Pride 2017: rain and respect
photos and story by Eric Jackson
On July 1 rain delayed the start of Panama’s Pride March for Sexual Diversity, but only for a short while. It probably kept attendance down, surely immobilized some of the floats, and surely meant a long and straggling parade as people came late due to the rains. But it was a large and enthusiastic crowd with diplomatic missions and corporations represented along with many groups and individuals of a number of nationalities. The most reported feature of this year’s civil rights demonstration was the participation of First Lady Lorena Castillo de Varela, who marched alongside Mayor José Isabel Blandón and the leaders of LGBT community groups.
This year’s Pride events come with some court cases looming in which it is expected that the Supreme Court will decide if the ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional sex discrimination. It also comes at a time when a large majority of Panamanians have shifted their views to support sex education in the schools but all efforts to allow that are stalled in a legislature that’s terrified of churches that oppose it.
The mayor and first lady are Panameñistas, as is the representante of Bella Vista who has for years done this and that to block Pride marchers from gathering in any city parks over which he has the slightest control. There were no banners of any Panamanian political party in the march.
Although this was a march specifically for the rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people, “zero discrimination” was a common theme. There was no sign of the xenophobia that some PRD politicians and others have been whipping up. The principal targets of the anti-foreign hatred, Venezuelans and Colombians, did not march as contingents like some of the Britons and Americans, but a number of them wore their distinctive identifying apparel and they were welcomed in the crowd. It was a demonstration of tolerance in more than the advertised sense. Joining the crowd were some contingents of allied causes — a group of agnostics and atheists advocating secular government and the Panamanian Family Planning Association (APLAFA) urging sex education in the schools, to name two.
Even for Latin America, Panama has been an unusually homophobic society. But in the 13 years of Pride marches the changes in public attitudes have been palpable. This year marked a stride toward respectability for the LGBT communities.
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