Being Homosexual is a Crime in Peru: LGBT Activists Declare After Police Attack in Lima – I was Detained for Being Gay
A group of eight lesbian and gay activists in Peru were wounded by the police during a symbolic protest against homophobia. A special police assault squad attacked some 30 LGBT activists in front of the Catholic cathedral of Lima.
Every 5 days a lesbian, gay or transgender person is killed in Peru, according to the Homosexual Movement of Lima (MOHL)
On the evening of Saturday February 12th, Peruvian gay activist Giovanni Romero warned via Twitter that he and other LGBT activists had been beaten, pepper sprayed and almost arrested in Lima. Peruvian police officers had chased the activists and cornered them in the main square of the city.
Foto Blog Gay de Lima
Members of the Homosexual Movement of Lima (MOHL) had met there to demonstrate publicly that love should not be banned, that non-heterosexual Peruvians deserve equality before the law, that love is nothing to be ashamed. The event which was planned to be held in front of the Municipality of Lima ended up in kicks and violence, reports the blog of the “Kisses Against Homophobia” event. View photos in the Blog Gay of Lima.
Watch video posted by one of the MOHL activists
English subtitles by Blabbeando
I spoke via telephone with Veronica Ferrari and Jorge Chavez Reyes, two activists with the Homosexual Movement of Lima (MOHL), who claimed that the police violence was completely unjustified; they were pushed around, kicked and hit with sticks and shields. This caused that 8 wounded activists had to receive medical attention, “The exaggerated police reaction resulted in one activist, Alicia Parra, needing 10 stitches in the back of her head, “ reports Living in Peru.
Both Veronica and Jorge were beaten, kicked, pushed and have scars left in their bodies. They believe the attack was ordered by officials of the Interior [Internal Security] Ministry and possibly by the highly homophobic Archbishop of Lima. The MOHL has brought charges against the police officers who attacked them, and public officials have spoken in protest, including the leftist Mayor of Lima, Susana Villaran, the president of Peru Alan Garcia -surprisingly- and the the National Coordinator of Human Rights.
Veronica says that during the attack there was a response of solidarity among bystanders, but many people thought the LGBT activists ‘provoked’ the police, therefore they deserved the beating. “Oh these are the faggots who want to get married” was overheard among the crowd. In the current presidential election campaign, some politicians have mentioned their support for same-sex marriage.
The chances of same-sex marriage to be approved in Peru are extremely scarce. According to a recent ‘survey’ paid by the centrist radio RRP and the right-wing paper Correo, [and published by the conservative Archbishop of Lima], 74% of Peruvians oppose gay marriage. In the poll, LGBT rights were maliciously grouped along abortion and illegal drugs.
Homophobic conservatives in Peru are out against LGBT rights, especially the Catholic Church which is strongly influential among Peruvians. The main Catholic leader in Peru is Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, a right-wing conservative Peruvian-Italian priest who is a favorite of Pope Benedict XVI.
Veronica says that most authorities in Peru are blinded to what most Peruvian people demand, “among Peruvians there is growing tolerance towards LGBT people but the authorities are very conservative” she added that Peru is “a sexist, homophobic, misogynist, classist, elitist society”. But they won’t stop. Veronica and others at MOHL assured “We will go to public places to kiss, nobody will stop us, because we don’t need to ask anyone for permission to kiss the people we love.”
Protest en Lima against homophobic violence. Photo May 2010. Reuters
Homophobic violence is promoted even in the media in Peru. During a radio interview today, Peruvian commentator Phillip Butters responded to a MOHL activist: “If I’m in front of my daughter’s day care and I see two lesbians or homosexuals kissing, at first I would ask them to leave, if they don’t I would kick them,”.
The videos recorded by MOHL activists show the brutal, abusive, primitive attitude of the Peruvian police. They attacked without justification to a group of gay and lesbian couples who wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day kissing in public. This was supposed to be a peaceful protest against inequality, for civil rights and against sexual discrimination in Peru. The policemen were drunk during the attack, according to witnesses.
Giovanni Romero says the LGBT Human Rights Report written by MOHL concluded that a lesbian, transgender or gay person is killed every 5 days in Peru, “and nobody says anything.” Giovanni tweeted that “The PNP has violated the [Human Rights] Manual applied to police, which prohibits mistreatment of LTGBs people.” All the police offenders have already been identified.
