The wrong sort of dress--any dress at all, in fact--could get a guy arrested in Tecate, Mexico, a quiet border town that suddenly finds itself on the front line of a battle over gay rights. Scheduled to go into effect in mid November, a new town ordinance states that cross-dressing men could be arrested and fined. The ordinance doesn't mention women. Officials said the offense does not carry a prison term, though in practice it could mean putting people in jail at least overnight. "The majority of votes for this was to avoid AIDS--and prostitution, if possible," Tecate councilman Cosme Cazares said. "That's why we're focusing on men who dress like women. This is for health reasons. It's not to bother these boys." Approved last week by the city council, the ordinance has drawn a storm of criticism on both sides of the border.
"I can't even go outside now," said Vladimer Garcia, also known as Saidi, a 23-year-old transgendered woman who owns a beauty salon in Tecate. "I leave work at 8 p.m., and I have to grab a cab because instead of protecting myself against muggers, I now have to protect myself against the police."
The measure is part of a "good conduct" code being taken up by the five municipalities in the Pacific coast state of Baja California, which borders California. Tecate was the first to enact it. In Tijuana, council members promised this week not to enact the ordinance--after transvestites threatened to publicly reveal the names of officials who have solicited homosexual prostitutes. The state's other three municipalities have not taken up the ordinance yet.