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El Salvador official talks presidential election, LGBTI rights, migrants

Cruz Torres works in country’s Social Inclusion Ministry

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Cruz Torres, director of sexual diversity for El Salvador’s Ministry of Social Inclusion, spoke with the Washington Blade on Feb. 2, 2019, at a church in the country’s capital of San Salvador (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — A Salvadoran government official on the eve of the country’s presidential election acknowledged there is “uncertainty” over how the results will impact efforts to advance LGBTI rights.

Cruz Torres, director of sexual diversity for El Salvador’s Ministry of Social Inclusion, told the Washington Blade on Saturday during an interview at an LGBTI-friendly church in the country’s capital of San Salvador that frontrunner Nayib Bukele, founder of the anti-corruption New Ideas movement who joined the right-wing GANA party in order to run for president, met with LGBTI activists when he was mayor of San Salvador from 2015-2018. Torres said Bukele made promises “that were not met or at a minimum were not what the community expected.”

“This is playing against him,” Torres told the Blade, even though many Salvadoran LGBTI activists publicly support Bukele. “There is a feeling of uncertainty around his election as a result.”

Torres, who is openly gay, advises the Salvadoran government’s executive branch on LGBTI-specific issues.

Then-President Mauricio Funes in 2010 issued a decree that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in government ministries. The mandate also created Torres’ position within the Ministry of Social Inclusion.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which oversees the election, is not expected to immediately release the results of Sunday’s presidential election. A runoff will take place on March 10 if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

Torres told the Blade he is confident former Foreign Minister Hugo Martínez, the candidate for the left-wing FMLN party, will allow his mandate to continue if he succeeds current President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who is a member of the same party.

Torres added Carlos Calleja of the right-wing ARENA party has not “expressed any promise to the LGBT community. Torres also noted Josué Alvarado’s VAMOS party has adopted a strong position against LGBTI rights.

“VAMOS has declared a holy war against the LGBT community, for the defense of the family, for the defense of Christian values,” said Torres.

“Salvadoran conservatism specializes in being the victim,” he added. “The discourse it has built around us is religious people, heterosexuals, cisgender people are victims of you who are coming to take our children to rape them, who are coming to take away our rights, who are coming to take away our institutions.”

‘Entrenched conservatism’ a barrier to LGBTI rights

The election is taking place against the backdrop of rampant violence and a lack of economic opportunities that has prompted thousands of Salvadorans to leave the country, including those who have joined migrant caravans that have traveled to the Mexico-U.S. border. Torres said widespread discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is another factor that has prompted LGBTI Salvadorans to migrate to Costa Rica and other countries.

“The discrimination situation in El Salvador is very (bad) and it has been very serious for the LGBT community,” he said.

Salvadoran lawmakers in 2015 added an amendment to the country’s legal code that enhances penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but activists with whom the Blade has previously spoken insist authorities remain reluctant to use the provision.

El Salvador does not allow trans people to legally change their name on identification cards. Reports indicate trans Salvadorans have, as a result, been unable to vote because the name listed on their ID does not correspond with their gender identity.

A banner for the left-wing FMLN party hangs on a street light in San Salvador, El Salvador, ahead of the country’s presidential elections that took place on Feb. 3, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A group of international election observers from several Christian denominations were speaking to LGBTI Salvadoran voters on Saturday at the same church where Torres spoke with the Blade. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal hired 14 LGBTI people — including several trans women — to help oversee the election.

Torres throughout the interview stressed El Salvador has made progress on LGBTI-specific issues over the last decade, but he acknowledged his mandate is limited to ministries that fall under the president’s jurisdiction. Torres said “entrenched conservatism” among public sector employees and “inaction” on the part of the Salvadoran government are among the challenges to expanding rights to LGBTI Salvadorans.

“There are no concrete actions,” he said.

Salvadorans ‘justified’ to demand government end violence

Torres spoke with the Blade less than 13 months after reports emerged that President Trump called El Salvador a “shithole” country.

The White House in January 2018 announced it plans to end the Temporary Protected Status program for up to 200,000 Salvadorans who have received temporary residency permits that allow them to stay in the U.S. Trump has also threatened to cut U.S. aid to El Salvador and to neighboring Honduras and Guatemala if their governments did not do more to stop the flow of migrants who are leaving their countries because of violence and a lack of economic opportunities.

