn't mention anti-gay NOM rally


My friend Scott Rose brought this to my attention yesterday and I find it both desperate and hilarious.

As the battle for marriage equality in the United States winds down and the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage slips into irrelevance, the organization has been desperately trying to rally participants for one last hurrah: The so-called "2014 March for Marriage" scheduled for June 19th.

As in years past, NOM's president Brian Brown has turned to New York State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. as his savior having shown proven ability to rally thousands of people to previous anti-gay rallies.

From one of Brian Brown's increasingly desperate newsblasts:
I just recently got off the phone with my good friend, New York State Senator, Rev. Ruben Diaz, who will be speaking at the March again this year. He told me that he plans to bring down over 100 buses to the March from the Bronx this year!
He is calling it the "Second Annual Bus Vigil to Washington." He plans to depart New York at 4:00 am in a spiritual convoy of activists coming to the nation's capital to defend marriage! That's over 5,000 people — overwhelmingly Latino and African-American constituents — that a single political and spiritual leader wants to bring to Washington DC this summer!
Diaz is calling it the "Second Annual Bus Vigil to Washington" because in his pitches for the rally he actually never mentions the NOM or the word "marriage" for that matter.


Excerpts:
I'd like to invite you to participate in the "Second Vigil on Wheels to Washington." We will be traveling to Washington, DC - the nations capital - to testify and say that we are still a powerful church... We are offering any pastor or organization that wishes to accompany us to Washington a bus completely free of charge. Each bus holds 55 passengers and we will send the bus to any place you tell us to do so... The bus will pick you up there, will bring you to Washington and will bring you back to the same spot. And you won't have to pay for a single thing... Join us! Take advantage of the opportunity. Ask for your bus! Fill the bus! And let's go to Washington!  Let's go on a trip! Visit the monuments in Washington and testify that Jesus heals and saves and is the King we await.
That's right. Reverend Diaz is selling the free bus rides to DC as an opportunity for people to visit the various monuments throughout the city.  A wonderful opportunity for members of Latino churches throughout the area who might not get a lot of chances to visit DC.

This is not the first time Diaz has rallied people to anti-marriage equality demonstrations using deception. At previous rallies I have heard church leaders say that they had no idea they were being taken to such a rally and I have heard other religious leaders that they felt pressured to participate or risk losing the Senator's support.

But this is the first time Diaz has been caught at it so openly. Hilarious.

By the way, as long as you can fill a bus with 55 occupants, Senator Diaz says he will send the bus wherever you want it to go and transport everyone to DC. All you need to do is call (718) 991-3161 and ask for Reverend Samaris.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chile: Hate messages spray-painted on the outside walls of LGBT-rights organization MOVILH

Photo captured by Chilean web magazine NORTH.
This past weekend several of Chile's leading LGBT-rights organizations held a "unity" march in observation of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia which, by some estimates, drew as many as 50,000 people.

The country recently elected president Michelle Bachelet on a platform that includes debating marriage equality although she has since put it on the back burner saying that the debate won't happen until at least next year.

The country has also seen a series of vicious anti-gay attacks and murders in the last few years including Daniel Zamudio who was beaten to death in 2012 and whose aggressors carved swastikas on his body using broken beer bottles

Sometime during Sunday night or Monday before dawn someone spray-painted a number of hateful messages outside the offices of the MOVILH, one of the leading LGBT-rights organizations in the country. The messages read: "Death to faggots", "AIDS-ridden faggots", "Put your marches up your ass, fucked faggots", "More AIDS, less fags" and "Do me a favor AIDS, and kill more faggots".

There has been an outpouring of support for MOVILH and international condemnation for the attack. The United Nation's Office of the High Commissioner released a statement in Spanish through it's South American Regional Office which they call on the state to investigate the crime and hold those who did it accountable. The Chilean government under Bachelet has also responded quickly sending a spokesperson to the site of the attacks to express strong support for MOVILH and a commitment to address the crime.

