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Bogotá Pride and the City of Eternal Spring: Blogotá Week 5 & 6

Areperas, Machorras, Camioneras…

Bogota Pride 2012 – hella gente!

During the Bogotá Pride march last Sunday, I learned lots of Colombian words for dyke.  Arepera (arepa maker — arepa is a traditional Colombian corn patty, which is also slang for VAGINA) is a popular one.  Toque Lesbico, the drumming group I marched with, wore shirts with Arepera written on them, to say that we are areperas and proud of it, and to sort of reclaim the word in the face of harassment against LGBT people.  The theme of the march this year was No al Matoneo Escolar (No to School Bullying), which is a problem resulting in tragic student suicides much like in the US.  We had other chants such as “Las lesbianas somos malas y podemos ser peores” (“Lesbians misbehave but can be even worse…”) which is supposed to be kind of playfully irreverent but doesn’t translate that well.

The march was the most fun I’ve had so far in Bogotá.  I successfully belted a few traditional Colombian jams for the

Me & the areperas

drumming group on my trumpet, and generally just had a great time getting a little tipsy and bopping along.  We marched for about four hours with the crowd pushing in around us, people spraying shaving cream-type stuff all over us, a fleet of groupie whistle blowers surrounding us, and the occasional creepy drunk weirdo breaking through into the group.  The streets were jammed with people watching the march, but according to several people I talked to it was not as well attended as last year.  It got a little crazy at some points, with random dykes hugging and grabbing me, but I made it out alive.

I’m going to be working on a blog for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission about the pride march and LGBT situation here and will try to interview various folks (LGB & T) to get their perspective on things.  I’ll share when it’s done, which if I can get my ass in gear, should be relatively soon.

Fake Boobs, Good Weather, and Fernando Botero

This is what Medellín, a city I visited this weekend about an hour flight outside of Bogota, is known for.  It has a reputation of being LA-superficial, with lots of cosmetic surgery and boob jobs.  People in Bogotá are always saying how hot the girls in Medellin are.  One thing is for sure: they certainly wear tighter clothes and less of them.  As for the good weather, that is undeniable — it has earned its name the City of Eternal Spring.  And has contributed further to my horrible farmer’s tan.

Botero painting of death of Pablo Escobar

Moving on, Fernando Botero is a Medellín-born artist who is popular for his paintings of rotund figures.  According to him, they aren’t fat, he just uses the exaggerated forms to increase the drama and expression of the paintings.  Of course, when I ask a taxi driver to take me to Botero’s Plaza where many of his sculptures are displayed, he says, “Ah si, la plaza de los gordos.”  His works sell for millions and according to a friend of mine here, he was a big hit among the leaders of the drug cartel, who ultimately, and maybe unfortunately, popularized his work over many other (arguably better) Colombian artists.

Another famous thing in Medellín is a cable car system that was installed so that people living in the hilly, extremely poor communities could more easily travel down to the city for work, etc.  The hills are so steep that a normal metro car will not do, so there are cable cars that hold six people which take you up, down, and back up a mountain to reach the top where, not surprisingly, there is an amazing view.  On the way up I swung over stacks of brick shacks and wooden shanties jammed into the side of hills and propped up with wooden poles.  These places, similar to images of the favelas in Rio or campamentos in Chile, looked like they could be blown over by a gust of wind.  According to the 2012 gini coefficient rankings (measure of inequality, which I’ve already forgotten how to calculate even though I just finished a Macroeconomics class), Colombia is the 9th most unequal country in the world in terms of distribution of family


income, just behind Haiti.

A quick note on drugs — as I mentioned about Bogotá, there is not the same threat of violence (ie. targeted bombings) there used to be when drug cartels were at their peak.  A taxi driver who took me on a long ride back to the airport told me his perspective, that nowadays the narcotraficantes keep a much lower profile.  Horrifyingly, he said he was almost killed in two separate car bombing incidents that he came close to as he was driving his taxi around town.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like facing the daily threat of violence.  Many people I talk to here have unbelievable stories of growing up in fearful circumstances.

