Richard Ammon, GlobalGayz.com
San Salvador, February 9, 2010
I am often amused and irked at how the gay community in any one country is portrayed both in the majority media and in the gay media as well.
El Salvador is another one of those ‘throw-away’ countries in Central America that is mostly ignored unless there is controversy happening such as a civil war, death squads disappearing priests or a full-scale gun battle in the city center. In the wake of a decade of bloody violence in the 1980’s that left 75,000 dead the anti-government guerrillas (FMLN) eventually became a political party, gaining regional power, and are currently in power with the election of a FMLN president in 2009.
Unreported in any of the press, this once violent, once anarchist party is showing itself to be somewhat gay friendly, as measured by the degree of harassment against the leading LGBT organization Entre Amigos. During the previous government terms, being openly gay had its price. The Entre Amigos offices were raided more than once and William Hernandez, his partner and his family (two daughters) were threatened enough to warrant police protection.
Currently, although he still worries for his girls now in college, he says there is little need for the guards. When I visited the Entre Amigos offices the other day the name of the organization was proudly emblazoned on the front exterior wall. (photo right)
As I write this, I am reminded of another country with a violent civil war that ended with the leftists becoming a political party and gaining power—Nepal—has also become somewhat gay friendly. Not embracing (homophobia is alive and well there), but tolerant to the degree of having an openly gay member of parliament and allowing a gay festival. Recently it hosted a gay tourism conference.
In the past ten years, local prosperity and remittances from El Salvadoran workers abroad have allowed the construction of modern shopping malls, which in turn have become popular gay cruising venues. One evening’s visit in a restaurant at a window seat reveals a carnival of characters passing by–gay, straight and in between.
Downtown San Salvador, the capital, there are now gay and gay-friendly discos, bars, strip clubs and even a sauna. These don’t happen during civil wars or during eras of repression. One young gay man I met (out to his family) said he has never had a problem meeting other guys and appeared pleased with his ‘history’ of cruising.
Most surprisingly, the gay community also has staged a gay pride march for several years and has an intelligent and informative web site called ElSalvadorg.com with news, events and a forum hosted by a dedicated activist in San Salvador city who posts updates every week. (Not to be confused with gayelsalvador.com which is not current.)
Also downtown in the very congested city center are hundreds upon hundreds of street stalls selling everything from hair gel to pirated DVDs—including a selection of gay porno. (photo left)
So let this commentary be an alert that this tiny Central American country, still plagued with violence and corruption, is also a place of change, a place where gay citizens now have choices to organize, to make friends, hook up, party and educate about HIV and live fuller lives—despite the crowded closets.