The Case for LGBT Rights in the Dominican Republic

Scarlet Dosamantes (Photo by Carlos Rodriguez)

Written by Carlos Rodriguez

My intention has been and will always be to address race, gender and sexuality issues from a humanist perspective. I was born in the Dominican Republic, a country in which Catholicism and Evangelism prevail, therefore in most cases, LGBT issues are not seen in a positive light.

Growing up, my gender expression was feminine, which I embraced dearly. Most folks around me weren’t welcoming because of this and I had to stand up numerous times for respect, which made me develop a thicker skin.

I was 13 when Matthew Shepard’s story made worldwide news. Matthew, a young north-American boy who was a victim of hate crime and lost his life because of his sexual orientation. His story affected me deeply and made me realize the dangers that LGBT folks can face not only in the Dominican Republic but also around the globe. I can say this was one of the issues that detonated my initial interest to work on LGBT rights, giving me a different perspective on the importance of addressing these topics.

Years passed by. I went to film school and in 2008 I was able to attend my first LGBT pride caravan in the Dominican Republic. I was amazed and impressed to know that like-minded folks existed in my country — people that were seeking equality and dignified lives for all.

A year later, the topic of same-sex marriage was on the table and several groups organized a symbolic, performative same-sex wedding in Parque Duarte, a historic public park located in the historic Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. My friend and I got married as part of the activity, and with a group of friends led us to develop Individuals United for Respect and Harmony (IURA), an LGBT rights, education-based organization with the aim to contribute to the Dominican community. Our work focuses on building allies through talks and workshops, one of them being the Safe Zone: LGBT 101 workshop, which gives its participants the opportunity to become stronger allies through the promotion and proper usage of inclusive language.

A Pride caravan in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by Carlos Rodriguez)

After facilitating a workshop for the chief editors of Diario Libre, one of Dominican Republic’s widely-circulated newspapers, we understood the impact media can have as the newspaper managed to implement a change in the writing style used in its LGBT-centric stories as well as how these are handled. This is one of the many ways that LGBT issues and their taboos can be dismantled. Having allies like Diario Libre can provide a positive outlook toward these issues. Indeed, constant training needs to happen on these issues, as new forms of expression and identities are emerging.

Being in the diaspora in New York City and my ongoing collaboration with New York University’s student diversity division through the LGBTQ Student Services Center and Center for Multicultural Education and Programs (CMEP) gave me the opportunity to realize the importance of community building, and how my work could lead to creating a wider impact in societies as I have witnessed it’s happened at least within the NYU community of students.

To adapt this to local experiences in the Dominican Republic, there must be greater union within society in terms of opening ourselves as human beings, exposing ourselves to LGBT-identified folks and getting to know personal stories that undoubtedly lead us to become more empathetic people in this world.

While it is far from perfect, walking the streets of New York City, one can at least feel a sense of hope and freedom, as diversity can be found in every corner, something that was undoubtedly achieved via the LGBT movement in the United States starting with the Stonewall Riots. One can only hope that this kind of openness can be translated to a level of equity in legal terms worldwide. The kind of work I want to project through film and photography is work that leads to the growth and development necessary to achieve this change in the world around us.

From LGBT films like Trans’It, a documentary that chronicles the lives of three transgender folks in the Dominican Republic and how they navigate through their lives in a State that does not recognize them; and Afuera Hay Aire (There’s Air Outside), a film I co-directed which documents the lives of numerous members of the LGBTQ community, their daily experiences and social struggles living in various parts of the Dominican Republic.

A still from Trans’It, a documentary that chronicles the lives of three transgender folks in the Dominican Republic and how they navigate through their lives in a State that does not recognize them. (Courtesy by Carlos Rodriguez)

Photography exhibitions like “El Pueblo” (The People) which depict positive and humanizing reactions from the spectators of Dominican Republic’s LGBT Pride Caravan, as well as “Papi No Te Kille” (Papi don’t get pissed) and “Orgullo” (Pride), both of them with the intention of recognizing diversity as a fundamental element of our human condition. Photographing and showcasing the queer scene in the Dominican Republic, New York City, and Los Angeles, as well as photoshoots questioning traditional understandings of gender identity and representation. IURA workshops to talks and lectures on diversity. Through all of these projects, I’ve experienced that all of these forms of activism can make a difference.

The LGBT community in the Dominican Republic is struggling, seeking rights in numerous sectors. Trans* folks specifically have no access to legal name changes which makes them invisible in society and therefore excludes them from obtaining education, housing, employment and health services.

More allies are needed that can stand up with the community to make a greater impact. For this to happen, and to live in a more open and just society, it’s necessary for people to allow themselves the opportunity of getting to know folks that identify as LGBT, understanding that in some way we all have something in common, and identifying those similarities can make us more empathic with our fellow human beings. When this takes place, more allies join the cause, therefore the community grows and fortifies itself, which translates to more community building when it comes to working towards LGBT human rights.

I believe a leader or a movement starts with one person, and that one person just needs a like-minded ally that can follow, making allyship stronger one person at a time. Any person who engages in some kind of activism — and this does not necessarily refer to an activist which is on the streets on a daily basis — can make a difference.

Activism can even happen with the use of inclusive language, which can be used to combat social injustices. I believe the term activism is full of taboos and is much simpler that what it is perceived. In a perfect or better world, there wouldn’t be a need to do this kind of advocacy work. In the meantime, there’s plenty of queerness to spread around.

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Carlos Rodriguez

Carlos Rodriguez is a Dominican visual artist with experience in art, commercial and documentary photography and filmmaking. Carlos’ experience ranges from fashion weeks, bateyes of the Dominican Republic, editorial photo shoots, private portrait sessions, theater, film shoots, advertising campaigns, spiritual celebrations to peaceful manifestations. Trans’It, award-winning documentary film on Trans* folks in the Dominican Republic he produced and directed, premiered in Bologna, Italy, and is currently in the film festivals circuit.

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