And on that happy note, I love and miss you all.  I’m still trying to get postcards in the mail — they barely sell postcards here at all so it’s NOT MY FAULT.  So look for those in about a month or so (and please don’t move in the meantime).  Lots of love!


One time at Colombian lesbian band camp: Blogotá Week 4

Toque Lesbico and the Countdown to Bogotá Pride

Last week I went to my first rehearsal for Toque Lesbico, a lesbian drumming group that marches every year in the

Toque Lesbico.

Bogotá Pride parade.  Here is the website if you’re curious about what they look and sound like: The ED of my organization participates and thought it would be cool if I played my trumpet with the group.  There were a few challenges: getting a trumpet, finding music to play, understanding what the hell they were saying during rehearsals.  So far, it’s been tough but I’m glad I’m doing it.  I was able to borrow a trumpet from the guy who used to live in my room, and I’ve been watching lots of YouTube videos and transcribing the music so I can have something to play to the drumming.  Much like the variety of fruit here, there are lots of musical styles that I had never heard of before: Mapale, Bullerengue, SanJuanero and then there’s the Cumbia, Salsa, Merengue which we all know and love.  Mapale, for example, is an AfroColombian/Caribbean style that includes some haunting wailing which I try to mimic on my trumpet as a lead-in to the drumming.  If you’re interested, here’s what MAPALE sounds like:

We had our last rehearsal tonight before the parade on Sunday.  It got kind of intense and I was pretty nervous because I only had a few minutes of borrowed trumpet time to try to figure out how to play these musical styles.  I try to make the group understand that I can’t just improvise and make up some badass melody on the spot, but I’m not sure they all get that.  Anyway, my night took a turn for the better when someone started passing around a bottle of aguardiente (the pisco/vodka/cheap liquor of Colombia) and then I loosened up a bit and had more fun.  They seem to be digging the addition of the trumpet sound — I do a lead-in to several songs and there are some parts where the drums get quiet and I play a solo.  Needless to say, I’ve got a lot of practicing to do before Sunday!

Penis Garden: Villa de Leyva

Fertility, anyone?

I took a solo trip to Villa de Levya this past weekend, a small Spanish colonial town in the department of Boyocá about four hours outside of Bogotá.  The town was beautiful (thanks, conquistadores?!) and super relaxing.  I was ambitious during the day and ended up wandering four hours through the desert (felt like 40 days and 40 nights) to see the sights just outside the town.  If I could do it over again I definitely would have rented a bike and put on sunblock on to avoid the major farmer’s tan I got.  I asked every person on the way if I was going the right direction and they assured me that whatever I was looking for was just down the road… turns it it was just really freaking far down the road.  When I wasn’t afraid I was lost and going to have to start drinking out of a cactus, it was nice.  And though it wasn’t totally picturesque, there were some nice views of the valley.  Stop 1 on the desert tour: Observatorio Muisca (AKA the stone penis garden).  The Muisca were the indigenous peeps of the region (roughly between 300 BCE and 1500 CE), and they left behind a bunch of stone phalluses, some of which are lined up east to west and in some way correspond with the solstices, and the others are spread around and represent fertility.  The stone phalluses were impressive, but I did giggle at the thought of a Muisca person toiling in the sun trying to get the crease in the penis head juuust right — they were sticklers for detail.  The other sights were: a giant fossil of a kronosaurus (marine dinosaur alligator) which was discovered in 1977 which they literally built a museum around (where they dug it up); and the blue wells (pozos azules) which were three bright blue lakes in the middle of nowhere, (kind of pretty but that’s Villa de Leyva's plaza - with one well in the middle that the townspeople used to get water for 400 years. Wowzers!about it). Best part was eating some amazing meals and enjoying the plaza (biggest in Latin America, lest you question its importance).  Also, there was a thunder and lightning storm which caused the whole town a blackout and caused me a slight panic attack — shocking, I know. Rain or shine, I definitely want to go back there.

