Paez, A Gay Ecuadorian Activist In New York
By Franco Galecio
From Ecuador News
December 27, 2002 January 2, 2003
Fausto Paez is the acting administrative assistant
for immigration and legal affairs at the Gay Mens Health Crisis,
located on the seventh floor of the building at 24th
Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, where he also works for
Latitud Cero [Zero Latitude], a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgender Ecuadorians. He belongs to the board of directors
of Queens Pride House, and is a volunteer for many other groups.
Many institutions dedicated to health, education and human rights
have given him awards, and he has been a speaker at seminars and
conferences around the United States and in Ecuador, where he frequently
travels to help different organizations.
He proudly says that he is a gay Ecuadorian
who fights for equality and respect for sexual diversity. He says
that despite the fact that the Ecuadorian constitution supports
freedom of sexual orientation, police are not respecting human rights
and are finding new ways to target homosexuals. Already a little
disenchanted, he spoke to our newspaper to make declarations. According
to him, because he is gay, people worry about what he might say.
He still feels rejection from the heterosexual community.
I went, with curiosity above all, to his office.
It was situated in an elegant building where I walked through different
offices, and learned that the patients are called "clients,"
because after all this isnt a hospital. The clients are able
to use, for free, computers, internet, a library, different art
studios and a hair salon and cafeteria attended by volunteers. The
legal department is perhaps the largest of the complex, and there
they work on everything concerning laws that may affect their clients,
like housing, conflicts with landlords, life insurance, asylums
(including asylum for homosexual Ecuadorians who flee their country),
and consultations and medicine.
Fausto, can you tell me about the movement
Latitud Cero [Zero Latitude]?
It is the Ecuadorian gay, lesbian, bisexual
and transgender movement, with headquarters in New York. Its principal
mission is to integrate all of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
Ecuadorians that for one reason or another left the country, so
that we can maintain our social, political and cultural roots. We
have now been around for five years and have worked on education,
leadership and legal issues, prevention of both human rights abuses
This year we registered as a non-profit organization
so that we could keep working in the most effective way possible.
In these five years we have created solid bases, broken stereotypes
and left behind the idiosyncrasies that so many Ecuadorians have,
while helping the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community
to understand the true concepts of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality
Do you get involved in the problems that
happen in Ecuador?
Yes, we have created a bridge between groups
and organizations, with ones that work on HIV-AIDS and with gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender movements in the areas of human
rights, helping them with information and other materials. We believe
that this work cannot be done in isolation, the struggle is a unified
one and for those of us who live in this country it is much easier
for us to use certain resources so that our community can advance
in all of its aspects. One example is the work that was done in
1997 with the decriminalization of homosexuality, and the inclusion
of sexual orientation into article 23 line 3 of our constitution,
making Ecuador the third country in the world to accept freedom
of sexual orientation as law.
Does this mean that gay Ecuadorians now dont
have problems because of their sexual orientation?
No, of course not. Many problems still exist,
because we need to keep educating people. The achievements of 1997
and 1998 meant an arduous fight and the work continues. Five years
after this historic accomplishment there still doesnt seem
to be a massive participation on the part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual
and transgender community, besides the constant work by different
What is written in the constitution is not being
followed. Many people continue to be in the closet, there are violations
of fundamental human rights, article 23 of the constitution has
not been applied as it should be because the government has not
established concrete sanctions for people who discriminate against
a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender citizen.
The police misuse their power, they blackmail
people in exchange for not telling others that they are gay. Television
and radio programs and the written press do not adequately cover
news about what is happening with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender community, there has to be some scandal. We are just
like everyone else, with the same professions. This is one of the
reasons, also there is a constant change among the authorities,
every time they put a new person in power the process goes back
Does this mean that in Ecuador gay people
are rejected and humiliated?
Yes, this is evident and in that sense, international
support by human rights groups has been decisive.
As a leader, have you had problems in Ecuador?
Not now, before I did. The fact is, I am out
of the closet but I dont follow the stereotype of what many
see as homosexual I am not effeminate, I dont wear
makeup and I dont work as a hairdresser, cook, or stylist.
It is enough to not "look gay" so that people dont
make fun of you, but this should change. People dont understand
that we are just like everyone else, that we are human beings and
that our sexual preference is part of our identity.
Besides the lack of cooperation and abuse by
authorities, there is a lack of internal consensus. In the case
of someone who is gay and isnt physically pressured or tortured,
there is an invisible abuse that goes on in schools, workplaces
and even inside the home, but people dont talk about it. Many
worry about being discovered.
And here, have you felt discrimination?
Yes, in my previous job I was fired after I
came out of the closet. I have had problems with my family and even
now I dont communicate with some of them. But coming out was
something I had to do. With Ecuadorian institutions here, they have
been reluctant to accept us, the consulate has not helped us. Among
everyone, the group that has been most rejected are transgender
You work for the Gay Mens Health Crisis,
in the legal department. Have you helped Ecuadorians with their
Asylum is one way for immigrants to stay in
the United States, and various Ecuadorians have been granted this
status. Latitud Cero has worked with Amnesty International and the
International Human Rights Commission to get correct information
in order to help people apply, so that those who are looking for
asylum dont run any risk.
What are Latitud Ceros plans?
Now as a non-profit organization we are going
to keep working to educate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
Ecuadorians. Donations to our group are tax-deductible and I want
to thank Ecuador News for being open and printing this interview,
because I think it is very necessary for Ecuadorians to learn about
our labor and this is the best way to do it.
Translated from Spanish by Erica Pearson.
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