Torres told the Blade he remains confident the U.S. will continue to fund economic development and crime reduction initiatives in El Salvador despite Trump’s threat.

“Diplomatic relations between El Salvador and the U.S. will continue,” said Torres. “Relations between the U.S. and El Salvador will continue exactly as they are.”

Torres acknowledged, however, the Salvadoran government needs to do more to address the issues that are prompting migrants to leave the country.

“It definitely is something that the population (in El Salvador) is demanding,” said Torres. “It is justified to demand it.”

Ernesto Valle contributed to this story.

Minnesota

Trans student leads walk out over sexual assault allegations in Minnesota

“It was disturbing how many kids came forward to say that they too had been the victims of sexual harassment or assault”

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Melinda, Eben, Ferris, and Steven Santineau (Photo Credit: Santineau family)

PLYMOUTH, Mn. – Armstrong High School senior Ferris Santineau had decided that he was over being talked down to and patronized by school officials over his concerns that an alleged perpetrator of sexual assaults- a fellow student, was still allowed on campus.

The 17-year-old, who identifies as trans-male and bisexual, led a protest of approximately 250 plus fellow students and classmates out to the athletic fields Friday afternoon to send a highly visible message that enough was enough.

Santineau, who spoke to the Blade by phone immediately after the protest rally, said that his actions and the support from other students stemmed from a series of alleged sexual assaults against another 17-year-old Trans student on the campus that he is a close friend of.

According to Santineau, school administrators had been far less willing to believe the victim and when he attempted to intervene, he was met with an adversarial attitude by the school resource officer, (SRO) and a staff member who kept him in room for ninety minutes and interrogated him by himself. Santineau, told the Blade that he felt threatened by that encounter, noting that the entire time of the interview, the SRO had his hand placed on top of his taser on his duty belt.

Santineau, also told the Blade that he has been diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, (ADHD) which made the confrontation with the SRO and staff member worse.

“I felt like it was an interrogation, I have ADHD and asked them to be patient, but they kept interrupting me which made it worst,” he said. “I was trying to keep track of what we were talking about, then they’d interrupt and I’d try to ask a question then they told me I needed to be patient.” He added that he felt as though they were not listening at all.

He characterized the school administrators, the SRO and other staff as not believing the victim and even after multiple students and he had approached them to plead for the alleged perpetrator to be removed from campus, instead allowed him to stay enrolled and at least two occasions escorted the alleged assailant to his car. His presence had caused the victim to not attend classes and stay away from the school..

Santineau noted that Armstrong is running both in-person and virtual classes as a result of COVID-19 protocols.

Asked why the victim, his best friend, hadn’t reported the incidents to law enforcement or others and Santineau’s answer was blunt; “He didn’t think anything would be done about it especially since he was dating the assailant- and he wasn’t going to be believed.”

Steven Santineau and his wife Melinda, Ferris’ parents, are frustrated and angered by the high school administrators attitudes. Steven Santineau told the Blade that he and his wife had gone to the school Friday to support his son’s rally and to be there in solidarity with the students and the victim who they also know.

“I spoke to the principal who basically said that I was lucky that the school was communicating with me. He literally implied that the only people the school would be dealing with was the victim and his parents- it was a ‘ we don’t need to deal with you mind your business,’ attitude,” Steven Santineau said. He indicated that the school was also blaming his son for creating a firestorm on social media when according to the school, “as a result of the ‘interview’ the school claimed that only Ferris was knowledgeable of the assaults.” The Santineaus say that is untrue.

What stood out to both he and his wife were the number of students at the rally who spoke out on the subject of sexual assaults. “It was disturbing how many kids came forward to say that they too had been the victims of sexual harassment or assault and the school took no action,” Melinda Santineau said.

In the case of the first victim, according to Ferris Santineau, nearly half the of sexual assaults took place on campus with the remainder off-campus. His father noted that the school claimed to him that it had reviewed three years of video surveillance footage from school property in a single day prior to Friday’s rally.

Ferris Santineau indicated that because the alleged perpetrator was still attending Armstrong, he and the others want him expelled and a proper investigation conducted. His father told the Blade that principal said that the victim needed to file a police report and the school would then take appropriate action.

