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The fight for civil rights: Homosexuality and the Dominican Republic
For many years considered taboo in Latin America, homosexuality has recently become a prevalent topic of conversation in the Dominican Republic. In the Dominican Republic there are certain defined roles that men and women play and though strides have been made in the rest of Latin America to combat homophobia, it is still a staple of the Dominican identity to not understand, or even fear those who aren’t “men:” homosexuals. The most prominent, and feared, form of homosexuality is male homosexuality. Lesbianism is just as much of a taboo, but for a variety of reasons, is less feared. Lesbianism here, like in the United States, is viewed by many as less threatening, and by many men, as a sexual fantasy they would like to play out.

Driving the homophobic feelings on the island is the conservative background of the Dominican society, and the machismo driven rhetoric of the male population. Structuring the conservative mindset of Dominican culture is the strong presence of the Catholic Church. For many years a key figure in politics, society, and culture, the Church has played a hand in creating the conservative atmosphere that is subtly opposed to homosexuality, in any form, on the island. This is held evident in recent comments by the Cardinal of Santo Domingo, Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez. The Cardinal affirmed in comments that the Church does not discriminate against homosexuals, but that they do not belong in seminaries. He stated that “we must have a healthy, intelligent, and manly clergy that is neither effeminate nor womanly,” but that “homosexuality is a disorder that can be corrected and managed.” Finally, the Cardinal emphasized the need to train "serious men with all of the attributes that God has given them so that they may exercise their ministry with dignity." The Cardinal’s comments clearly verbalize the sentiments of many Dominicans on the island. Whether the comments are correct is not the core issue at hand, but the comments highlight the underlying issue of homophobia. The words of Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez express the subtle attitudes of Dominicans towards homosexuality, and ultimately provide a window of opportunity into understanding the current view point on the issue. The Cardinal’s opinion is a light one by example, and his assertion that homosexuality is a disease, that can be cured, can be seen a symbol of the misinformation that many Dominicans are raised with, and ultimately believe in.

There are no varying degrees of homosexuality, though in certain circles within Latin America to be homosexual, and partaking in homosexual acts, are mutually exclusive. In the Dominican Republic a male who has sex with another male, supposedly maintains his masculinity if he is the one penetrating, and not being penetrated. This is because to be the “penetrator” implies a construction of power, and the man who is penetrating is in control, therefore still a man. Even in the jail cultures this is evident, as those who perform oral sex are ‘gay,’ while those who receive it are “straight.” The simple point of being considered a man, even after partaking in a perceived homosexual act, is an insight that cannot be overlooked. The importance of this fact can be tied into the machismo rhetoric that is played out daily in the lives of men and women across the island. According to machismo attitudes, a man is strong, courageous, and brave. He is always in control, never ‘bowing’ to anyone, while in turn the female is an inferior, non-controlling being. She is somewhat of a non-valued, submissive object whose sole purpose is to clean the house, or bear children. Even in sex, the woman is expected to be submissive, and in marital relations a male feels it is his right to seek out extra-marital affairs, while the women are forbidden these same ‘privileges.’ Through the male/female dichotomy in the Dominican Republic we can juxtapose the male/male dichotomy of the “penetrator,” who is still a man because he is “penetrating,” he is still in control. He is the man because in the sexual act he plays the role of the man; he is neither controlled nor submissive, as women typically are. His partner is inevitably labeled to play the role of the ‘submissive,’ so ultimately he is the homosexual for engaging in that role. We must note here the subtlety that equates homosexuality and femininity. Consequently, though the act is of a homosexual nature, the power structure attributed to the act creates a justification for the classification of gay/not gay. These men, though they never reveal their identities, are known as a “bugarron.” In the Dominican Republic these dichotomies in the end don’t mean much, as both men who partake in any form of homosexual activities, or even have the appearance of an effeminate male, are ostracized or considered gay by the society at large. Men who behave in an effeminate manner, or who are suspected of playing the passive role in same-sex intercourse, bear the brunt of social stigma because in doing so they ceded their claims to manly status.
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