BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA, August 14, 2016 – Colombia is today struggling with what conservatives call “life-style” and liberals call “gender” issues regarding the country’s LBGT population.
This past August 10, demonstrations took place throughout the country to protest the addition of voluntary LBGT measures in the National guidelines for all schools. Many mostly-Catholic private schools that opposed the measures came out in force, using the parents as proxies for their position. This was further augmented by other groups that also opposed the voluntary measures. The demonstrators appear to have prevailed, as the government withdrew the measures.
The proposed guidelines included adding explanations of LBGT facts in the curriculum of children in the lower grades. Many saw these as alternatives to traditional heterosexual sex education. Other items in the guidelines included creating unisex uniforms for private schools and adding gender-neutral bathrooms to schools.
These guidelines were closely associated with the current Minister of Education, Gina Parody a self-acknowledged lesbian. However, their provenance is tied to National and International agreements related to equal treatment of the LBGT community.
Of the many postings on social media, those that showed priests or nuns rejoicing in the large demonstrator turn-outs and those showing cartoon-like photos can possibly be considered typical. Of the latter, one showed a pig dressed in human clothing in the foreground with added text debating the gender of the pig whose attire synthesized the opposition.
As the dust started to settle on this issue, some speculated that withdrawal of the LBGT guidelines could prove to have been a Pyrrhic victory. A scattered and un-scientific followup survey showed that even some conservatives believed the open participation in the demonstrations by members of the clergy was ill- advised/conceived, as it took attention away from the valid opposition of the public at large and instead transformed it into a quasi-religious issue. The followup also noted Pope Francis’ recent statement promoting a more accepting treatment of the LGBT community by the Church.
There was wide speculation that the pulling back of the guidelines could have been attributable to threats by the opposition to block the ongoing peace agreement with the FARC rebels. This process is entering a critical phase and is a pet project of Colombia’s President Santos. (Paraphrasing an old saying: One should never watch the making of sausage and politics too closely.)
LBGT history in Colombia parallels that of other countries in the hemisphere. During the late 1960s, this movement started to emerge from the closet. The excesses of the 1970s were followed by the AIDs scare of the 1980s, however, and the movement shifted into a recovery mode.
Today’s movement here has a typical Colombian flavor hearkening back to the 1980s, when anti-gay groups offered rewards of up to $500 USD for the killing of gays. On the other hand, gay pride parades and gay support groups are now common in all large cities in the country.
Sexual education in Colombian schools today is varied, but follows a pattern. Children are gradually led up to the process of procreation literally by teaching about the birds and bees; or, more accurately, the plants, the birds and the bees. These teachings are more a biological introduction to reproduction than actual sex education.
As the children grow into adolescence, schools provide more detailed information depending on what the students’ parents dictate. In fact, parents are invited to witness and participate in the actual classes. Regarding birth control, Catholic schools teach abstinence as the only way of traversing the critical teen years without adverse consequences.
The teaching of LBGT issues is hetero-centric and seen by many if not as an aberration, then as a life-style issue. Of course people from different regions can have a different approach. For example people from the North (Caribbean Coast) and Central Western departments (Valle del Cauca) tend to be freer in their thinking. As is normal, people from the same region may also have different view on gender issues.
Notwithstanding the growing Evangelical movement in Colombia (who call themselves “Christians”), it is likely that some accommodation will come out of this current impasse. Colombians are if anything flexible and pragmatic in matters that relate to (possible) religious issues. With some exception, Catholics in Colombia see Church teachings and Bible concepts as symbols, not as literal rules of life. A progressive Pope may help make this transition smoother.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a Colombian expatriate, free-thinker agnostic. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).