“I want my friend to feel safe,” Santineau told the Blade “I want the school to actually do something when somebody comes to them, because during the protest I asked ‘How many people felt like they weren’t being heard?’ many more hands came up. ‘how many people were sexually assaulted?’ too many hands came up. ‘How many people were silenced?’ and like that.”

His parents want a greater sense of accountability but are frustrated with the lack of proactive action on the part of staff. The school notified parents via text and emails about the situation after the rally not prior Steven Santineau said and provided the Blade with a screenshot. He added another screenshot with student comments taken after the text was posted to social media accounts.

Calls to the Robbinsdale Area Schools, the district for Armstrong High by the Blade were not returned, however, in a statement to local NBC affiliate KARE 11 in Minneapolis, Armstrong administrators say they are investigating the alleged sexual assault between two students while students demand expulsion.

KARE also reported that on September 16, a letter was sent to inquiring parents that detailed the initial investigation.

“We have been in contact with the family and shared options with them, including the option to file a police report,” the letter stated, in part.

In the meanwhile the Santineau family is upset at the seemingly cavalier manner the school is handling the situation and angered at the treatment their son has received.

Video from KARE NBC 11 Minneapolis: Hundreds of students walk out of Armstrong High School to protest sexual assault allegations:

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California Politics

Rep. Karen Bass to enter Los Angeles mayoral race

Bass has been working to dismantle systemic racism, as well as other forms of social, racial and economic injustice, for decades

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Rep. Karen Bass, (D-37) (Photo Credit: Blade file photo by Karen Ocamb)

LOS ANGELES – In a breaking story published Friday morning, the Los Angeles Times reported that Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass, who represents California’s 37th congressional district, which covers several areas south and west of downtown LA will enter the mayor’s race.

U.S. Rep Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) intends to run for Los Angeles mayor, according to three people familiar with her plans. Such a move would shake up a contest that, until this past week, which saw the field of candidates increase, had been a fairly sleepy affair. Bass, a high-profile Democrat who has served in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C., could announce her entry into the mayor’s race as early as next week, those sources told The Times.

Bass has been working to dismantle systemic racism, as well as other forms of social, racial and economic injustice, for decades. She is a community activist who was raised on civil rights activism in LA’s Jewish Venice-Fairfax district, volunteered for Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign in middle school, graduated from Hamilton High School in West LA in 1971, studied philosophy at San Diego University but switched her attention to healthcare, graduating from USC’s Keck School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program. She subsequently received her BA in health sciences from Cal State/Dominguez Hills and her Masters in Social Work from USC.

Bass focused that training on fighting the crack epidemic in South LA, where she founded the Community Coalition to fight for substance abuse prevention programs and better foster care and relative caregivers, like grandmothers.

She also fought the AIDS epidemic — all experience directly applicable to dealing with the ongoing Opioid crisis, as well as COVID-19.

“I went through the AIDS crisis from its very beginning. I watched all of Santa Monica Boulevard get wiped out near Vermont (Ave.). That whole area there. I watched everybody die within a matter of two years,” Bass told the Los Angeles Blade. “But I think that this [COVID-19 crisis] is really hard because you don’t have to have any physical contact….People are building the plane while it’s flying.”

Torie Osborn, the executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in 1989, met Bass at a meeting of progressive grassroots activists in a South LA church basement.

“This woman I didn’t know came up, introduced herself as Karen Bass from South LA, an anti-police violence activist and a physician assistant,” Osborn says. The two talked all day with Bass noting that the gay community’s experience of AIDS deaths was similar to what the Black community was experiencing during the crack epidemic.

“I had never heard anything like this before. She knew gay men. She clearly was an ally,” Osborn says.

Last summer the Biden campaign vetted Bass as a potential candidate for the number two spot on the Democratic ticket in the race for the White House, which ultimately ended up with then California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris as Biden’s choice.

“Los Angeles is facing a humanitarian crisis in homelessness and a public health crisis in the disproportionate impact this pandemic has had on Angelenos,” Bass spokesman Zach Seidl said in a statement, when asked for comment by the Times. “She does not want to see these two issues tear the city apart. Los Angeles has to come together. That’s why the Congresswoman is considering a run for mayor.”