If you would like to express support for MOVILH, please take a couple of minutes and drop a line or two on their facebook page: Movilh Chile.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

US Ambassador James Brewster and husband meet with Dominican president and wife

L-R: US Ambassador James Brewster, Dominican president Danilo Medina, his wife Cándida and Brewster's husband Bob Satawake (via Twitter)
Earlier today the new US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James "Wally" Brewster and his husband Bob Satawake were among several diplomats and their spouses who met with Dominican president Danilo Medina and his wife Cándida at a ceremonial diplomatic cocktail that had been previously postponed.

The event sparked a diplomatic row earlier this year when Vatican envoy to the Dominican Republic Jude Thaddeus Okolo - in charge of the event - sent a private letter to all diplomats announcing that ambassador Brewster's husband would not be invited claiming that to do so would violate the Dominican constitution which bans same-sex marriages. Diplomats reacted in anger and refused to attend the event unless Mr. Satawake was extended an invitation.

Vatican envoy Jude Thaddeus Okolo at today's diplomatic event.
The Vatican envoy must have gotten the message because the event finally took place earlier today with the attendance of Mr. Satawake.

Dominican Vice President forced to withdraw homophobic 'Family Code' draft from consideration: In the meantime the big news in the Dominican Republic last week was the swift introduction and removal of proposed changes to the island's 'Family Code' which would have championed 'traditional Catholic family models' into the Dominican legislature.

Homophobic Dominican cardinal Lopez Rodriguez and the Dominican Vice President
Dominican Vice President Margarita Cedeño led the draft language committee and requested that the proposal be withdrawn almost as quick as it had been announced arguing that she now understood that it should have been first presented to the public for debate before being presented to the Dominican legislature for approval.

The bill drew withering criticism from left and right with newspaper 7 Dias calling it "a Trojan horse launched by the most extreme wing of conservative Dominican ideology.

The paper said the proposed language championed heterosexual marriages above all mentioning single parent households only twice and only when talking about welfare recipients.

Proposed changes to the family code would also have narrowed down and eliminated reasons why a couple should be granted a divorce except for one single expansion:  In the case a partner demonstrates "homosexual or lesbian conduct."

The proposed language also drew criticism from left an right for lowering the age at which someone was allowed to marry from 18 years of age to 16 in the case of boys and 14 in the case of girls.

No word from Bishop Okolo on whether he deems 14 year old girls ready for marriage.

The Washington Blade visits LGBT advocates in the Dominican Republic: Finally. in light of these developments my friend Michael K. Lavers traveled to the Dominican Republic a couple of weeks ago and gauged the impact of the arrival of the openly gay US ambassador to the Dominican Republic for The Washington Blade.

Many of those advocates were the only ones who spoke up for Ambassador Brewster before he took office and Brewster thanked them for it at a meeting that took place in February which also drew homophobic responses from the religious right in the island.

“We are defending a person who is homosexual, that is gay and has come to occupy his country’s public position in the Dominican Republic,” said Delvis Ventura of the Dominican LGBT-rights and HIV prevention organization Amigos Siempre Amigos, “We are defending the right that we have to occupy public positions equally as gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people. This is why we are defending Wally.”

Brewster had elicited some criticism from the Dominican religious right when he met with a number of LGBT-advocates in February as well.

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Friday, March 07, 2014

Three years after nude photo scandal Roberto Arango comes out


It has been almost three years since Cuban-born Roberto Arango resigned from the Puerto Rican Senate in the wake of a scandal over a number of nude photos from a Grindr profile were leaked to the press.  Initially Arango denied he was the man in the photos and then he acknowledged some of the photos were his but alleged he had taken them to document his weight-loss under a new diet but he never admitted whether the photos came from a personal profile on the popular gay men's hook up app or whether he was gay.

The news became tabloid fodder in the United States and Arango is still listed on several lists of the top sexual scandals to hit any politician but behind the scandal also laid the past of a man who had previously voted to deny rights to the LGBT community in Puerto Rico and sided with some of the most conservative factions in the island.