Police Abuse of LGBT People

The latest research I’m doing at my internship is for a report Colombia Diversa is putting together on police abuse of LGBT people in the country.  This is a big problem, especially for transgender people.  A lawyer at the office told me that police officers will beat transgender women on their breast implants, crack bottles over their head, or pick them up and drive them to the middle of nowhere and leave them there.  Also, transgender people are often arrested for prostitution even if they aren’t prostitutes.  There is a lot of similarity to what happens here and in the US — transgender people (particularly trans people of color) are arbitrarily arrested (“walking while trans”), and physically

Shelcy Sanchez, a transgender former sex worker who ran for Congress in 2010.

and verbally abused by the police.  Some of the mainstream LGBT rights groups tend to stay away from these issues, since there’s a fear of giving LGBT people a bad name (prostitutes/ criminals) and jeopardizing the movement.  These are super complicated issues, and definitely hard to message to the general public, but so urgent and important to prioritize.  LGBT youth and transgender people of color are disproportionately criminalized under archaic and nonsensical public order/crimes of nature laws, for example, or even without any justification.  While gay marriage marches forward, this systemic tragic violation of human rights goes undiscussed.  I hope to be able to do more work on this issue with Colombia Diversa and hopefully hold an event at SIPA in the fall on the criminalization of LGBT people of color.  Stay tuned.

Yup, Still Blogging: Blogotá Week 3

I didn’t do too much blog-worthy stuff this week, but I’ll tell you about a few quick things.

Festivos All Around

This past weekend was another three-day weekend due to a religious holiday, same as last.   No one here really knows what they mean but are just happy they get Monday off.  This festivo I took a bike ride down to the centro to the big flea market, walked around checking out all the antiques/junk/movies/posters/more antiques/more junk with my bike like a big dorky gringa, then pedaled north until I got tired.  Definitely going biking again soon!  My roommates have several bikes here that I can use whenever which is super sweet.

Biggest gay club in Latin America?

Theatron floor 1 of 5.

Quite possibly.  On Saturday night I went out to a club called Theatron, which is rumored (unconfirmed — Brasil and Argentina might have something up their gay sleeves) to be the biggest gay club in Latin America.  Katie, if you are reading this, it made the Living Room in Mexico City look like a shoe box.  This place takes up half an entire block, is five stories high, and has about ten different themed clubs or bars you can choose from.  It is sort of like a gay Disneyland — you pay a cover and they give you a plastic cup which you can fill up with rum, vodka, or aguardiente (Colombian piss-gross licorice alcohol) — as much as you can drink.  And yeah, I pretty much drank as much as I could.  By the way, the place can fit up to 4,000 people.  So yeah, it was big.  Oh, and one more thing — there was a bar specifically for women (or rather, no men allowed) and I was pumped to go in and weave my way through the packed crowd, but when I left my guy friends behind and ventured in, what I found was a nearly empty space with about four people. 😦 Kind of reminds me of my GLIPA Columbia ladies night in the fall, which turned out to be a lady night. (Thanks for showing up, Alison!)

The Two Escobars

In addition to exploring, I’m trying to learn a little more about Colombia by watching some documentaries.  I watched one recently called The Two Escobars (fully available to watch on YouTube which is built around the stories of cocaine cartel king-of-the-underworld Pablo Escobar and the Colombian national soccer team captain, Andres Escobar.  Surely you’ve heard of Pablo, but you may have also heard of Andres who was the guy who accidentally scored a goal for the other team during the ’94 World Cup, and was tragically murdered shortly after.  What you may not know is how intertwined the drug cartels and soccer really was, how the cartels funded the Colombian team causing its rise to fame in the 1990s, and how they used soccer to launder massive amounts of cash.  It was also interesting hearing another perspective on Pablo Escobar who I was surprised to learn was revered by the poor for his contributions (albeit through “blood money”) to community soccer fields and housing for many thousands.  A must watch, if your gut is prepared to be wrenched.


