Michael Lavers, a reporter for the Washington Blade, shared his experiences covering the Latin American LGBTQ community at a panel discussion held at Miami-Dade College’s downtown campus earliest this month.
The event was part of Celebrate ORGULLO, a pride festival that occurs during Hispanic Heritage Month.
According to organizers, Celebrate ORGULLO has incorporated a human rights forum in the program since it began in Miami in 2011.
Herb Sosa, is the president of the Unity Coalition, which runs the festival.
“Miami is the capital of the Americas. Many Miamians come from this region. What happens in Central and South America and the Caribbean, affects us directly,” Sosa said.
Lynare Robbins, director of ImpactOUT, interviewed Lavers for the forum. The conversation focused on the discrimination and abuse LGBTQ Latin Americans face in their native countries.
There are a surging number of unaccompanied minors and immigrants arriving to the U.S. from politically corrupt or economically poor countries such as Venezuela and El Salvador. Lavers said LGBTQ individuals are also part of that mix.
Lavers, who has reported on the U.S.-Mexico border, recalled the issues migrants face when attempting to cross the border.
Such people, who are already vulnerable to discrimination and violence, have few options if their venture proves unsuccessful. If they go back, they don’t really have a home or family to go back to, he said, and are often penniless.
Those who do cross the border are sometimes detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and are often mistreated. In addition, those are are detained are often unable to get their medication or, in the case of trangendered people, hormones.
“It’s just a vicious cycle that continues to repeat itself,” said Lavers.
Robbins said it’s important for the American public to be well-informed, compassionate and listen directly to members of the immigrant LGBTQ community.
“It all goes back to personal relationships. Humanism, understanding that we’re not alone in this world. We’ve got to co-exist,” she said.
Lavers said he recognizes that compassion is something that is needed during times of crisis. He spoke of the profile he wrote of Ricky Santiago, a gay hairdresser who lost his salon in the storm. He had previously profiled Santiago, saying his story moved him to tears.
After publication of the story he said moved him to tears, he returned to Humacao, Puerto Rico to volunteer at Waves Ahead, a non-profit that helps vulnerable areas hit by Hurricane Maria.
“Yes, you’re there to cover stories as journalist, but you’re a human being as well,” he said.
Lavers also said that despite the discrimination and police corruption, there has been some progress in policy making. Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay and parts of Mexico have legalized same-sex marriage. Now almost 50 percent of same-sex couples in Latin America live in a jurisdiction where they can get married.
“That’s a huge step forward,” he said.