COLOMBIA is in turmoil as people take to the streets to protest leaflets depicting erotic gay images which were reported to be a part of a new education initiative to support LGBTI students.
Openly lesbian Education Minister Gina Parody has slammed the distribution of leaflets featuring gay erotic material by her critics, who have tried to link the leaflet to her efforts to improve sex education in schools. Parody has been campaigning for sex education to begin earlier in schools and for an increase in support for LGBTI students in the South American country.
Earlier this year Parody was commissioned by the Colombian government to review anti-discrimination laws. She subsequently released in conjunction with the United Nations, a resource full of proposals to support LGBTI students and outlining the need to understand the needs of sexual and gender diverse students. The resource which has been described as similar to Australia’s Safe Schools program by members of the group, LGBTI LatinAmerican & Hispanics in Australia.
However, an unknown group distributed leaflets featuring same-sex couples, claiming they were part of the resource Parody intended to use in schools. But the images come from a variety of Belgian, Argentinian and Brazilian publications and are not part of Parody’s report.
The Minister criticised the tactic, blaming her political opposition for the distribution of the leaflets and saying it was a deliberate tactic to “terrorise” parents about her education reforms.
“We will not allow continued use of this manipulation machine for your political ideology with lies; (These people) have to be honest and tell the truth, if they want to promote hatred, division and exclusion in schools or love, understanding and inclusion, as mandated by the Constitution,” Parody said in a statement.
“You and all schools have autonomy over your children’s education, and the Ministry never violated this. Don’t be fooled.”
Despite receiving wide ranging criticism for her efforts, Parody has been a vocal supporter of improving sex education and removing LGBTI discrimination in schools including allowing mixed gender bathrooms and unisex school uniforms.
President Juan Manuel Santos was forced to address the issue, telling people the country’s response to the fake leaflets was disappointing.
“Neither the education ministry or the national government have implemented or will promote the so called ‘gender ideology’,” he said at a media conference.
“Violence, verbal or physical, bulling and discrimination are behaviours that as a society we should reject and condemn, as is been discussed today”.
“I’m not homophobic and I accept that schools will have LGBTI students, but the minister is taking advantage of the ambiguity of the law to interpret at will,” Hernández said.
“To implement these standards in schools, the coexistence manuals must be built by the parents, students, principals and teachers.
“We feel this is a colonization of their (Parody’s) customs and ideas of our own and somehow they are trying to impose their way of life (onto us).
“These proposals are based on an ideology that you can tell a boy or a girl that they have no defined sex even if they are born with a penis or vagina, and that their gender can be created, that it’s (something) they have the right to explore and develop.”
Parody has the full support of her government including Vice Minister of Education Victor Javier Saavedra who in defending the minister cited the suicide of Sergio Urrego, a young student in the capital Bogota who had been the victim of homophobic bullying.
“We do not force children to choose a gender and we are not creating gay colonies in schools. We only want that institutions in the country respect sexual identity and gender of students,” he said.
“We aim to help them develop and grow, so they understand the debate, but in no way are we implying that children should be choosing their own gender.”
Hernández is now facing disciplinary action from her political party who has ordered a disciplinary investigation into her comments by the U Party’s ethics committee for discrimination and homophobia.
Journalists, entertainers and politician have publicly voiced their support of Parody including esteemed author Héctor Abad who released a video in support proposed education reforms saying “those who bandy about the idea that it’s possible to teach a child to be gay are total liars and very ignorant”.
“Being gay is not a mistake, it’s not a bad thing, it’s not contagious. It’s like being left-handed or right-handed, it’s like being a brunette or blonde. It’s like being mixed-race, white or black,” Abad said in the video.
“You can’t teach someone to be black or white. But you can teach someone to be religious, including to be a religious fanatic.
“But you can also teach someone to be tolerant, to respect difference and that’s what the Minister for Education (Parody) is trying to do and she’s doing it well.”
Score of protests erupted around the country both in support and against Parody, including in the town of Nieva where a young man was arrested for waving a Pride flag in the middle an anti-Parody demonstration. Watch the video below.