Nayib Bukele attacks sexual diversity

Nayib Bukele attacks sexual diversity
Nayib Bukele attacks sexual diversity

San Salvador. Holding hands, Andrea and Fiorella attend an improvised mass in the garage of a house in San Salvador. There, they say, they are not afraid of being discriminated against by a society that increasingly closes spaces to sexual diversity.

In front of a crucifix hanging from a column under a row of multicoloured flags, about 15 members of the LGBT community sing hymns, take communion and listen to passages from the Bible.

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“It’s a safe space where I can come with my partner, feel welcome and not be judged,” says Fiorella Turchkeim, a 30-year-old psychologist.

For her and Andrea Ordóñez, a 30-year-old pharmacist, the so-called Santa María Magdalena Community, an Anglican-inspired organization that defines itself as “radically inclusive,” is “a respite” in the midst of a climate of “intolerance.”

After being re-elected for another five years last February thanks to his war on gangs, President Nayib Bukele adopted a conservative policy, despite the fact that before coming to power he claimed to support LGBT demands.

A week ago, Bukele announced the dismissal of 300 employees of the Ministry of Culture for promoting “agendas” incompatible with his government’s vision, which several officials celebrated as a defense of “the traditional family,” “faith,” and “life.”

Days earlier, the Ministry of Culture had approved the presentation of an LGBT play at the National Theatre, which was abruptly cancelled after its first performance.

LGBT people are “in a vulnerable position” when people hear the president define them as “unnatural, anti-God, anti-family,” said Luis Chavez, a gay man who works as a pastor in the religious organization that has been meeting for about two years in the house of an NGO.

Fiorella Turchkeim (left) and Andrea Ordóñez hold signs advocating for LGBT rights at the Pride March in San Salvador on June 29, 2024. Photo: Marvin RECINOS / AFP (MARVIN RECINOS/AFP)

The setbacks in Bukele’s diversity policy

Shortly after sweeping the election, Bukele, along with his Argentine counterpart Javier Milei, attended the largest convention of conservatives in the United States in February, where he applauded former President Donald Trump.

That same month, the Ministry of Education announced that it had removed “any trace” of a gender perspective from school textbooks, a decision applauded by conservative groups and criticized by human rights activists.

Bukele is entering “this small club of mega-reactionary far-right politicians,” said anthropologist Juan Martínez.

Also in February, the Ministry of Health eliminated a protocol under which people of different sexual orientation received care “free of stigma and discrimination” in an HIV/AIDS prevention program, said Aranza Santos, of the Alejandría LGBTQI+ Collective.

The agency has asked the government for comments on the matter, but has not yet received a response.

With the rainbow flag on her back, Turchkeim and her partner went to the Pride march last Saturday in San Salvador to demand respect for sexual diversity.

“It is worrying (the official position) because of the media persecution of the LGBTQI population,” he said amid the noise of the music and the slogans of the protesters.

According to the Salvadoran Women’s Organization for Peace, in El Salvador “8 out of 10 LGBTQI+ people” suffer “discrimination based on their sexual orientation” or gender identity.

LGBTQI+ population decides to ‘hide’

Turchkeim and Ordóñez have been a couple for two years, but their families do not accept their relationship. “To avoid problems,” says the young pharmacist, they do not show their affection in public.

Ordóñez says that a few years ago she joined a Catholic choir, but the group’s director excluded her during Holy Week because he told her, referring to lesbianism, that she was “an aberration.” “It was a shock to know that there was no room for me,” she recalled.

“People of different sexual orientation are hurt by traditional churches,” said Chavez, after explaining that although members of Santa Maria Magdalena attended the Anglican church, they feel freer in the makeshift temple.

The government and part of society “want to deny our existence and in the face of that we have to raise our voices, demand and fight for our rights,” said Grecia Villalobos, an activist with Concavis Trans, an organization that defends the rights of transgender people.

“We will not allow ourselves to be stigmatized, discriminated against and locked back in the closet,” Santos added.

The fight will be long. Turchkeim and Ordóñez plan to marry in August 2025, but they will have to travel to Costa Rica, where same-sex unions have been legal since May 2020.

“We would like it to be here, but of course… it is very difficult here,” Turchkeim resigns.

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele and his wife, Gabriela Rodriguez, greet those present at the ceremony where the start of the second five-year term of the questioned president was made official. The president changed his policy on diversity. Photo: Marvin RECINOS / AFP (MARVIN RECINOS/AFP)

 
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