Combating Homophobia in Bolivia

Published: May 15, 2012

Luis Melgarejo is a passionate and dedicated human rights activist. A Community Solutions leader from Bolivia, Melgarejo channels his energy into fighting for equal rights and combating the homophobia that resonates throughout his country. Today, May 17, 2012 – The International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia (IDAHO) , IREX recognizes Luis Melgarejo for the important work he is doing for his community and communities worldwide on this issue.
As a member of the a Bolivian umbrella organization that advocates on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, Melgarejo is a force in the Cochabamba region of Bolivia, fighting to change the country’s constitutional definition of marriage (currently a union between a man and woman). Melgarejo’s work contributes significantly to the national discourse centered around same-sex marriages. Last month, for example, he helped organize Bolivia’s first national conference on the legalization of same-sex unions. This and other events have helped grab the attention of certain political party members and have contributed to the increasing pressure put on the Bolivian government to support universal rights for the LGBT community.
This work is no small feat in one of South America’s poorest and most conservative countries. Initially lauded by the international community and supporters at home for its progress made in legislatively recognizing the LGBT community in a 2009 constitutional referendum, the Bolivian government has since stalled in its support of LGBT rights. Acts of homophobia persist, including a denial of rights otherwise afforded to married individuals; a strong stigma that discourages gay individuals from publicly identifying their sexual orientations; discrimination when renting a home or opening a business; and the lack of specialized medical care.  One of the most egregious examples of intolerance and homophobia was the bizarre, homophobic comments from the Bolivian president.

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