Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Pro-LGBT Costa Rican president visits San Jose


Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis spoke at a Commonwealth Club/World Affairs Council program in San Jose. Photo: Jo-Lynn Otto
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Recently elected Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis pledged to uphold LGBT rights in the Central American country during a Bay Area visit this week.

"We have pledged ... to support upholding the rights of gay couples to have patrimonial rights and civil rights as those that are guaranteed to heterosexual couples," Solis told more than 250 people at the San Jose Repertory Theatre June 9.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed introduced Solis, who was interviewed by Akiko Yamazaki, a board member of the Wildlife Conservation Network.

In May, Solis became the first president of the Central American nation to raise the rainbow flag alongside the Costa Rican flag to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

It was one of several social and economic changes under way in Costa Rica, which is about the size of West Virginia and has approximately 4.6 million people, said Solis. The country is nestled between Nicaragua and Panama.

In April, Solis, a member of the Citizen Action Party, was elected by the largest margin in Costa Rican history. His election also ushered in the first third-party candidate in 44 years, reported the Tico Times . Solis was sworn into office May 8.

Solis, 56, who spent time in the Bay Area as a foreign exchange student in the mid-1970s, made the first stop of his overseas trip to San Jose, California, which is a sister city to San Jose, Costa Rica. The U.S. trip also included stops in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Costa Rica's LGBT rights movement is young, Solis pointed out. Currently, there aren't any laws protecting LGBTs in Costa Rica, he said. In 2006, the country's Supreme Court rejected a claim to recognize same-sex marriage, reported the Costa Rica Times. However, a bill for civil unions is making its way through the country's Legislative Assembly and last month the Costa Rican Social Security System voted to extended insurance and other benefits to same-sex couples, reported the Tico Times.

The new policy allows LGBT couples to insure their partners, and same-sex partners to be listed as emergency contacts, and it would guarantee hospital visitation rights to gay partners, the paper reported.

During Solis's inaugural procession, his newly appointed gay tourism minister, Wilhelm von Breymann, marched with his partner of 19 years, Mauricio Alfaro.

Solis, a former history professor and diplomat, acknowledged that LGBT rights are a "new experience for Costa Rica" and a "sensitive issue for many people in Latin America," but that doesn't mean it should not be addressed, he said.

"We don't have these rights," said Solis. "As a country that has signed almost all human rights treaties and has a very strong human rights respect traditions we felt we had to."

Raising the rainbow flag and his position on LGBT rights has generated "a lot of controversy within the country," said Solis, who pointed out that people in the Roman Catholic country voted for him knowing his position on LGBT rights.

"They knew this was my position," he said. "[They] supported my election massively. I think that says something about the overall understanding of this issue as being a part of the agenda, not the agenda itself."

While other major changes are under way in the Central American country, the process to obtain LGBT equality is just getting started.

"It's going to take time," Solis said. "It's again a question of education. It's a question of sensibilities. It's a question of conveying the message of equality and non-discrimination that I would like to uphold because I think that it's my constitutional responsibility to do."

Solis is on a mission to fulfill the economic and social justice platform he campaigned on.

"I'm facing this challenge of being head of state of Costa Rica with great enthusiasm," said Solis, who hopes to achieve the change that brought him into office.

"The voters spoke. My sensation is that they were asking for change ... change to make the Costa Rican economy larger, change to make Costa Rican society fairer, change to make the decision making processes in my country more transparent. I am committed to sustain those objectives," he added.

The event was sponsored by the Commonwealth Club in association with the World Affairs Council of Northern California.


Play empowers intersex South Asians

Actor, director, and playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil feels like she's watching an incredible moment globally for LGBT rights, but at the same time she is fearful of the violent counterreaction by conservatives and the right-wing shift in governments.

"There is a counterreaction of extremely conservative energy that is happening. It's a little intense and I suspect it comes with change. Someone always pushing up against it," said Kapil, an ally, who has been observing the changes in LGBT rights around the world.

She's particularly interested in what is happening in India with the Supreme Court recognizing intersex and transgender individuals as a third gender. In April, the court ordered the government to institute an affirmative action program in employment and education like other minority communities.

This was shortly after the Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality by reinstating Section 377, a throwback to British colonial anti-sodomy law.

The changes in LGBT rights in India aren't why she wrote Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show, which premiered in San Francisco this week. But the timing of the play, about an intersex Indian growing up in the West, is appropriate.

"You know how things are in the air at times? They are popping up in art and in life. There was something in the air a lot of people caught onto it," she said about connecting with and creating a strong intersex character.

Brahman/i is loosely based on the Hindu god Brahma. Brahma, the creator, is intersex just as many ancient Hindu gods are, said Kapil, who is a mother of three and lives in Minneapolis. She is of Bulgarian and Indian descent and grew up in Sweden.

Brahman/i is a part of a trilogy of plays based on the trinity of Hindu deities – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – who are displaced in the modern Western world living as immigrants. The plays can either stand alone or be seen together in a five-hour marathon.

Out of the ancient Hindu gods, "the most powerful ones were both male and female," said Kapil.

Brahman/i demonstrates that power exploring colonialism, gender, history, and mythology through comedy as they create who they become and come into their own.

"I don't think that I've ever written a stronger, funnier, or more empowered character than this one," said Kapil about the "level [of] power and control and ownership and joy" her character has on stage.

"You all probably want to be as confident, sexy, and in love with who you are as I am by the end of the show," she said.

Imran Sheikh, an ally who plays Brahman, agreed.

"It's a dream role for me. It's funny, smart, irreverent and there's a greater journey," he said. "There’s a love story, a beautiful love story of acceptance."

Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show runs through June 28, 8 p.m.. at the Thick House, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $15-$35. Box office: (415) 746-9238.


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-221-3541, Skype: heather.cassell, or .


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