"Mommy, the gays are coming, the gays are coming!"
Over the din of thumping techno music, thousands of Colombian families and children filled the sidewalks of Carrera Séptima in Bogotá on Sunday -- cheering and waiting for their chance to pose with the drag queens -- as tens of thousands of LGBT Colombians flooded the streets for the city's annual gay pride march. Event organizers and attendees described the march as the biggest in the country's history. With good reason: So far 2009 has left the LGBT community with plenty to celebrate.
Last January, in a country known for its strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church and a federal government with a rather severe right-wing bent, Colombia's constitutional court issued a ruling that guaranteed same-sex couples virtually all of the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts -- the first country in Latin America to offer such extensive federal protections to LGBT couples. Though the ruling didn't alter Colombia's definition of marriage, all couples in Colombia now have the same rights: pensions for the partners of military members, hospital visitation -- even alimony payments for long-term couples who separate.
Just three months after the court's ruling, and only days before the march, the Associated Press reported that Colombia's national police chief, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, issued a directive calling for the protection of LGBT rights in law enforcement across Colombia. Gay rights leaders in Colombia hailed the announcement, noting that police were known to raid gay clubs and detain LGBT citizens without cause. The directive called for the creation of a police liaison to the gay community in each of Colombia's 32 states.
Still, the march toward equality in Colombia still has a long way to go.
Several in attendance at the march said that despite the recent progress, Colombia is still a scary place to be gay.
"This is the only time of the year you'll see people out like this," said march attendee and gay rights activist Santiago Martinez. "The other 364 days, it is very rare to see gay couples in the streets, holding hands."
Colombia Diversa, one of the country's leading gay rights organizations, reports on its website that between in 2006 and 2007 there were 67 hate-crime homicides of LGBT people in Colombia. The group says these murders were "not isolated incidents."
In May the gay radio station Radio Diversia was forced to suspend its programming after a three-week bombardment of death threats to program director Carlos Serrano and other journalists.
But death threats or no, Radio Diversia was back on the air at the march, and Serrano, despite being targeted, was seen mingling with the crowd alongside his crew.
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