What its like to be: gay in my Peace Corps Host Country Colombia

I want to start this blog post off by saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and use my privilege in society; as a female who identifies as being straight, to talk about how us “normals” are annoyed and/or suppressing equal rights.

A.K.A. Basic Human Decency

My first exposure to how Coastal Colombians felt about LBTGQ+ rights came during Pre Service Training when I was sharing  breakfast with my host family. We were listening to the morning radio show and the topic of the day was a debate about female students being allowed to wear pants or short style uniforms as well as to let transgender individuals openly identify as female or male. Long story short, the coast of Colombia and my host family at the time was NOT having it. The men proceeded to dance around the table in a “queer” like manner and the women just whispered under their breath about it being wrong with the lord. Men and women will continue to be gay with or without the consent of others. 

Now given between the choice of being someone who scares/shuns people away with hate and violence or welcomes them with humility and acceptance I much prefer the latter.

I am proud to know that I have lots of friends who I’m able to open up to freely. Likewise, they know I’ll always support them unless they cause harm to another person. One of my fellow PCV’s recently shed light on their experience living as a gay man in a conservative religious Colombian pueblo and it left me woke (as the kids back home say).

Daniel’s* arrival date to site was first marked by his host mother sharing chisme (gossip) about how he must avoid a local gay neighbour who has been outed while caught in bed with a lover. A tough beating and a communal shunning handled the matter. As a result, Daniel  prepared himself to hide back in the closet throughout his PC service and was cautious about the social settings he chose to out himself.

He strategically chose taking a 40 min bus ride to the big local city to socialize with the costeño gay community to cope with this unfortunate reality.

Then love crept into Daniels life when he least expected it, as love does. Fate connected him to a Costeño Colombian man Andres*, who he is absolutely head over heels for. After PST, the physical distance between Daniel and I grew substantially, so when we reconnected once a month or so we update each other on all the details of our new found loves(I had started dating Paul around the same time so we really grew close).

 Andres would come over to Daniel’s site, but just “as friends”. Daniel confided in me how he suspected his host mother is becoming suspicious of his homosexuality. Daniel and Andres’ minds flood with negative energy. The stakes were high and they can only settle with nitpicking all the events that could have transpired in the last few months. This is about the point where my heart sunk and my guilt submerged. Daniel spoke about how lucky he is to find love during service even while having to adapt to a new and super conservative culture; how he feels successfully accomplished in being able to express his love to his partner in the shadows, and learning the lesson of how much subtleties matter in a relationship.

“We sneak kisses and hold hands whenever there isn’t anyone around and it makes every moment special”

Naturally, I compared his romantic experience to my own and it hit like a ton of bricks.  How we are both human beings who are experiencing falling in love how society treats us differently based off sexual orientation. When Paul and I roam the streets here in Colombia his hand usually rests on my hip, we kiss openly and freely. Hell, since our sites are in the same department sometimes local coworkers piece together that were dating and celebrate our young love. They praise me, they praise him and pat us on the back with a job well done (and usually ask about when we plan on having kids). I was living in my own “straight bubble” because its the only reality that had been presented to me up until that exchange with Daniel. This is something that would have never crossed my mind if I didn’t have a diverse group of friends keeping me down to earth.

Side note:  local gossip spreads like wildfire here on the Colombian Caribbean Coast, EVERYBODY talks.

To me introducing the pair as partners would have come as a second nature, even to local Colombian friends. Another reason I feel so guilty, is that I can’t remember if there was ever a time that I outed Daniel or Andres due to my “straight bubble”. I never would have thought of the unfavorable effects that it might have on a gay man in a conservative town. One minute we could all be in the city having lunch with friends (American & Colombian) and any subtle slip could lead to Colombian Nationals mentioning it to mom and dad, some friends causing the wildfire to spread.

As a heterosexual woman who gets to have the luxury and privileged to demonstrate the love I feel towards a man openly and freely, I want to say it is simply not fair. The standard is so skewed in the favor of straight orientations and we hold a social responsibility to care about this injustice. Whether you voluntary or involuntary live in a “straight bubble” its time to burst your version of reality and lend your attention to the world we share with those like Daniel. Take the time to think about LBTGQ+ rights and decide the type of person you truly wish to be.

*Some names and identifying detail have been changed in order to protect the privacy of the individual

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