In 2004 he mocked a San Juan mayoral candidate during a political rally by implying he was gay and holding a plastic duck and making quacking noises when speaking against him ("pato" or duck in Spanish is a word often used as a slur against gays in Puerto Rico).

In 2007 he embraced a conservative religious coalition and personally received thousands of signatures they had collected against same-sex civil unions as he vowed to defend so-called Christian values in the Puerto Rican senate and prevent changes to the civil code.  That year he also led efforts to amend the Puerto Rican constitution to ban recognition of any unions that were not those between a man and a woman (the effort ultimately failed).

And in 2009 he defended secret efforts by conservative colleagues in the Senate to pass a bill banning adoption rights for same-sex couples as I documented in a previous post.

After resigning from the Senate Arango retired in the United States where he said he wanted to dedicate more time to raising a daughter from a previous marriage and concentrate on his personal life.

And then last May he reappeared publicly to urge the conservative party in which he had served as a Senator to back a number of measures to protect members of the LGBT community from discrimination (the measures would pass).

It was a welcome sign that Arango might have come around on his past efforts against the LGBT community.

There were rumors that Arango might be paving his way to return to Puerto Rican politics but the scandal and the unanswered questions about his sexuality remained.

Today, three years after the scandal, Arango finally came out in a radio interview with Noti UNO an excerpt of which was posted on YouTube...


Here is the exchange:

REPORTER: Following the controversy over the photos there was a lot of speculation about your sexual preference. Isn't it time for you to state whether or not you are a homosexual?
ROBERTO ARANGO: Well, the day someone asks me I will give a reply. In that respect, I have nothing to hide.
REPORTER: Are you a homosexual?
ROBERTO ARANGO: Yes. And on top of that I am a businessman. On top of that I am a father, I am a brother, I am a son. On top of that I like doing community work and volunteering. On top of that I like helping different communities. I like it and I am someone who likes to bring changes and progress and to give opportunities to those who want it.
REPORTER: When did you realize you were one.
ROBERTO ARANGO: I think it happened when I accepted it and I may not be a psychologist or a specialist in that field...
REPORTER: And did you accept it before your exit from the Senate?
ROBERTO ARANGO: No. It was after. My exit from the Senate and the process itself was what led me to accept myself.

Audio of the entire half hour interview in Spanish is available here.

UPDATE #1: Metro reports that Arango is preparing to launch a campaign to become the mayor of San Juan.

UPDATE #2: Full 45 minute interview, in Spanish, as later posted by NOTI UNO:


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Monday, March 03, 2014

Transgressive or regressive? Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin hook up in latest Wisin music video


When two of the biggest Latino music stars in the world play lovers in a music video does the world pay notice? Particularly if one of the stars is known for a series of high-profile heterosexual relationships (Jennifer Lopez) and the other is known as the biggest Latino personality to have ever come out as being gay (Ricky Martin)?

That's the case in a video released today as the lead single from Puerto Rican singer Wisin's first solo album and titled "Adrenalina":


Wisin was able to pull this high-wattage stunt because he was part of one of the most successful reggaeton acts in the music industry over the last decade - Wisin & Yandel - and happened to be among the Latino music acts that supported Ricky Martin when he came out.

Ricky himself featured the duo in a cut from his first album after coming out called "Frio"...


That particular song also speaks of unrequited love from a man to a woman.

Both of these songs were launched as singles after Ricky's very prominent coming out in 2010 so they weren't necessarily covering up for his sexuality so the fact that he is still be considered to play up a heterosexual romantic role in videos like these might be transgressive in itself but it certainly stand out that Ricky has yet to release or participate in a music video that also highlights same-sex love.  I raised this issue previously when it came to one of the most beautiful songs on his last album and one of its most homoerotic as well "Tu y Yo" (Spanish language lyrics here),

And yet, last week in Chile at the Viña del Mar music festival Ricky didn't shy away from homoerotic play. Here is his performance of his hit "Shake Your Bom Bom"...


Full Viña performance here.


Also, woof!...


