JANUARY 2003

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Fausto 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 Men’s 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 isn’t 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 and HIV-AIDS.

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 and transgenderism.

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 don’t 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 doesn’t seem to be a massive participation on the part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, besides the constant work by different organizations.

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 to zero.

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 don’t follow the stereotype of what many see as homosexual — I am not effeminate, I don’t wear makeup and I don’t work as a hairdresser, cook, or stylist. It is enough to not "look gay" so that people don’t make fun of you, but this should change. People don’t 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 isn’t physically pressured or tortured, there is an invisible abuse that goes on in schools, workplaces and even inside the home, but people don’t 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 don’t 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 people.

You work for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, in the legal department. Have you helped Ecuadorians with their legal problems?

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 don’t run any risk.

What are Latitud Cero’s 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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