BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Guatemala’s first openly gay congressman Aldo Davila was only elected two months ago and has yet to take up his seat, but death threats have already stopped him walking the streets of his own city.
“People have written messages, ‘You want get to Congress on January 14th, you will die before’,” said the 41-year-old veteran LGBT+ rights activist, who lives with his partner in the capital, Guatemala City.
“I’m seen like the enemy from within,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
LGBT+ people already have few legal rights in socially conservative, Catholic-majority Guatemala and Davila fears the situation is getting worse, driven by the growing influence of evangelical Christian groups in politics and society.
These are mostly critical of gay rights and believe marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
“They have an enormous influence, including families who have lots of power,” said Davila, who argued that the growing influence of “religious fundamentalists” had stifled efforts to change attitudes to LGBT+ rights in Guatemala.
Davila will represent the Winaq Movement, a leftist political party, in Guatemala’s mainly conservative Congress, and he pledged to bolster the rights of those historically excluded from society.
His first challenge will be to fight the Life and Family Protection bill, which would explicitly ban marriage between same-sex couples and define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
As in many parts of Central America, notably Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, Guatemala does not recognize same-sex marriage. But the proposed law goes further, defining marriage as a union between people who were a man and a woman “by birth”.
“This law is regressive,” said Davila of the bill, which Congress has already voted for twice and which is awaiting a third and final vote to be passed into law. “It violates the human rights of people of diversity.”
Davila, who has HIV and used to head a group that supports people living with the condition, said he would campaign for proper healthcare.
Another priority is to push for legislation against hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, following the example of Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama where such crimes are punished by law, Davila said.
He also said he wanted to push forward a bill that would allow transgender people to change their sex on their legal documents. Currently only people’s names can be changed.
“I’m bringing a human rights agenda to those who haven’t had a voice in the congress of the republic,” Davila said.
The former activist is used to brickbats, but said abuse and death threats on social media had increased since he was elected. He no longer goes out at night and drives to his office, just blocks from his home.
Yet he said he was ready for the fight.
“This is a challenge that I decided to take on from the moment I accepted my candidacy,” Davila said.
Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org