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dominican Republic: Diplomats boycott event after husband of gay U.S. Ambassador is asked not to attend

Bob Satawake and his husband James "Wally" Brewster as photographed by Dominican magazine Ritmo Social.
Just as it seemed a diplomatic row might have been averted last week when the Dominican Republic expressed full support for out U.S. ambassador James "Wally" Brewster and denounced its own ambassador to the Vatican for publicly criticizing a meeting Brewster held with LGBT advocates, a brand new diplomatic controversy has emerged over Brewster's marriage to Bob Satawake.

As last week's controversy was playing out, reports have emerged that an earlier kerfuffle erupted over a cancelled January 22nd diplomatic event in honor of Dominican Republic president Danilo Medina.

Organized by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the gathering was meant to be a private opportunity for diplomats and their spouses to honor the President but, as Acento reported yesterday, the Dean himself raised objections about extending an invitation to Ambassador Brewster's husband and made a personal call to ask the Ambassador for his understanding and consideration.

From a private letter sent to all diplomats after questions were raised about the decision as translated from Spanish:
1. Reasons why the partner of the U.S. Ambassador was not invited to the Diplomatic Cocktail in honor of the President of the Dominican Republic: The partner of the U.S. Ambassador is not accredited as a "wife" but, instead, as a "dependent" of the Ambassador. In the Constitution of the Dominican Republic, same sex marriages are not recognized. Thus the Dominican authorities cannot officially recognize him as his "wife."
2. This explains why he was not invited to accompany the Ambassador.
3. It would be incorrect and in some ways offensive to the entire Diplomatic Body to go against the Constitution and, worse yet, in front of the President of the Republic and in the presence of representatives from all the Diplomatic Missions accredited by the Dominican Republic.
4. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps has spoken to the U.S. Ambassador regarding this impasse and has asked for his understanding regarding this question, particularly about its delicate nature as he well knows.  We expect the Ambassador to accept this calmly and with due consideration. The use of prudence would insure a proper way to handle this issue. 
5. This does not imply any prejudice in the understanding, respect and tolerance the Colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps have towards the U.S. Ambassador, Mr. James W. Brewster.
6. An authority from the Foreign Affairs Ministry called on Saturday, January 18th, to express that the "Foreign Affairs Ministry" has no objection regarding to the attendance of the partner of the U.S. Ambassador. Naturally, the responsibility then falls on the Diplomatic Body.
7. Later, speaking to an authority from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, it was acknowledged that the largest obstacle still remained: The fundamental question raised by the Constitution. The Dean reaffirmed that it would be completely wrong for the Heads of the Missions to go against the Constitution in front of the President. The ministerial authority immediately recognized the severity of the circumstance and how local media might make an issue out of it.
Archbishop Okolo with Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina.
The letter was signed by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps which happens to be the new envoy from the Vatican to the Dominican Republic Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo originally from the African republic of Chad.

In October, Bishop Okolo replaced Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski after he escaped the Dominican Republic fleeing sexual abuse allegations.

The Dominican Foreign Affairs Ministry was not the only one who expressed having no issue with showing Ambassador Brewster the respect of treating his husband as his spouse. As Acento reports, "several diplomats refused to attend and the event had to be suspended."

The Foreign Affairs Ministry was also the government entity that stepped up last week when the Dominican ambassador to the Vatican criticized Ambassador Brewster and expressed full support for the U.S. Ambassador.

U.K. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic Steven M. Fisher.
Update (Feb. 20th, 2014): When Acento broke the news about the cancellation of the diplomatic meeting on Tuesday several conservative religious leaders immediately tried to spin the story by applauding diplomats for allegedly taking a "principled" stand against same-sex marriage and staying away from the event.

