Aldo Dávila has been working for HIV-positive people in Guatemala for decades and makes no secret of his status. Now he has moved into the parliament of the Central American state – and declared that he fears for his life every day.

On 14 January Dávila took his seat in the Guatemalan parliament. For him, this was the fulfilment of a dream: since his childhood, he had wanted to get into politics, to bring about changes in his home country. He ran for Winaq, the party founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menschú. And the people elected him.

Dávila himself sees his election as a sign of social change. That he was directly elected would mean that things are changing in the country, the 41-year-old told the German News portal Deutsche Welle. He expressed confidence:

“I have always been openly gay and the fact that people have given me their vote shows that things are changing in this country. That beyond being gay, they recognize a person who stands up for the rights of the LGBTQI* community, of HIV positive people and also for the rights of sexually abused girls”

The MP also made it clear that for him, being gay is not only about sexuality, but is also a political issue in Guatemala, a political claim to want to change things. He said that there had already been members of parliament before him, but they had made a secret of their gayness and had not stood up for equal rights.

The activist’s declared aim was to put the rights of homosexuals on a par with those of heterosexuals. But, as Dávila also makes clear, he is fighting for the rights of all people. This includes the right to health care and limiting the stigmatization of HIV-positive people.

 

Homophobia found its way through Christianity

 

In the Mayan culture homosexuality was accepted and even part of ritual ceremonies. Only with the Spanish conquest and the arrival of Christianity, which traditionally considered homosexuality a sin, did the openness towards queer people end, as in many other cultures around the world. Sodomy was even punished with death in Guatemala – by burning at the stake. Since 1871, however, homosexuality is legal again.

However, many rights for queer people do not yet exist in the country: neither comprehensive protection against discrimination, nor any legal recognition of homosexual couples. Since 2016, transsexuals can finally change their name, but not their gender entry in the birth register or the identity card.

Guatemala is the largest country in Central America – measured by the homicide rate it ranks 16th among the most dangerous countries in the world. There are 26.1 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. For comparison: in the most dangerous country in the world, Venezuela, the figure is 86.1 murders – in Germany 1.5.

Fearing for his life

Members of the queer community are also victims of hatred and violence time and again. In the Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2019, Guatemala was ranked 122nd, along with other countries including Pakistan and Tunisia.

Dávila also fears that something could happen to him. He told Deutsche Welle:

“I fear for my life all the time. I have received death threats via social networks and telephone calls, and I have also been followed by cars and motorcycles. I am threatened because I am fighting for my rights and they want to silence me. That is why I believe that I am on the right track. I must continue to speak for those who are not heard.”

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