La Paz and El Alto Celebrate Gay Pride
In a country in which homosexuality is legal but generally frowned upon, people from La Paz and El Alto came out in support of LGBT community members in observance of Pride Week. Last Saturday, June 26th, main thoroughfares of La Paz and El Alto were filled not with the marches and traffic jams that frequently stop city traffic, but were instead host to pride floats, supportive parents, and costumed drag-queens and kings. Revelers included international LGBT organizations and traditional Bolivian dances performed by transexual and cross-dressing dancers. Paceños lined El Prado to watch the parade, many waving rainbow flags (a symbol of the LGBT movement) and sporting rainbowed apparel. In the weeks leading up to Pride Week, buildings in the La Paz were also draped with large rainbow flags and workshops and events were coordinated by LGBT organizations to raise public awareness.
For LGBT people in Bolivia acceptance has been a long and continuing struggle. Despite recent political advances, including the protection of sexual diversity in the new national constitution, homophobia and discrimination remain common problems. In El Alto, where many residents hold very traditional Aymara views, LGBT people encounter a more conservative and macho culture than their counterparts in La Paz. In the face of these added pressures however, LGBT groups in El Alto have recently outgrown those in La Paz. According to Fernando Aguilar, a representative from the Association of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transexuals of El Alto, “We aren`t only a few like people seem to think.”
The GLBT Association includes 12 groups from La Paz and 17 “families” of GLBT youth from El Alto with more than 300 members. The Alteño groups also organize health and tolerance workshops and distribute information at several education fairs. The coordinator of the Civil Association of Social Development and Cultural Promotion (Adesproc) of the organization Libertad GLBT, Róger Arispe, admits that it`s often difficult to mix in society, particularly within the Aymara culture. “This has inhibited our acceptance of our sexual condition, but in the face of that, we continue with the work of gaining respect for our rights,” affirmed Mr. Arispe. While the fight for acceptance continues for Paceños and Alteños alike, advances such at the Municipal Ordenance declaring June 28th the Day without Sexual Diversity or Gender Discrimination give hope to many in the community.