“Others use sticks and bombs, we use feathers to get our message across.”
—Juan Carlos Ferrando, drag queen and Peruvian Pride Parade founder
“I’ll get to be 70 and no one will [be there] to rock my chair.”
—Eusebio Garcia, “Retired” homosexual whose life centres around raising his brother’s two sons
Marcos Arriaga’s study of homosexual life in present-day Peru is a fascinating look into Latin America’s struggle with religion, politics and machismo. His two subjects couldn’t be further apart in life-experience and outlook.
58-year-old Garcia found God when, at fifteen—after responding yes to the question “Are you homosexual?”—a hag of a nurse assured him that he’d only 3-6 months left to live. But, according to Garcia, the Apostle of Corongo, St. Peter, had other ideas. A self-admitted slut, Garcia “had a husband … for six years” but was routinely beaten when “I was in love with another dick.” Much mellower now, the ex-con describes gay men as “friendly” rather than “scandalous” as he fills his market bag full of food for his nephews, neither of whom are gay “—I would have seen the signs.”
Happily partnered for nearly a quarter-century, Ferrando has been a trailblazer for gay rights in Peru. Terrified of destroying his father’s TV career in his youth, the Europe-educated diva has become a celebrity in his/her own right, surviving the ridicule and beatings when performing her deliciously gaudy send-up routines. Who better to launch the annual gay pride parade in Lima—now in its fourth sassy year. Garcia is very comfortable in his skin, actively supporting the mantra “Another world is possible” and unafraid of taking on the Catholic Church, “We’re not asking for permission,” or the population at large, “Gay is no longer their mother’s hairdresser.”
Peru’s political leadership still has much work to do. Member of Parliament and doctor Hugo Chávez Chuchón has little sympathy for his queer constituents, “We have to advise [the public] healthy and normal lifestyles.” He also derides the rot and degeneration of “developed” countries, believing that “Latin America Knows Best” and can set the example for others.
His colleague, Marta Moyano Delgado condemns the Church for its silence and tacit support of discrimination. Garcia agrees, opining that “I don’t have faith on the priests; I have faith in God.”
Arriaga provides balance and subtle insight. Some of the men caught on camera look proud and confident until they turn the corner into a more populous part of the neighbourhood. Sadly, but importantly, he reminds us that the infection rate for HIV/AIDS has risen 40% for 15-to-18-year-old Peruvian youth. The notion that “homosexualism is the cause of AIDS” still runs nearly as rampant as the virus. Let’s hope others have the courage to continue the fight to end institutionalized discrimination (Church & State) and increase health education. JWR