Batlle suggested that homosexuality was a "pathology" which should be "corrected."
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Jorge Batlle, President of Uruguay.
But the Lady Protesteth Too Much
by Ana Simo
FEBRUARY 5, 2001. Uruguayans woke up on January 12 to the news that their President, Jorge Batlle, had dissed gays in, of all places, The New York Times. In a generally sympathetic profile of the 73-year-old Batlle, reprinted in Spanish by the major Uruguayan media, The Times' Clifford Krauss wrote:
"Mr. Batlle can also get carried away with his own glibness and say things that can be hurtful. While talking about his family history, and how his ancestors came from the Spanish fishing town and resort of Sitges, he said: 'It was a better place when they lived there. Now it is full of gay Germans.' Challenged to explain his remark, he said: 'I prefer normality. I say what I believe and I am not a hypocrite. In a few words, I like women.' Told that he would certainly receive a lot of mail for his remarks, he answered: 'And I will respond. I don't hide my opinions.'"
To drive the point home that he's no closet homophobe, and that he really, truly, digs the ladies, the unrepentant Mr. Batlle then proceeded to post a full transcript of his Times interview on the official presidential web site. There, under the pretty, blue and yellow Uruguayan coat of arms, was a nasty sentence that the tactful Krauss had not included in his piece: in it, Batlle suggested that homosexuality was a "pathology" which should be "corrected."
Uruguayan queer activists were not amused. They're afraid that if Batlle gets away with his public expression of homophobia, life could get more unpleasant for queers in Uruguay, both the relatively few who are out and the tightly closetted majority. Some fear his words could incite violence against gays.
The writer and gay activist Fernando Frontán told the Montevideo daily La República on January 17 that Batlle's homophobic remarks were intended "to please the power centers that supported his presidential campaign, like Opus Dei (a conservative Catholic group) and groups linked to Reverend Moon." However, others see Batlle's remarks as an outburst by a big mouth politico who is somewhat of a maverickhe favors drug legalization, for example.
Uruguay emerged in 1985 from a 12-year-long military dictatorship cum left-wing, urban insurgency. Thousands were killed, jailed, tortured, and disappeared. The nation was exhausted. A certain political apathy set in, which continues to this day.
Organized gay groups have existed in Uruguay since the early 1990's and Pride marches have been organized in Montevideo, the capital, for the past eight years. But, in this culturally conservative country of 3.2 million, the marches have never attracted more than a couple of hundred people, and, up until now, the country's political class has largely ignored gay civil rights issues.
The Batlle flap may help change all this. A coalition of local gay groups have launched an international letter writing campaign to let Batlle know that presidential homophobia doesn't pay. And that, in the Internet era, the whole world is, literally, watching. They hope the message won't be lost on the rest of their political class.
To give President Batlle a piece of your mind, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cc the Uruguayan queer coalition at email@example.com, as well as the gay-friendly President of the Uruguayan Chamber of Deputies, Washington Abdala, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the interview transcript from Uruguay's Presidential web site, and media clips (mostly Spanish)
For the Uruguayan queer activist group Diversidad. (Mostly Spanish).
For a profile of Uruguay, by the estimable CIA World Factbook 2000. More or less accurate, except that it delicately skirts the Agency's role propping the military dictatorship in the 1970's.
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