Some Peruvians think the aggression was justified, as the kissers stood in front of the Catholic Cathedral, offending religious by-passers. Jorge Chavez added that the event was a symbolic act to be held in front the Municipality of Lima, as they had done in previous years. The Police already knew of the event and they were waiting for the activists, and once there “they pushed us to the Cathedral” where the attack began and lasted about 20 minutes. Jorge says that he has not seen this kind of homophobic violence in Peru before.
“Being gay is not a crime”
If I had not left Peru
Being gay, dark skinned and poor in Peru, is difficult. I experienced the negative consequences while living in Lima. In those days I didn’t understand why my mother protected me so much during my school years. After high school, I had to travel through the city of Lima for at least 3 hours a day, in order to attend one of those very poor ‘academies’ where one studies in 6 months, what you should have learned in 5 years.
For a long time I was furious about the protection from my family, but today I feel grateful. Possibly, had my family not watch over me, I would have been the victim of homophobic violence that is common in Peru. What my family couldn’t do was to protect me after I finished high school. One night I was arrested by police officers while walking in the streets, they interrogated me, then insulted and threatened with pushing things into my ass, before they let me go.
My crime was simply to walk at night by the Plaza San Martin, in the days of the political violence. This is a French-styled plaza located in Lima’s historic downtown, which was my favorite urban spot in Lima, until those ‘tombos’ made me feel that as a gay man I was just another prostitute.
The second time I was arrested by the police in Lima, it was when I was returning from picking up a package sent by my father, who worked in mining in the Andes mountains. This time the idiots thought I was a terrorist. Being young and of indigenous heritage in the days of the civil war, made me a target for interrogation. But when the police realized they had caught just an ‘Indian queer’, I was taken to the police station of Santa Beatriz.
That night I was placed in a very dark cell, next to a drunken man. I knew then that I was being attacked for being different. I did not understand why, but I knew I was different. I thought that I could never live safe unless I learned to survive, or if I go away. I dreamed that one day I’d get away from this monstrous city where the most common insults are cholo, Indian, queer, fucking faggot.
If Peru had not been such a hostile place for me, had it not been for the rejection of my overprotective family, if I had not felt threatened, I wouldn’t have left such a wonderful country. I don’t wish for anyone to be forced to leave their family, friends, traditions, spaces, their homeland. It’s difficult. No one should leave everything behind out of fear. What pushed me to leave Peru was a desire to live a dignified and decent life in another place, where being gay is not a curse nor a reason to be attacked any given day.
The violence faced this past weekend by brave LGBT activists in Lima is only a part of a painful but necessary process, which will benefit the Peruvian LGBT community of tomorrow, so they won’t have to live a life of inferiority and fear. At least many of them will not have to escape to another country. This struggle is for equal rights, to stop violence, to stop the homophobic media, to end discrimination, to end fear, hate, silence. There will be more acts of civil disobedience and peaceful protests, so we need to support the LGBT community in Peru.
I remember the almost clandestine meetings I attended in the nineties, at the home of the gay Peruvian psychologist Victor Cerna. Those meetings helped me well to understand my nature and to defeat my self-homophobia. These friendships replaced the family over-protection, which the streets of Lima no longer allowed. Years later, in the times I’ve visited Lima, I have noticed that tolerance towards homosexuals has increased among Peruvians, but homophobia continues strong. A couple of times I have called ‘fag’ in the streets, in front of my embarrassed family members.
I never said anything until today about me being arrested in Lima for being who I am. Fear, shame and knowing that no one would defend me made me remain silent. So when I saw the violence against LGBT Peruvians like me, I felt it was me who was being beaten, I felt that all Peruvians had been violated.
The last time my mother visited me in Washington, DC, she said some homophobic things which she has learned through her Catholic faith. My mother doesn’t understand yet that she has a gay son, but I do understand her. Because I understand her culture, I understand her intentions. I used to think like her when I lived in Peru. I feel sorry that she is a victim of such religious fanaticism, which makes her reject a large part of me – without her even knowing it.
So I feel that the struggle of the LGBT movement in Lima is worth it. So that no family ever rejects their children, even if they happen to be gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual. Our communities, our country should not reject their citizens who were born with a different sexuality, and should enable them to develop a decent life, as productive citizens that are as capable as anyone else.
We need no more hatred, no more homophobic violence in Peru. Let’s support the fight of the Peruvian LGBT movement.
Update: another “Kissing Against Homophobia” protest will be held in Lima this Saturday February 19th. Hopefully no violence will occur this time.