I miss you all so much!  It’s great to be here and I’m meeting some cool Bogotanos, but nothing compares to my friends and family in CA, NYC, and DC.  Sending truckloads of besos y abrazos your way.

Fruit, Salt, and Rights: Blogotá Week 2

gato de la casa, la Vagabunda

Hola mi gente!  It’s been a little over a week but the being in a new country time warp effect makes it feel like it’s been over a month.  I’ve been having a lovely time so far, balancing out working and seizing el día with a hearty portion of exquisite relaxation at home with the kitty watching movies like Heat.  A few highlights:

Oh the Pitayas You’ll Peel

la granadilla, una maravilla

So it turns out I’m not the only thing thing that’s fruity in Colombia.  Lulos, granadillas, guanábanas and pitayas are just some of the amazing fruits available here. Many of the fruits I had never even heard of and could have only imagined in the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. Obviously, they are as commonplace for Bogotanos as hummers and pretension are for Los Angelenos (welcome to LA, bro!) I have many more to try, but my favorite so far is la granadilla, which according to my roommate is best opened by cracking it over someone’s head and is often used to mimic boogers and snot. The snot part tastes sweet and delicious, like lychee, and you slightly chew on and swallow the tart seeds. Yum. (Joke break: How do you make a granadilla dance? Put a little boogie in it.)

Zipaquirá: Getting Down with High Blood Pressure

tasting the salt wall. yup, it tasted like salt.

Yesterday I took a trip to check out the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá, about an hour outside of the city.  There was an original cathedral built in the salt mines used by miners in the 1950’s, but the current one was built in the mid-90’s, is a huge underground Roman Catholic cathedral and is mainly a tourist attraction.  It worked–it attracted me.  Lots of Virgin Airlines style pre-flight purple lights shine on salt and granite crosses and lead you down to a huge sanctuary.  The coolest part for me was just being so far underground, taking in deep sulphuric breaths, successfully resisting a panic attack and admiring the natural designs of the sparkling salty walls.  For me, the experience was as secular as it was salty.

Human Rights Are So Gay

Virgin America lights in the salt cathedral

And Trans, and Lesbian, and Bisexual, and…. so much more.  My work this last week has sparked lots of competing thoughts about both the discouraging and encouraging aspects of human rights advocacy.  They go something like this   YAY! There is progress. This year the InterAmerican Court ruled in favor of Karen Atala, a Chilean lesbian judge, who had lost custody of her children after her vengeful husband took her to court when she moved in with her partner.                 BOO! Progress is slow. It took seven years for the case to work its way through the InterAmerican system and for Karen to be reunited with her three daughters. YAY! Widespread impact. The ruling did more than just say that Chile violated Atala’s rights to privacy and non-discrimination; it established sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories so that discrimination on either of those grounds is a violation of international human rights law, which could impact future Latin American cases and domestic policies.  BOO! Risk of backlash. There is the risk of violence against groups such as LGBT people where visibility is increased and advancements are being made. YAY! Framework for change.   I see human rights advocacy — albeit a gradual process and far from capable of functioning alone — as somewhat of an answer to the despairing statements that get thrown out when the tragic murders of Daniel Zamudio or David Kato happen: “This is a tragedy and something must be done about this.” I think that to an extent, human rights provides a framework for addressing violations, preventing future violations, and contributing to the creation of norms that have the potential to fundamentally change global attitudes towards vulnerable groups of people, such as LGBT people.

My Blogotá

Welcome to my Blogotá!  Shakira and I hope to use this site to keep a few of you updated on what we’re up to down here in Colombia this summer.Ok ok FINE!  Shakira and I aren’t together.  We broke up a long time ago.  Thanks for bringing it up.

For reals though, I don’t really know what to write on here so I’m just gonna go wild and try not to offend anyone too much (hi mom!!)

I’ll start with some FAQs about my time in Colombia:

View from La Candelaria, historical center.

