Many Bogota residents said it was a disgrace: secondary school pupils singing their way out of the closet to announce their lesbian identities, gays dressed as soldiers and bishops on carnival floats and drag queens provoking onlookers: all this and more at the Gay Pride Parade 2005 that floated its way through the centre of the Colombian capital on 3 July, wiping the floor with Catholic morals and the culture of machismo prevalent throughout this very violent country.
Although the constitutional amendment passed in 1991 guarantees equality before the law for all Colombians regardless of their sexual orientation, Colombian society has proved more resistant to change. An opinion poll carried out in 2003 revealed that one-third of those questioned said they would not want to have a gay neighbour, and it is normal to hear parents say that they would rather their son was a contract killer than a ‘queer’.
Despite this, homosexuality is becoming more acceptable in Colombia and other countries. The popular leading character in a new soap series is proud to be a transvestite in real life too, and earlier this year a novel depicting gay love between two fighters in Colombia’s internal war won a prestigious literary prize. ‘Homosexuality is often associated with a materialistic urban culture but we have to realise that there are gay and lesbian farmers, Indians, guerrilla fighters and soldiers too,’ says Marcela Sanchez, director of the national organisation for gays Colombia Diversa.
It’s unlikely, however, that the commander of the Colombian army sees things quite this way. After all, when the national ombudsman announced that he wanted to submit a Bill to parliament that would set a minimum 1% quota for gays in the army, commander-in-chief Ospina indignantly rubbished his proposal. However, he could find himself in a minority in a few years’ time, as homosexuality is now accepted outside the worlds of literature and television too.
More and more people are declaring their sexual orientation, including some prominent names such as Virgilio Barco, who is an active member of Colombia Diversa and the son of a former president. Nine years ago, Colombia’s first Gay Pride parade attracted just 32 participants, but this year it was 3,000-4,000. Sanchez: ‘We are extremely pleased that we were joined both by so many representatives of the gay community and by people who irrespective of their sexual orientation are proponents of a more democratic and more liberal Colombia.’