Unfortunately for them whoever is leaking internal diplomatic letters to Acento responded by disclosing a letter Steven M. Fisher wrote to Archbishop Okole in response to the reasons given for not inviting Mr. Satawake to the event:
His Excellency, I am writing to you regarding the e-mail you sent on January 20th of 2014 regarding the "reasons why the partner of the U.S. Ambassador was not invited to the cocktail organized by the diplomatic corps in honor of the president to the Dominican Republic." 
I regret the very difficult situation in which this decision has placed me when it comes to my participation in the cocktail reception. I believe this decision unjustly discriminates against a member of the Diplomatic Corps in a way that is unjustifiable. Additionally, it is my understanding that these issues should have been discussed by the Diplomatic Corps with enough time for each ambassador to give their point of view.
I reiterate the suggestion I made via e-mail on January 18th to modify the invitation so it equally includes everyone.
In the case the decision remains the same by not treating everyone equally or shows disrespect for someone's civil status, I am afraid I unfortunately won't be able to participate in the cocktail.
In other words, Vatican envoy Jude Thaddeus Okolo was not only advised that the Dominican Foreign Affairs Ministry in representation of the government had no issue with inviting Mr. Satawake to the event but other diplomats clearly warned him they would stay away if he insisted in discriminating against him.

Don't blame the gays for this diplomatic fiasco. Blame the new Vatican envoy to the Dominican Republic and conservatives from the Dominican Republic who insist on treating the U.S. ambassador and his husband with such disrespect.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Diplomatic row brewing over U.S. Ambassador's decision to meet with Dominican LGBT leaders

Ambassador James "Wally" Brewster with his husband Bob Satawake at the U.S. embassy quarters in the Dominican Republic as photographed by Ritmo Social and shared on Twitter.
A diplomatic row might be brewing over a meeting held this Tuesday by openly gay U.S. ambassador James "Wally" Brewster and his husband Bob Satawake with several Dominican LGBT leaders just a month after the new U.S. ambassador took office.

Messages and photos of the meeting were shared through the embassy's official social media accounts but no official statement has been posted on the embassy's website:

Based on our report, the Washington Blade reached out to the embassy on Wednesday but they did not reply. And now we might have a reason.

Victor Grimaldi
Yesterday Dominican newspapers reported that the Dominican Republic Ambassador to the Vatican Victor Grimaldi sent an open letter to the Pope criticizing Brewster for the meeting.

In the letter to Pope Francis Grimaldi points out that a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was approved just four years ago with what he says was 99 percent of Dominican's approval and then takes a swipe at Brewster's marriage:
Just when the State Constitution of the Dominican Republic establishes that marriage is between a man and a woman here comes the new United States ambassador - "married" with a man - to meet with a gay and transsexual collective that has confronted the Catholic church and alleges that the Dominican Republic is a secular state. 
A campaign to attack Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Ródriguez on these and other issues has existed for quite a while as they see the Archbishop from Santo Domingo as the head that needs to be dethroned.
The good Cardinal, of course, is the homophobe who has repeatedly referred to gay and lesbian Dominicans as "maricones" (faggots) over the years and used that same word when joking about Brewster's nomination in front of a number of reporters last year.  He has since toned down his language and there are reports that a few weeks ago he asked church goers to respect the ambassador.

Brewster, on the other hand, has avoided any direct mention of the Cardinal.

Those who were present at Tuesday's meeting do say that the topic came up and that the ambassador personally thanked them for defending his nomination last year in light of the attacks.

"The pair of diplomats [Brewster and his husband] thanked the collective for the June 2013 campaign to defend him from the rejection expressed by some sectors opposed to his nomination as the country's ambassador" says a statement from the transgender-rights organization TRANSSA.

Grimaldi's letter to Pope Francis apparently drew strong private rebuke from José Manuel Trullols, the Dominican Republic's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs.

In a second letter sent to the press and published today Grimaldi says that the government official contacted him in what Grimaldi characterized as an attempt to intimidate him:
Excellent Minister: You have never called me on the phone before. And you threatened me for a letter I addressed to Pope Francis.
After today's call I warn you that christian-phobia is a type of religious persecution contrary to the liberty enshrined in our Constitution, which I swore to defend and obey. 
I reject your threats, even if I am sacrificed like John the Baptist for simply because as an Ambassador [to the Vatican] I obey the Constitution and as a christian I follow the freedom of thought.
It's not the first time that Grimaldi has used his Vatican credentials to vehemently defend the Cardinal.  In December he wrote another public letter to the Pope slamming Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa for calling on the Vatican to remove the Cardinal from his position.

