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The fight for civil rights: Homosexuality and the Dominican Republic
Though homosexuality is, to a certain degree, equated with femininity this is not set in stone. There are homosexuals who, because of the ‘persecution’ they face, blend in perfectly into the mold of the ‘typical’ Dominican male, therefore making it impossible to tell them apart. They dress, act, speak, and for all intensive purposes look like “normal” Dominican males. They live their lives on the “down low,” at times even delving into married life as a way of concealing their alternative lifestyles.

Regardless of the changing sentiments around Latin America it is still a social taboo to be homosexual, or to even have friends who are involved in perceived homosexual activities. The latter act can bring the unwanted perception that an individual is gay, and this could be extremely damaging. The perception of homosexuality breaks down the image of the strong “caudillo” male that most Dominican males strive for. Even the description of a homosexual in daily communication implies a certain discomfort with the idea. Homosexuals are often referred to as “un gay,” a somewhat pejorative term that almost gives gays a child like designation, as to imply not only are they not men, but they are almost like children. In essence the term affirms that they (homosexuals) can’t harm “our ways.” Other terms like ‘maricon,’ ‘pajaro,’ ‘mujercita,’ or ‘amanerado,’ amongst others, display a certain disdain for homosexual culture, and equate gays with women. This too highlights a problematic situation, as homosexuality, femininity, or submissive behaviors are then intrinsically connected through vocabulary that denotes negativity and second class status. The array of words separates homosexuals as ultimately different, and encloses them in distinctive social categories that separate them from society at large.

In some extreme instances a child who is openly gay can run the risk of being ostracized from the family for the supposed shame that homosexuality brings. Coming out of the closet isn’t common in Dominican culture, and many choose to keep their alternative lifestyles a secret, rather than exposing themselves to the discrimination of coming out. Salsa singer Willie Colon captured this in his classic hit, “El Gran Varon,” in which he tells the story of ‘Simon’ who is disowned by his father, Don Andres, after he finds out Simon is a transvestite. This song resonates because not even the love of a father for his son could allow him to understand why the young man would do that to him. To be homosexual, in some ways, reflects a betrayal of a father and the family, and the act is viewed as one of disloyalty. Though texts discussing this issue in the Dominican context are hard to find, similar examples can be found in other Latin American countries that yield a perspective with which to understand the perceptions on the island. In Colombia, “male youths routinely use the epithets maricas (queers) when referring to other youths who have demonstrated a lack of lealtad (loyalty). To betray the group constitutes the worst crime and a youth who was accused of being a traitor was labeled a ‘marica,’ not for his sexual practices but because of his disloyalty”. In Latin America to be gay is then connected to most negative of social acts, and this places a further value on the fact that being homosexual is bad; something a man doesn’t do. And in places as far away as Mexico we see how the negativity of homosexuality is attached to “incurable social ills,” through popular vernacular.

Though the many tourist resorts scattered across the island, and the emergence of the Club/Dance scene, have provided a venue for same sex couples to enjoy themselves publicly, homosexuality is a sensitive subject that is rarely spoken about. Whether it is fear, confusion, or misinformation, views towards homosexuality are slowly changing, but it will take time and education to change those very strong views. There are signs of change though. Public debate on the topic has grown exponentially in recent years, and though this shouldn’t imply a reversal of previously held opinions, it is the mere fact that the conversation is taking place, along side other public discussions, that shows that there is change to come. The open conversation provides a window of opportunity for the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) community to express their opinions in support of their cause, which is all they can ask for. Considering that only 15 years ago the thought of this conversation was almost non existent, to have the topic reach public forums is a step forward.

Homosexuality is not illegal in the Dominican Republic, and terms referring to the disintegration of the moral good have been removed from legal documents, but protection for those in the GLBT community is still basically non-existent. The lack of rights and legal protection can lead one to believe that they are a separate, but not equal part of society. Requests for permission to march and assemble as a group have been denied, and the public outcry over homosexuality, and its believed corruption and endangerment of the youth, is still a hot button issue. Although there are no accurate figures for the percentage of the population who classifies itself as gay, or other, it will ultimately be the emergence of a voice from the GLBT community that can give the conversation validity and remove it from its place as a cultural taboo. This precedent will only help guarantee the protection of all marginalized groups, as it sets the legal example of guaranteeing the equality of civil rights to all Dominicans, regardless of race, class, or any other social identifier, as promised by the constitution. Though not an easy task, the importance of providing a structure, and a voice, that recognizes and protects the rights of those leading an alternative lifestyle is a societal necessity that can easiest be achieved by making the topic accessible and not one feared. Creating the atmosphere where the discussion can take place without the fear of being ostracized, negative societal inferences, or negative repercussions is the step from removing the topic from a culturally unmentionable taboo.
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