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LGBTQIs face rampant bias in Venezuela, sparking asylum in nearby countries
by Emily Reilly

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In the United States, Pride Month is known for widespread festivities, parade floats, rainbow-colored everything and celebration of self-identity. In Venezuela, Pride Month looks quite different for those who are part of the LGBTQI community.

In fact, all around the world, LGBTQI individuals must often sacrifice basic human rights just to scrape by, because of stigmatization.

According to the anti-poverty organization CARE US, Venezuelan refugees typically resort to street vending, garbage collecting or begging. However, this kind of regular work is not an option for openly LGBTQ refugees, so many resort to sex trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse, or similar types of labor to get by.

Due to the urgency of Venezuela's situation with its LGBTQ community, many seek refugee status and exit to safer South American countries like Colombia or Ecuador. Authorities then look over the individuals' cases. Having to prove themselves deserving of status, many of those who flee because of bias then face a second wave of discrimination.

"They may face discrimination based on the fact that they are LGBTQI or also because they're not willing to put forward information that will help their case because they're afraid that they'll be discriminated against or not taken seriously if they admit to experiencing rape or violence at the hands of someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said CARE US Senior Press Officer Veronika Cernadas.

The broader issue many of these countries face can be traced back to the homophobic, conservative and patriarchal values paired with economic adversity. For instance, in Venezuela, this pairing results in its LGBTQ population fearing for their lives and their safety. With sexual exploitation becoming an unfortunate currency for Venezuelan refugees, health risks like sexually transmitted diseases and various mental illnesses arise, and healthcare resources become a problem.

When refugees travel to these surrounding countries for help, many feel a sense of loneliness and isolation because they're apart from family and friends in a completely new country.

However, certain communities focus on the plight of LGBTQ refugees and work to build a sense of safety and peace for those missing support they left back in their home country.

As surrounding countries become sources of relief for Venezuelan refugees, nonprofits like CARE Ecuador and Dialogo Diverso try to replicate a sense of family for them. "We decided that there needed to be a safe place. The project name is My Home Away From Home, which, in Spanish is Mi Casa Fuera de Mi Casa. For them, [it means] 'I'm not in my country. I'm not with my family. But I can still feel safe and at home,'" said Danilo Manzano, the director of Dialogo Diverso. "In 2018, it was very important for us because we were talking to different countries about why it's important to work for the refugees in the LGBTQ community and encourage activism."

"We are taking small but strong steps to show what happens here in Ecuador," said Monica Tobar, who works on program and resource mobilization."I think it's important not to just show what's going on, but also what the solutions we can show to apply here to solve the problems of this community."

Ecuador's healthcare system and political climate are more adequate for LGBTQ individuals and are less stigmatized, which are why Venezuelans seek protection there. There is still necessary progress that countries like Ecuador and Colombia are pushing for from their governments and fellow citizens. For example, Manzano told Windy City Times about the story of a man who painted a graffiti mural called "Love Has No Gender" in Quito, Ecuador, shortly after same-sex marriage was approved in 2019.

"These conservative groups destroyed his mural by putting white paint all over it," Manzano said. "So, the community came together and thought of a new place where the mural could be to expose it again. The mayor of Quito provided us the paperwork to make it happen. It made an amazing impact on the city, specifically because it got painted in front of congress. It was very important to make people talk about that."

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