Vargas Llosa, taking note of moderate statements made recently by the new Pope, called on the Vatican leader to remove "stone age" representatives of the church such as the Dominican and Peruvian cardinals.

The Cardinal's popularity in the Dominican Republic has taken a beating in recent years with people questioning his role in a still expanding sexual abuse scandal and, more recently, being caught on camera last week calling a Jesuit priest "shameless" and a left wing radical for daring to help needy undocumented Haitian immigrants [the Dominican Republic is currently embroiled in a debate on Haitian citizenship after the Dominican Supreme Court retroactively stripped children of undocumented Haitian immigrants of their citizenship even if they were born in the Dominican Republic].

Dominican citizens have taken to Twitter to demand the Cardinal be removed from his post using the hashtag #destituciondelcardenalrd.

Among the LGBT advocates who attended the meeting on Tuesday are Leonardo Sánchez of Amigos Siempre Amigos, Chris King of TRANSSA, Reverend Wilkin Lara from the ICM Church in the Dominican Republic, transgender rights activist Nairobi Castillo, and LGBT-rights activists Marianela Carvajal. Francis Taylor and Harold Jimenez.

Update #1: Asked today by Dominican media about Grimaldi's letters and accusations of a plot against the Cardinal, Ambassador Brewster said "I don't usually respond to false accusations."

Also, at least one Dominican paper - El Ortodoxo - is asking Grimaldi to resign as a result of his attack against the U.S. Ambassador.

Update #2: The Dominican government through the Foreign Affairs Ministry has released a statement that says that Grimaldi has not been authorized to speak about ambassador Brewster in the name of the government and says the statements made in the letters are purely personal in nature. They also expressed support for the U.S. ambassador:
The Dominican government recognizes the work that ambassador James B. Brewster on an wide array of issues related to the bilateral agenda.
Update #3: The Dominican Republic Foreign Affairs Ministry has tweeted their statement distancing the government from Grimaldi's comments.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Dominican Republic: U.S. Ambassador and husband meet Dominican LGBT advocates

U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James "Wally" Brewster and his husband Bob Satawake (center) meet with LGBT and human rights advocates from the Caribbean island (photo taken from the Ambassador's Instagram account)

James "Wally" Brewster, who is still listed as a member of the board of directors of the Human Rights Campaign and who gained national visibility as one of the gay men who raised the most funds for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign has been on quite a charm offensive since he took the U.S. ambassadorship duties in the Dominican Republic a month ago.

This is a marked change from the silence he observed during the nomination process as a number of religious leaders in the Dominican Republic criticized the nomination of an openly gay man for the diplomatic post.  Leading the charge was Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez who called the then-nominee a 'faggot' on national television...


...but once the nomination was secured Brewster faced the criticism head on and introduced himself to the Dominican public with a video in which he included his husband Bob Satawake...


