In every kiss a revolution

With fireworks, music and dancing ‘nuns’, on Friday 25 September Montevideo was host to the March for Diversity, Uruguay’s equivalent of Gay Pride.

Part of a year long-programme of activities organized by the Uruguayan Government called Actúa Montevideo: Más igualdad, más diversidad (Act Montevideo: more equality, more diversity), it took place in September, a month that this small but open-minded country has dedicated to sexual diversity for the second year running.

Respect for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights has come more into the public domain recently. Uruguay is unusual among neighbours in its liberal attitude towards homosexuality, exemplified by the introduction of a law at the beginning of September permitting adoption by homosexual couples – unprecedented in Latin America. The Catholic Church and opposition parties spoke out against this law as being contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but its proponents insisted that it makes adoption processes safer, which helps avoid child trafficking.

Uruguay’s parliament has also approved gay marriage and name and sex changes from the age of 12. In a speech at the opening ceremony for the Month of Diversity, a Government representative said that he was proud to say that Uruguay was the Latin capital of respect and tolerance.

‘I’ve been coming on the march for the past five years, although I’m not gay. I come because I’m against all kinds of discrimination and this is another struggle for everyone’

However, despite the liberal stance of the Uruguayan authorities, the organizers of the march, Ovejas Negras (Black Sheep) and FUDIS (Uruguayan Federation of Sexual Diversity) stated that Uruguayan society faces ‘the need to transcend the limits of its indifference, its shame or aggressiveness, in order to recognize that discrimination for reasons of sexual identity or gender identification has no justification in a democratic society.’ The march itself took place in a festive atmosphere with around 10,000 party-goers helping to celebrate the recent progresses made in the defence of gay rights and to make sure that they will not go unnoticed in the future.

The mayor of Montevideo, Ricardo Ehrlich, who led the celebration along with other civil servants, stated on local television that ‘getting to know each other is what chases fear away’ and stressed the importance of this when it comes to building cities.

Meanwhile his city, or at least part of it, became a kind of outdoor night club when the music started in the Plaza Independencia at seven in the evening. One of the carnaval floats served as a mobile sound system and belted out such global classics as ‘I Will Survive’, ‘It’s Raining Men’ and ‘YMCA’, as well as some more local gay disco standards, although the most authentic Uruguayan touch was added by a group playing candombe drums.

With the slogans ‘In every kiss, a revolution’, and ‘Not one vote for homophobia’, the message was clear, and seemed to reach a receptive public. As one participant said: ‘I’ve been coming on the march for the past five years, although I’m not gay. I come because I’m against all kinds of discrimination and this is another struggle for everyone.’

Jail babies

Babe behind bars: Honduran inmate Crissa Melissa Pinaca plays with her baby in a Madrid jail. In Spain, children can live with their mothers in prison up to the age of three.

Photo: Alfredo Caliz / Panos

They make you feel guilty for just being there. They search you and make you take your shoes off and you feel ashamed.’ Like 14-year-old Clare, who is visiting a member of her family in prison, thousands of children throughout the world are being punished even though they have committed no crime.

The issue of the rights of prisoners’ children has not been properly addressed by any international body, and by very few national governments. According to the British support organization Action for Prisoners’ Families (APF), imprisonment can cause long-term harm to the children of offenders.

Having a parent in prison increases the chances of a child offending later on. Daniel, in France, was only five when his father was jailed for setting fire to the local police station. ‘When I grow up, I am going to do the same,’ he promises. His visits to his father’s prison – where the atmosphere was intimidating and far from child-friendly – were disturbing for him, according to his mother.

‘Daniel was depressed for a couple of months after visiting his father for the first time, and my daughter started to show new behavioural problems.’ No telephone contact was possible and, with visiting hours limited to weekdays, the children could only visit during school holidays. When Daniel’s father came home, his children hardly knew him.

When it is the mother who is imprisoned, children are more likely to be taken into the care of the authorities. Globally, a large proportion of women in prison are mothers of young children. Often they were already lone parents, or are abandoned by their partners as a result of their imprisonment, leaving the children without anyone to look after them. The small number of women’s facilities in jails exacerbates the problem, increasing the distances children need to travel to visit their mothers.

Sometimes children may find themselves in prison with a parent, especially where there is no social care available, and if the extended family cannot help. UNICEF advises that infants should be accommodated with their mothers where possible as this is less traumatic than separation, but the prison environment is a totally unnatural one for a child.

In Argentina, children under three are incarcerated with their mothers. According to Rasjid Cesar of Tierraviva, a pioneering organization working with women incarcerated with their children in Buenos Aires, human rights abuses of both mothers and their offspring are rife. In one case, a pregnant inmate’s baby – which could have been saved by a caesarean delivery – was stillborn because the authorities took so long in deciding whether to send the woman to hospital.

Mothers may be driven to desperate measures for the sake of their children. ‘Two women went on hunger strike,’ reports Cesar. ‘One wanted to be taken to her village to see her children. Another wanted fresh milk for her daughter. In the end we supplied it ourselves.’

Although non-governmental organizations like APF and Tierraviva are carrying out valuable work to improve the lives of those affected, they insist that governments should be doing more to safeguard children and their families. Many countries have no reliable records of the number of children with parents in prison and no guidelines as to how to take their needs into account.

*Jenny Solen Lees*

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