Peru gay rights activists push for more rights in law

Crissthian Olivera Crissthian Olivera sued a supermarket for discrimination

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On 12 February 2011, the Peruvian police beat a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who were kissing in the capital's main square to protest against discrimination.

A year later, Lima's gay movement is renaming the anniversary as Peru's Stonewall, in reference to the riots in New York in 1969 which gave rise to the global gay rights movement.

But much remains to be done for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual] people in Peru.

For more than seven years, Crissthian Olivera has been trying to get justice for what he says was discrimination because of his sexual orientation.

It was August 2004, and he and his then partner were sitting at a cafe inside a supermarket in the Peruvian capital.

"We were looking at each other in a romantic way," he recalls.

"We weren't kissing or hugging.

"But a member of staff came over and told us that we had to change our behaviour."

The staff told them they had to sit facing each other, and refrain from showing affection there because there were children and families around.

"From being customers at the establishment," he says, "we were suddenly treated almost like criminals, basically because of our sexual orientation.

"They don't speak like this to heterosexual couples."

Mr Olivera sued the supermarket for discrimination. But his case was dismissed by the courts.

MHOL website announcing  12 February protest: For LGBT dignity, Kisses against Homophobia The campaign group MHOL plans a protest: Kisses against homophobia

"His case is common," says Giovanny Romero, the president of MHOL, the Homosexual Movement of Lima.

"In Peru, democracy is neither democratic nor inclusive. There are people like us who live in the margins of the margins of society.

"We are liberal only in economic terms. But as far as human rights, we still live in the Middle Ages."

'No complaints'

Carlos Chipoco, a lawyer at the Commission for Justice and Human Rights in the Peruvian Congress, says gay people need to speak up more to protect their rights.

"Every day, we receive complaints about violations of human rights," he says, "but nothing from the gay community.

"They should try to push for constitutional actions that protect their rights.

"But it's not just about having laws. Many of our laws are not respected.

"What we need are movements that demand that judges apply sanctions to those who don't respect our laws."

Carlos Chipoco Human rights lawyer Carlos Chipoco says the gay community should push for constitutional actions to protect their rights

Giovanny Romero rejects such criticism. MHOL, he says, has brought a legal action against a clinic that forbade one of its members from donating blood.

He adds that the movement, as well as other organisations, has long pushed for recognition of LGBT rights in the courts and through better legislation.

The need for more protection of this minority group is hard to ignore.

According to an investigation by MHOL, one person is killed each week in Peru because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yet, confronted with such homophobia - which Carlos Chipoco himself recognises is widespread - the Peruvian Congress has yet to debate proposed legislation that would severely sanction all hate crimes.

"It would be the first step of a country that begins to value our lives," says Mr Romero.

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We need to change our society and culture - and to erase all those prejudices about homosexuality”

End Quote Crissthian Olivera Gay man

"It's about protecting the right of people to live, and sanction in an exemplary way all hate crimes."

Mr Chipoco agrees that the law is needed, but he says that consensus is hard to reach among politicians.

"There are many who are very conservative and have a religious belief that homosexuality is a sin," he says.

"But we will probably present the draft legislation again, and let's hope it can advance."

'Keep fighting'

Mr Olivera believes achieving better rights in Peru will be difficult.

He recounts the story of Jefry Pena, a transsexual woman who in 2007 was brutally beaten by a group of men, after the police refused to help her when she was being chased by her attackers.

Such hate crimes are not particular to Peru, but the country lags behind some others in the region on LGBT rights.

Argentina recognises gay marriage and adoptions; Colombia has progressive public awareness campaigns; and "Brazil Without Homophobia" has been a government initiative there for years.

Nevertheless, Mr Olivera remains optimistic, and wants his case to be heard at the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

"We need to change our society and culture," he says, "and to erase all those prejudices about homosexuality.

"Our rights will not magically fall from the sky. That's why we need to keep on fighting."

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