Becoming an LGBTI+ activist in Bolivia

Blog by Andrés Méndez Marenco, June 27, 2019

Elliot knows that the city of his childhood is no longer the same. When he was a young adult, La Paz and Bolivia started experiencing important positive changes regarding the inclusion and recognition of sexual diversity. Although he’s clearly satisfied with these developments, his desire to keep fighting for LGBTI+ rights is even greater now.

Elliot Zeballos is a young activist lawyer at the Civil Association for Social Development and Cultural Promotion (ADESPROC Libertad) who does political advocacy for human rights. ADESPROC is now in charge of the LGBTI+ secretariat of Hivos’ Right Here, Right Now platform. His involvement in the platform has allowed him to see a big change for the LGBTI+ community in Bolivia, and has connected him with a large network of civil society organizations in Honduras and the Caribbean. Elliot never believed he could get where he is today, but as he says, “Becoming an activist was almost automatic.”

 

His situation was different from most other sexually diverse persons in Bolivia, or in Latin America and other parts of the world for that matter. From the first moment he told his family he was gay, they surrounded him with love, support, and acceptance. His mother even marches with him on IDAHOT (International Day Against Homo/lesbi/Trans-phobia) and at Pride parades. “For me, this is quite an achievement, because it lets me live and show who I really am without fear.”

A personal process of change

He joined the LGBTI+ rights movement three years ago, when the Gender Identity Law was passed in Bolivia. At that time, he accepted an invitation to be part of Metamorfosis, a cultural and sports group for LGBTI+ youth in La Paz. As he got more involved, he started learning about the work done by LGBTI+ activists and organizations in Bolivia. This brought him face-to-face with the realities of the LGBTI+ community.

The change is sociocultural, that’s where activists come in to demand and change reality

Seeing realities so different from his own changed everything. It made Elliot look for ways to put his knowledge of law and human rights, and his professional contacts, to good use. “The cultural group that was once was a space to share experiences with others is today a launching pad in the fight to get the Bolivian government to approve the Family Life Agreement,” Elliot says proudly.

A life-long commitment

He knows that this project is a life-long commitment. Although Bolivia has made progress passing more inclusive laws and regulations, the country is still very far from where LGBTI+ activists want to see it. That is why Elliot focuses on achieving social and cultural change: a broad acceptance of sexual minorities amongst Bolivians themselves.

Photo: Indómita

Elliot is convinced that diversity enriches people and wants everyone in society to feel good about themselves, as they really are: “I dream of seeing a huge social movement that works together. One where women, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, the LGBTI + community and other groups come together to eliminate all forms of discrimination and social exclusion.”