How long will you be there? All summer.  I’m flying back to NYC from Bogotá August 20th.  I’ll be in Bogotá most of the time and traveling around within Colombia during August.

Where do you live? I live with two stoner professor Colombian guys and a cat named Vagabunda in Macarena, the Bohemian neighborhood.  The apartment looks like it’s falling apart from the outside and in some parts on the inside but it’s mostly cozy, super convenient (10 minute walk to the office), and I have my own little bathroom which is a big plus.

What is Bogotá like?  I haven’t seen too much of it yet since I arrived three days ago, but what I’ve seen I like.  I hate making generalizations about personalities of people in a country, but fuck it, people here are really nice (except the guy that sold me my cell phone today, he was a dick).  I feel like I don’t attract a lot of attention just by being gringa, which is a nice change from the Santiago cat calls which made my pasty freckled skin crawl.  It’s a big city — 8 million people I think — hilly and up against some lush green mountains, with other beautiful mountains in the distance (I like mountains!)  It’s high altitude which gets me out of breath walking up hills (more than usual).  There are lots of faux hawk/rat tail haircuts.  There are lots of police officers standing on the streets with big guns, deterring crime I guess.  They mostly look really bored and are checking their cell phones and eating snacks.

See? He looks bored.

Is Bogotá safe?  I hate questions about safety because I think they’re really complicated and they cause me to unravel, but since you asked, everyone says that yes, it is safe.  Will I get kidnapped and held hostage by the revolutionary guerrilla groups?  No.  Will I get my cell phone jacked if I take it out like a jackass in a crowded area and start taking pictures? Yup.  If you’re interested in how Bogotá has rapidly developed in the last few decades (reduced violence, better public transportation, etc.), I watched a great documentary called Cities on Speed which you can watch in parts on YouTube (link to part 1 here)  I’ve much to learn about the armed conflict that has been going on in Colombia between the guerrilla groups and the military, but what I’ve heard is that Bogotá is not a conflict area; I’ll be safe as long as I steer clear of the jungly border with Ecuador.

What are you doing there? Waking up each morning super excited to be in Colombia and wondering if this is the day I’ll have traveler’s diarrhea (actually, today was the day).  Also, interning at Colombia Diversa, an LGBT rights organization during June and July.  Currently, I’m doing research for a petition that the organization wants to bring to the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights (a regional human rights body, part of the Organization of American States).  It is dealing with the murder of a Colombian LGBT rights activist, and particularly the discrimination in the legal system surrounding crimes against LGBT people — ie. the cases are often dismissed, stuck in the early investigation stages, and/or archived without finding anyone responsible.  This inaction perpetuates the climate of impunity around violence against LGBT people in Colombia.  So, it’s really interesting stuff for now, but next week I may be fixing margins or something.  The org is small and mostly women lawyers, and everyone is cool and pretty laid back.

It gets mejor.

What is the status of LGBT rights in Colombia?  Colombia is one of the most progressive countries with regard to LGBT rights in Latin America, alongside Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, BUT the experiences of LGBT folks vary a lot depending on if you are L, G, B, T, etc.  If you’re interested, here is a look at what the LGBT situation is in each Latin American country; as you’ll see, it varies a lot by country. In Colombia in the past few years, there has been resistance from Congress to pass any bills related to rights and recognition of LGBT people, but there have been many advances through the Constitutional Court here.  Marriage? Nope. Domestic partnerships? Sort of — you can show you have a “de facto marital union” and get partner health benefits, pension and life insurance benefits, etc. Adoption? Not yet, but it could be on the horizon since the Court just ruled that homosexuals have the right to form a family.  Unfortunately, there are still three murders per month of LGBT people in Colombia, and various prominent powerful political figures who have made public statements against LGBT people  which is concerning.

Ok, future Blogotás will be shorter, but I guess I had a lot to say for this first one.  Thanks for reading and please comment, etc.  Also please email me your address so I can send you a postcard (if you want one!).  

Love and miss you.