Earlier this past week, another LGBTQ ally, Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León, a Democrat, announced his intention to seek the mayor’s chair after current Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was elected for a four-year term in 2013 and again in 2017- who’s limited to serving no more than two terms- was picked by President Joe Biden to serve as the U.S. ambassador to India on July 9, 2021.

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En Espanol

Activistas LGBTQ en Chile quieren llegar al Congreso

Se realizarán las elecciones el 21 de noviembre

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(Foto de cortesía)

SANTIAGO DE CHILE — El miércoles comenzó legalmente en Chile el periodo de campaña electoral que permite a los candidatos pedir el voto y difundir sus propuestas ya que el 21 de noviembre los chilenos deberán volver a las urnas para elegir a presidente, congresistas y consejeros regionales. 

Todo esto en medio de un año cargado de elecciones en ese país latinoamericano que atraviesa el proceso de transición política más importante en los últimos 30 años, donde hasta hay al menos 10 candidaturas LGBTQ en carrera. 

Los resultados de aquella elección vendrán acompañar el trabajo que viene realizando la Convención Constitucional, un órgano encargado de redactar la nueva Constitución y que en aquellas elecciones apuntó un triunfo histórico al elegir a nueve constituyentes abiertamente LGBTQ. 

Una victoria que activistas queer quieren llevar a los comicios de noviembre levantado sus propias candidaturas. Algunas de ellas, ya postularon en las pasadas elecciones y vienen por la revancha, pero está vez con la intención de llegar al Congreso y desde ahí contribuir a mejorar la calidad de vida de la población LGBTQ. 

Hasta ahora, ningún candidato fuera del closet ha sido electo.

“Sería fantástico que una persona de la diversidad sexual y género, llegará al Congreso en estas elecciones. Creemos que la presencia de alguien que sea parte de la comunidad y que tenga un vínculo más directo con los movimientos sociales, en particular con los que tienen que ver con diversidad sexual y de género nos podría ayudar muchísimo a instalar las necesidades”, mencionó al respecto la directora ejecutiva de Fundación Iguales, Isabel Amor. 

Actualmente Isabel Amor lidera Fundación Iguales, la organización LGBTQ aliada de Human Rights Campaign en Chile. (Foto de cortesía)

Para ella “es fundamental que, eventualmente, lleguemos al Congreso. Esto tiene que pasar ojalá lo más pronto posible, porque a nivel simbólico saber que una persona está en un lugar de poder para las personas de la diversidad sexual y de género, es algo tremendamente significativo después de décadas, décadas y décadas de que nos digan que no podemos estar en los lugares donde se toman las decisiones de nuestro país. Sería fantástico que alguien que es lesbiana, gay, bisexual o trans sea parte de este espacio”.

Según el Servicio Nacional de Elecciones (Servel) 15.030.963 de personas están habilitadas para participar del proceso: 14.959.945 electores en Chile y 71.018 en el extranjero.

Erika Montencinos (IND), una histórica activista lesbofeminista que postuló para ser diputada por el distrito 9, en la Región Metropolitana, dijo al Washington Blade que “decidí llevar adelante esta candidatura porque creo que es una oportunidad histórica para mis comunidades. Siento que nosotros necesitamos estar en estos espacios de poder y, como dice mi eslogan avanzar con nuestras propias voces”.

Para la activista Erika Montecinos el Congreso es un espacio para reivindicar los derechos de las mujeres, sobre todo de las que están fuera de la heteronorma. (Foto de Carolina Vargas)

“Llevo muchos años de trabajo con mi agrupación. La Agrupación Lésbica, Rompiendo el Silencio y para mí dar este paso es entrar a otro mundo. Pero sin embargo lo llevo con mucha alegría y teniendo muy claro que estoy representando a a mis compañeras y a tantas otras compañeras, que hemos sufrido la discriminación. Por eso es tan importante llegar a esos espacios de poder” comentó Montencinos sobre las razones de inscribir su candidatura. 

Constanza Valdés (Comunes), una conocida activista trans que lleva años trabajando como asesora legislativa competirá por el distrito 7 en la Región de Valparaíso. “Esta candidatura, la decidimos levantar a raíz del trabajo que venimos realizando hace años las organizaciones sociales en el mundo del activismo y especialmente por lo que significa también la representatividad de las personas trans”. 

