[Episcopal News Service – San Salvador, El Salvador] When Bessy Rios’s brother Cruz Torres – then a college student – told her he was gay, she cried for three days.
At the time Rios, a lawyer, was a volunteer with a human rights organization looking for missing children displaced by El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, and a colleague said to her: “Your brother is still your brother. The only thing that is different is that you know something today that you didn’t know yesterday.”
In hindsight, Rios, who leads “Holding your Hand,” a support group for families of LGBT people that accompanies the Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador’s sexual diversity ministry, grew up defending her brother, first from her father who recognized his son’s femininity and threatened to “shoot him between the eyes” if he was gay; later from bullies on the playground.
Still, her brother’s declaration floored her. For 15 years, she said, her brother hid his identity.
In El Salvador and the other countries belonging to the Anglican Church in Central America, or IARCA, its Spanish acronym, hiding one’s homosexual identity remains still somewhat common; the LGBT community suffers violence, threats and discrimination, the latter rooted in deeply held Roman Catholic and evangelical Christian teachings.
Homophobia, heterosexism and machismo, the cultural attitudes driving the deeply held societal beliefs that fuel hatred and discrimination in El Salvador, are what Rios, human rights organizations, the church’s sexual diversity ministry and other activists are working to change.
“I fell in love with the cause,” said Rios, a mother of four, who in addition to working full time advocates for LGBT rights and coordinates “Holding your Hand.”
Forming a family support ministry, regardless of Rios’s resolve, however, has been slow-going, she said, because family members still prefer to meet with her one-on-one rather than in groups, since they, too, want to protect their privacy and in some cases family reputations.
In early July, Rios shared her story with a group of 12 North Americans studying LGBT rights in El Salvador as part of an LGBT pilgrimage organized by Washington National Cathedral and Foundation Cristosal’s Global School.
“This is the first time that Cristosal has gotten involved in LGBT issues,” said Ernesto Zelayandia, coordinator of the Global School, whose curriculum fosters global citizenship. “Our main goal is to foster spaces for dialogue to solve today’s problems.”
Formed in 2009, the Anglican-Episcopal Church in El Salvador’s sexual diversity ministry offers a place for LGBT people to be themselves, find community and re-establish a relationship with a loving, rather than a condemning, God.
Bishop of El Salvador Martin Barahona was IARCA’s primate in 2003 when the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected Gene Robinson, now retired, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, an election that sent shockwaves throughout the Anglican Communion.
“I was the one bishop in Latin America who attended Gene Robinson’s consecration,” saidBarahona, in an interview with ENS in San Salvador.
Following Robinson’s consecration, Barahona established pastorally inclusive ministries in three areas: people with physical disabilities, sexual diversity and at-risk youth. (The Anglican-Episcopal Church played a major role in negotiating the truce between El Salvador’s two most notorious gangs and the bishop has been known to minister to gang members.)
The sexual diversity ministry became a part of the Rev. Luis Serrano’s congregation at St. John the Evangelist in an area of San Salvador called “Savior of the World,” where a statue of Jesus Christ stands upon planet earth.
“We began to open the hearts, the doors of the church, and then the community began to have confidence in the church, and then they began to come,” said Barahona...there is more:
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