Tamara Adrián is a lawyer, academic, and LGBT rights activist from Venezuela. Born Tomás Adrián, she underwent gender reassignment in 2002. In 2010 she was postulated as judge of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice Venezuela.
She is a member of Red de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales, Trans e Intersexuales de Venezuela (RELGBTIV), an organization founded in 2009 to advance the rights of the LGBTI community in that country.
429Magazine caught up with Tamara during her stay in Rio de Janeiro for the Sexuality and Political Change Meeting organized by Sexual Policy Watch between March 18 and 22.
429Magazine: Can you give us an overview of LGBT activism in Venezuela?
Tamara Adrián: The LGBT community in Venezuela is not as organized as in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and other countries. We do not get international funding for our activities because we’re considered a middle-income country.
It’s difficult to get funding from companies and public funding doesn’t exist, only for communist NGOs who are not interested in the LGBT agenda. All activists work on a voluntary basis.
429Mag: What is Chavez’s legacy in terms of equality?
Adrián: There has been 14 years of propaganda by the Chavez regime saying the revolution included the LGBT population, but they did nothing. There is no effective protection against discrimination, couple rights, transsexual identity, educational and health programs. They say the LGBT community is no longer persecuted by the police, but that’s not true. They also say that there are labor protections, but there hasn’t been one favorable court decision in 14 years.
Trans-people also have trouble changing their names. Venezuela was the first Latin American country to recognize the identity of transsexual people in 1977. Until 1998 there were more than 150 favorable court decisions but none after 1998.
In May 2004 I went to the Supreme Court to ask for the constitutional protection of transsexual people and nine years later all I got is silence. To make it worse, in May 2008 the Supreme Court decided it was constitutional to discriminate against same-gender couples. This compares negatively with decisions taken in Colombia and Mexico.
429Mag: So no revolution for gay rights then…
Adrián: Yes. The Chavez revolution is not inclusive of LGBT people and is not willing to grant equal rights. 96% of the Congress was dominated by chavistas between 2005 and 2012 and they have a total majority with the power to direct the legislative agenda. We protested, lobbied and proposed equality bills. We did that with all groups, both chavistas and non-chavistas, but none of those proposals was even voted.
429Mag: Is there a religious element in Congress, like there is in Brazil, trying to block LGBT rights?
Adrián: Yes, the evangelical chavistas are very strong. Until 2012, up to 25% of members of Congress were evangelical, although that number now has fallen to 15%.
429Mag: Chavez’s interim successor, Nicolás Maduro, has been playing the gay card against his opponent in the presidential race, Henrique Capriles. What do you make of that?
Adrián: Yes, Maduro recently said: “I have a wife and someone to kiss.” Last year, the chavistas started to attack Henrique Capriles, saying he was gay. At the time I was invited by Mesa da Unidade Democratica to head the campaign for vulnerable groups but they asked me not to do anything for LGBT rights because that would give chavistas an opportunity to say Henrique was gay.
So, with their homophobic strategy, the chavistas killed off any initiative for equal rights during the 2012 campaign. Things have changed now because Henrique has stepped forward, saying: ‘I am not like Nicolás, I believe in equality, I am not sexist, racist, homophobic’. He said attacking people on the basis of their sexual orientation is fascism.
429Mag: Is the Venezuelan LGBT the target of violence, like in Brazil, where more than 300 people are murdered every year?
Adrián: Transsexuals are the main targets. According to the Transphobia Versus Transrespect report, 1,200 transsexual people were murdered worldwide between 2008 and 2012. Out of this total, 525 cases were in Latin America.
The majority of the cases took place in Brazil, followed by Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. However, since we are not a very organized community, many crimes are not documented. We only know what happens from newspaper stories. Those figures are only the tip of the iceberg.
429Mag: What’s the popular support for LGBT rights like?
Adrián: I think social perception is quite different from the perception of politicians. The chavistas say society should change first so they could grant equal rights. I believe society has changed, though. Most under-25s are not homo- or lesbophobic. A couple of years ago a survey found that 48 percent of people were in favor of gay wedding.
This is an amazing result considering there was no previous discussion and no campaigning at all. In Argentina [where gay marriage has been legal since July 2010], between 65 and 70 percent of people were against same-sex marriage when the discussion was first launched. Venezuelan politicians are very prejudiced and fearful. They can’t see reality and the reality is that society is much more tolerant than they are.