Brewster and Satawake also became the first same-sex married couple to grace the cover of the Dominican high society magazine Ritmo Social in an exclusive interview published on January 25th.
Ritmo Social: You have worked with the gay community and human rights. Can you talk about your experiences in those areas?
Brewster: It's our belief that every person has the inherent right to to a dignified and transparent life without the far of being pursued or discriminated. We firmly believe that each person has value and that the entire world should have an opportunity to contribute to the common good. We have worked with different types of organizations who serve marginalized communities and grant them equal access and development opportunities. As people of faith we take into account our responsibility to bring growth opportunities to others as many other people have granted us both.
RS: The Dominican Republic is, on the whole, a Catholic country and some people believe that it's not right to send a gay man - and on top of that an out activist - to represent the U.S. as a Dominican Republic ambassador. What is your opinion?
Brewster: We both have felt welcomed by the Dominican Republic for many years and since my arrival as an ambassador that has not changed. I was nominated by President Obama to represent his government and the North American people as a reflection of our country, its diversity and its mission. I am committed to serve that ideal. President Obama was aware of our knowledge of the Dominican Republic and knew we would work diligently to advance the extraordinary relationship between our people and our countries.
RS: Let's talk about your relationship with your husband Bob...
Brewster: Bob and I met, as many other couples, when we were in our twenties. We have gotten older and shared our lives together learning from each other.  We are very fortunate to have loving parents and, even though my mother is no longer with us, we treasure the love she gave us every day.  Our parents have been extremely understanding and offered us great support all these years we have been together.  In October we celebrated our 25th anniversary together and, thanks to the leadership of President Obama, we were able to legally marry in Washington, DC, surrounded by our families and many of our friends from the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. We live life day to day and we thank God every day for the blessings he has given us.

Ambassador Brewster meets with Dominican LGBT leaders: As the nomination process was taking place and as the State Department and Brewster himself kept quiet on the attacks he was receiving from conservative religious leaders in the island, some of his strongest supporters were members of the Dominican LGBT community who were thrilled about the nomination.  But considering Brewster's privileged life in the United States I often wondered if the new ambassador would acknowledge their support or engage them in any significant way.

Today, just a month after taking the diplomatic post and in a sign that he will be a strong ally to the Dominican LGBT community he welcomed them to a reception at the embassy which included his husband.

Among the LGBT leaders who attended the reception were Leonardo Sánchez of Amigos Siempre Amigos (Friends Always Friends), Chris King from the transgender rights organization TRANSSA, LGBT rights advocate Harold Jimenez, and Reverend Wilkin Lara from the ICM Church in D.R.

There has been no official statement from the Embassy on the meeting nor a full list of attendees but photos of the meeting were sent out through the Embassy's Twitter account and the ambassador's Instagram account.

Conservative religious leaders still fuming about nomination, get support from U.S.-based religious websites: A small number of very vocal conservative religious leaders in the Dominican Republic remain furious that a gay man is now the U.S. ambassador.

On Friday, even before today's meeting with LGBT leaders, Reverend Luis Rosario staged a press conference to say that the arrival of the new ambassador and his husband sent an "extremely negative message" to the Dominican people.

"It's a very sad state of affairs we are living at this moment," Rev. Rosario added, "and it makes our nation seem like a great hospital for the sexually ill."

Last year right-wing U.S.-based religious sites such as CNS News gave credence to homophobic threats warning Brewster would be forced to leave the Dominican Republc or else run the risk of being attacked. CNN also picked up on the so-called "Black Monday" protests against Brewster's nomination which never actually materialized (those were also promoted to no avail by conservative U.S. conservative sites such as LifeSite News).

If anything it mobilized Dominican LGBT advocates such as Giónver Castillo who hung this rainbow flag outside his balcony to protest the calls for a "Black Monday."

During the 2012 Dominican pride parade Castillo was stopped several times by police authorities for carrying a flag he made in which he changed the colors of the Dominican flag to resemble the rainbow flag.  Authorities threatened to stop the parade unless Castillo handed the flag over to them since they considered the rainbow colored Dominican flag an affront to the nation's patriotic symbols.

Parade organizers who were afraid that they would be forced to stop the celebrations before the evening's cultural events agreed with the authorities and distanced themselves from having any role in the creation of the flag. Castillo was not among the leaders who attended today's reception but some of the parade organizers did.

Cardinal López Rodriguez, who called Brewster a "faggot," asks Dominicans to be respectful of the new ambassador: Nevertheless in a sign that religious conservatives are losing support for their vitriolic and homophobic language against the ambassador, on January 14th, just a week before Brewster took the diplomatic seat, it was Cardinal López Rodriguez - the same man who called Brewster a "faggot" last year upon hearing of the nomination - who urged church goers to show respect for the new ambassador.

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Note: This is an re-edited version of the original post that went up on February 11th, 2014.