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We lead a normal and happy life, with RenČ and Socorro—our dog and our cat.

Related Gully Coverage

Making An Oasis in Guatemala
Homophobia in a culture of violence.

Gay Life Emerges In Guatemala
Activist bar owners, gay HIV/AIDS prevention pioneers, and more.

How To Be A Lesbian In Guatemala
An interview with lesbian activist Claudia Acevedo.

Gay Mundo
Our ultra-queer coverage.

jorge lopez sologaistoa
Jorge López Sologaistoa. E. Sologaistoa


Portrait of an Activist

OCTOBER 30, 2000. Jorge López Sologaistoa is one of a new breed of activists that is changing the face of AIDS and queer organizing in Latin America. From his home, in Guatemala City, he recently drew this portrait of himself and his work, answering questions asked by THE GULLY.

jorge and vinicioI am a 31 year-old gay man. For almost exactly four years (October 31), I have lived in a stable relationship with Vinicio Alvarado. We lead a normal and happy life, with René and Socorro—our dog and our cat—in a house that we rent in the center of the city, near the Palacio Nacional [the seat of government]. Except for common crime, we feel free to walk together on the streets. Our neighbors do not meddle in our private life; of course, neither one of us is markedly feminine.

In my daily life, I am just an ordinary computer consultant. I help businesses configure their computer networks, and set up Web sites. In the places I work I am sure some people wonder if I am gay, but don't dare ask me. I am neither interested in hiding my personal life, nor making an issue of it.

jorge's catThe rest of my time, I am a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender rights activist, Vice-President of OASIS (Organization to Support an Integral Sexuality In the Face of AIDS), and editor-in-chief of their magazine, Vice Versa. I also help with other publications. All these are unpaid activities.

Poverty Breeds Violence
Guatemalan culture is certainly repressive and violent. Seventy per cent of the population lives in conditions of extreme poverty, with high rates of unemployment. Families generally have more children than they can support, and formal education is precarious. As a result, people constantly worry about their daily survival and react violently to things they dislike. It is like some kind of social relief valve.

Domestic violence, in particular, affects many women and children here. But just a moment ago I was watching a TV news report about a man shot dead a few blocks from my home. Violence can be seen every day in the assaults and robberies, the traffic accidents, and, of course, the marked social homophobia and lesbophobia.

Personally, I do not feel directly affected by the violence, because I mostly stick to safe places, but I am always on guard.

Officially, We Do Not Exist
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and issues simply do not exist in the Guatemalan legal context. Since homosexuality is not illegal, one would assume we could exist freely. However, the macho roots of this conservative society encourage the display of homophobic, lesbophobic, and misogynistic attitudes that trigger violence and repression at all levels.

During the Guatemalan civil war it was much more common to see instances of abuse of power and trampling of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

carAfter the peace process began in the region, we have had more opportunities to live more openly and to demand respect. The international community has played a very important role, as it has supported us in this process.

OASIS is one of the few public places where gay men and lesbians can relax from the stress created by social pressures. It is common to see people there hugging and kissing affectionately. Working at OASIS is also satisfying because we can do work that benefits our community.

OASIS has been working for seven and a half years now on issues related to the gay and lesbian population in Guatemala. We are fighting against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is now reaching frightening levels in our country. After the Caribbean, Central America is emerging as the next HIV/AIDS crisis flashpoint. We feel that it is crucial that we continue working to reduce the impact of the epidemic in our country.

Wigs, Music, Painting
At OASIS we have a space reserved for socializing and cultural activities. There are always wigs, music, high heels, and paint there. We also have educational activities for female sex workers, "transvestites," and gay men on the streets, distributing preventive information and condoms. We also do research on the sexual behavior, legal status, and human rights of these groups.

With other organizations we carry out joint prevention programs for school kids and training programs for health workers on how to treat sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.

So far we have managed to operate thanks to the international support we have received. However, those funding sources are drying out all over the world, so we want to learn how to generate our own funding.

We feel morally supported by the Guatemala Human Rights Ombudsman, who has been present in activities such as the July 2000 Gay March.

Obstacles and Hopes
Our contacts with the Guatemalan government, however, have been mostly restricted to the HIV/AIDS issue, excluding the other issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. In any case, the policies of the current Guatemalan government are inconsistent and erratic.

There is, for example, a National AIDS Program, but that institution constantly blocks the work of the ACSLCS, the umbrella group that coordinates the non-governmental HIV/AIDS organizations in Guatemala. A representative of OASIS currently chairs the ACSLCS.

By 2005, I would like to see a drop in the high rates of HIV/AIDS infection and other sexually-transmitted diseases among "men who have sex with men" in Guatemala.

I would also like to see an improvement in the quality of life of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender populations, and for them to attain a free and harmonious coexistence with the rest of the Guatemalan population.

Jorge and Vinicio's photo: Gerson Navas.
Other photos: Jorge López Sologaistoa

Related links:

For a sense of place, see the Lonely Planet's take on Guatemala.

For a look at Guatemala's rulers, see John Ward Anderson's Guatemala Swears In New President—Admitted Killer Makes Pledge To Fight Crime in The Washington Post.

For the Human Rights Watch report on Guatemala.

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

En español

Retrato de un activista

Cómo ser lesbiana en Guatemala

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