BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Fabu Olmedo is so nervous about clubs and restaurants in Paraguay that he often calls them before dinner to make sure he’ll be let in and won’t be attacked or harassed.
Olmedo doesn’t know if it’s safe to go out in public because everyday life is difficult for transgender people in Asuncion, the capital. Now, a new group of allies in Latin America is trying to improve life by changing minds in this socially conservative and often deeply religious region.
in 2017 founded by the Latin American movement of mothers of LGTB+ children, urges governments to repeal preemptive laws and better enforce existing prohibitions on violence and discrimination.
It’s an uphill battle that will take patience and years of effort, but moms are working together to help others in their position and act as a haven for LGBTQ children whose families aren’t as supportive.
“It’s all about recognizing the strength and power we have as mothers to accompany our children and help other families,” said Alejandra Muñoz, 62, from Mexico City. Her son Manuel left 11 years ago and was bullied so much at school that he missed breaks with his teachers.
“He is constantly at risk of being catcalled or worse on the street because of his sexuality,” she said.
Olmedo, 28, said she and her friends were banned from visiting an Asuncion nightclub in July.
“A lot of times they let you in, but there are violent people inside,” Olmedo said.
The Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children held its first in-person meeting at the beginning of November in Buenos Aires, where on November 5 participated in the annual huge gay march.
“Our main fight is to ensure that our children enjoy equal rights throughout Latin America,” said Patricia Gambetta, 49, of the Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children, which has members in 14 countries and aims to expand to all countries in the region.
A mother’s job is often complicated by the long-held power of the Catholic Church, which teaches that gay acts are “fundamentally disordered.” The increasingly popular evangelical faith also often preaches against same-sex relationships.
Acceptance of sexual minorities varies greatly across Latin America. Argentina and Uruguay have been regional pioneers in marriage equality and transgender rights. Other countries in the region have yet to implement protections for the LGBTQ population.
Marriage equality became law in all Mexican states last month. Honduras and Paraguay ban same-sex marriage. In Guatemala, the conservative Congress has repeatedly tried to pass legislation that would censor information about LGBTQ people. Brazil has federal and state bills and laws that ban or will ban information about sexual orientation and gender identity, said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT rights researcher for Latin America and the Caribbean at Human Rights Watch.
And laws often don’t tell the whole story.
“Regardless of the legal regime in which young people find themselves, prejudice and discrimination remain common in the region,” González Cabrera said.
Vitinia Varela Mora said her daughter Ana María decided to hide her lesbian identity after she saw other gay students being bullied at her school in Tilaran, Costa Rica, about 124 miles (200 km) from the capital, San Jose. She came out to her mother at the age of 21.
In some countries, mothers who try to help their children cope with discrimination suddenly find themselves under scrutiny.
Claudia Delfín tried to seek help from government agencies for her transgender twins, who were bullied and discriminated against at their school in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, when they were 16 years old.
“They told me to go to church and find a better way. They practically sent me to pray,” said Delfin.
Varela Mora from Costa Rica says it took her about two years to accept her daughter after the girl came out as a lesbian when her mother was hit with a “bucket of cold water.”
“There’s a lack of education, nothing prepares you for it,” said Varela Mora. Now she’s trying to make up for it by supporting other moms whose children have come out.
“It is important that young people feel that they have a mother who understands them when they are not supported at home,” said the 59-year-old woman.
LGBTQ parent groups are “vital to show that regressive political projects do not respond to the needs of diverse communities in the region,” said González Cabrera of Human Rights Watch.
Delfín said she is one of two mothers in Santa Cruz who are activists fighting for their LGBTQ children. Elena Ramírez, Olmedo’s mother, also says that many transgender children who have problems at home come to her for refuge.
“I’m the mother of them all,” Ramírez, 66, said. “I know there are mothers I won’t be able to convince, but there are other children who really need it.”
Gambetta says all the moms in the organization effectively coach each other in monthly virtual meetings.
“Because we have more opportunities as mothers, we can raise awareness,” Gambetta said. “When your family supports you, you’ve already won 99% of the battle.”
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story.