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Meet the Married Gay Activist Who'll Talk to Pope Francis

Meet the Married Gay Activist Who'll Talk to Pope Francis


Simon Cazal of Paraguay will be the first married gay activist to have a public meeting with the pope -- and he's being hopeful but realistic about what may come of it.

The Paraguayan gay activist who will meet with Pope Francis next month was surprised and encouraged by his invitation to the gathering, although he recognizes there are limits to how much the Catholic Church is likely to evolve on LGBT issues.

"I think the movement has to celebrate this moment, despite the ongoing debate whether the church is really undergoing a profound change," Simon Cazal told Fusion in an interview published today. He will be among a group of Paraguayan civil society leaders meeting with the pope July 11 in Asuncion, Paraguay's capital city. It will mark Pope Francis's first meeting with a married gay activist in a public forum.

Cazal, executive director of LGBT group SomosGay, was invited to the meeting by the Paraguayan Catholic bishops' conference, which cited his group's impact on society. He married fellow SomosGay activist Sergio Lopez in Argentina in 2012, but their marriage is not recognized in Paraguay, which has few civil rights protections for LGBT people.

"The social climate is a big challenge for a movement like ours," Cazal told Fusion. Some of the country's leaders still cling to the mindset of the dictatorship of Gen. Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled Paraguay from 1945 to 1989. LGBT people suffered routine persecution under his regime; in one particularly infamous instance, in 1959, 108 men suspected of being gay were arrested and tortured. Today, "108" is still used as an antigay slur in the nation, Fusion notes.

Cazal sees reason for hope in the attitudes of Paraguay's youth. "Young people in Paraguay today didn't grow up under the military dictatorship, so they have a different perspective on the world," he said.

Still, much needs to change in the nation, he said. When meeting with Pope Francis, he plans to bring up antigay violence, such as the police's brutal treatment of LGBT protesters gathered outside the Organization of American States' annual meeting last year.

At least one other Paraguayan LGBT group turned down an invitation to meet with the pope. "There is a lot of marketing around the pope," Rosa Posa, head of lesbian rights group Aireana, told local media. "If they think he's going to listen, well, good luck."

Cazal, however, is happy to have the meeting, although not expecting major doctrinal changes from the pope. "I see a lot of contradictions in his public messages," he told Fusion. "But we have to live with those contradictions, and realize there are still limits at the Vatican."

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