La abogada Constanza Valdés fue una activista clave en la aprobación de la Ley de Identidad de Género y en otras iniciativas que han beneficiado a las personas trans. (Foto de cortesía)

“Representar un nuevo liderazgo y nuevas voces. Lo que significa una renovación de la política, un Congreso mucho más representativo, un Congreso que se asemeje a la realidad de las personas trans que existimos, las mujeres trans existimos y estamos en la política y pasamos por distintas etapas y vivencias que no son relatos que tienen que solamente deben contener los libros o los medios de comunicación, sino que con discursos políticos”, afirmó Valdés al Blade. 

Mientras que Rodrigo Mallea (Comunes),  activista no binario también buscará, al igual que Montencinos, conseguir un escaño por el distrito 9. 

“La verdad es que desde el estallido social y las revueltas que se concretó un gran cambio en la política y, además con el proceso constituyente se empezó a consolidar que este cambio era posible traducirlo en cambios materiales; reales y sustantivos para la gente”, relató al Blade. 

En los últimos meses Rodrigo Mallea ha instaurado y dado a conocer en el debate público la realidad de las personas no binarias. (Foto de cortesía)

“La posibilidad de vivir mejor, de conseguir un buen vivir y para que los derechos sociales no sean solamente cuestiones que están consagradas en el papel, sino nuestra realidad cotidiana”, explicó Mallea. 

“Por eso es que pienso que en el Congreso tiene que haber un cambio también, tiene que haber representación LGBT+ que hoy día es bastante escasa en todos los ámbitos de la vida privada y pública”, alertó Mallea en medio de los preparativos de su campaña electoral. 

María Jose Cumplido (PL), una reconocida escritora feminista y públicamente lesbiana competirá por el distrito 10. “Decidí asumir esta candidatura a diputada porque sentí que la política requiere, obviamente, renovación y no nos basta con pedirlo desde afuera. Pienso que para construir, en especial en este momento tan importante, tenemos que sumarnos colectivamente para trabajar por Chile”, sostuvo al Blade. 

“La plena igualdad LGBTQ y finalmente, la mejora sustancial en todos los aspectos de la vida desde la prevención de la discriminación a la representación y la posibilidad de que tengamos como un principio rector también el libre desarrollo de la personalidad, es decir, que cualquier persona tenga la orientación sexual que tenga, la expresión de género que tenga, pertenezca al pueblo que sea; tiene que tener la libertad de elegir su proyecto de vida y tiene que estar a un lado el Estado que permita el desarrollo en paz de ese proyecto de vida”, argumentó Cumplido.

La historiadora Maria Jose Cumplido aboga por entregar mayores libertades individuales a la población LGBTQ desde el Congreso. (Foto de Cortesía)

Finalmente agregó que “el futuro tiene que ser diverso. Tienen que estar todos los puntos de vista representados y por eso esta candidatura es muy importante para darle no solo visibilidad a la comunidad LGBTQ, sino también que las leyes integralmente también consideren a todas las personas que históricamente han sido excluidas”.

En el último año los casos de discriminación aumentarón un 14,7 por ciento en Chile, según el XIX Informe Anual de Derechos Humanos de la Diversidad Sexual y de Género, denominado como “El año de la resilencia LGBTQ”, a causa de que los atropellos sumaron 1.266, la cifra más alta conocida hasta ahora y que mantiene al alza una explosiva ola de ataques a LGBTQ que viene ocurriendo desde el 2018. 

Resiliencia, arrojó la investigación, porque en uno de los escenarios y contextos  más adversos para su calidad de vida, la población LGBTQ gestionó sus propios recursos y capacidades para ir en ayuda de los más vulnerables, reaccionar frente a las injusticias y mantener en alto la lucha por la plena igualdad social y legal.

Sumándose a esto los abusos, los compromisos incumplidos por parte de las autoridades, la carencia de condena pública estatal frente a los delitos de odio y la ausencia de una política focalizada para combatir los efectos de la Covid-19.

“Tenemos que seguir en con los brazos arriba, luchando para que esos cambios sean concretados y que sean cambios transformadores y profundos para la vida no solamente de la generación actual, sino los cambios para las futuras generaciones”, concluyó Mallea. 

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