BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Fabu Olmedo is so nervous about clubs and restaurants in Paraguay that before a night out she often calls one to make sure she’ll be let in and won’t be attacked or harassed.
Olmedo doesn’t know if she can come out in public safely because everyday life is difficult for transgender people in the capital, Asunción. Now, a new group of allies in Latin America is trying to make life better by changing minds in this socially conservative and often highly religious region.
Founded in 2017, the Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children lobbies governments to eliminate biased laws and better enforce existing prohibitions on violence and discrimination.
It’s an uphill battle that will take patience and years of effort, but mothers are working together to help others in their position and act as a refuge for LGBTQ children whose families aren’t as supportive.
“It’s all about recognizing the strength and power we have as mothers to accompany our children and help other families,” said Alejandra Muñoz, 62, of Mexico City. Her son Manuel came out 11 years ago and suffered so much bullying at school that he spent holidays with the teachers.
“He is constantly at risk of being shouted at or worse on the street because of his sexuality,” she said.
Olmedo, 28, said she was banned from a nightclub in Asunción with her friends in July.
“A lot of times they let you in, but there are violent people inside,” Olmedo said.
The Latin American Movement of Mothers of Children LGTB+ held their first in-person meeting in early November in Buenos Aires, where they attended the annual mass gay pride march on November 5th.
“Our main battle is to ensure that our children enjoy the same rights throughout Latin America,” said Patricia Gambetta, 49, head of the Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children, which has members in 14 countries and is expanding. in all the countries of the region.
The work of mothers is often made more complicated by the enduring power of the Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexual acts are “inherently deranged.” The increasingly popular evangelical faith often preaches against same-sex relationships.
There are stark differences in the acceptance of sexual minorities across Latin America. Argentina and Uruguay have been regional pioneers in marriage equality and transgender rights. Other countries in the region have yet to enact protection measures for the LGBTQ population.
Marriage equality became law in all Mexican states last month. Honduras and Paraguay ban same-sex marriage. In Guatemala, a conservative congress has repeatedly tried to pass legislation that would censor information about LGBTQ people. In Brazil, at the federal and state levels, there are bills and laws that either prohibit, or would prohibit, information about sexual orientation and gender identity, said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher for Latin America and the Caribbean. at Human Rights Watch.
And laws often fail to tell the full story.
“Regardless of the legal status a young person is in, prejudice and discrimination in the region are still common,” González Cabrera said.
Vitinia Varela Mora said her daughter, Ana Maria, decided to hide her lesbian identity after seeing other gay students being bullied at her school in Tilaran, Costa Rica, which is about 200 kilometers from the capital San Jose. She came out to her mother at 21.
In some countries, mothers who try to help their children cope with discrimination suddenly find themselves under scrutiny.
Claudia Delfín tried to get help from government offices for her transgender twins, who were facing bullying and discrimination at their school in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, when she was 16.
“They told me to go to church and look for a better path. They practically sent me to pray,” said Delphine.
Costa Rican Varela Mora says it took her about two years to accept her daughter after the girl came out as a lesbian in what hit her mother like “a bucket of cold water.”
“There’s a lack of training, nobody prepares you for it,” Varela Mora said. Now she’s trying to make up for it by supporting other mothers whose children have come out.
“It is important for young people to feel that they have a mum who understands them when they are not supporting them at home,” said the 59-year-old woman.
LGBTQ parent groups are “vital to show that regressive political plans are not responding to the needs of the region’s diverse communities,” said González Cabrera of Human Rights Watch.
Delphine said she is one of two mothers in Santa Cruz who are activists fighting for their LGBTQ children. Elena Ramírez, Olmedo’s mom, also says that many transgender children who have problems at her home come to her for shelter.
“I’m a mom to them all,” Ramírez, 66, said. “I know there are mothers I won’t be able to convince, but there are other children who really need it.”
Gambetta says all the moms in the organization end up educating each other at their monthly virtual meetings.
“As mothers we have more reach, we can raise more awareness,” Gambetta said. “When your family supports you, you’ve already won 99% of the battle.”
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story.