Equality remains elusive for LGBT people in Venezuela

By Hector Pereira

Caracas, Jun 27 (EFE).- To be openly LGBTI in Venezuela means to live without rights that fellow citizens take for granted. An unwritten law bars gay men from giving blood, while trans people struggle to change their names despite the existence of legislation that specifically allows it.

More broadly, sexual minorities in the oil-rich Andean nation must contend with deeply rooted machismo, homophobia, and transphobia as they gaze with envy on the progress made by their peers in other Latin American countries.

No law prohibits gay men from donating blood, yet hospitals, clinics, and blood banks routinely turn them away, alleging that homosexuals as a group are more likely to contract HIV.

By the same token, Venezuelan law is silent on same-sex marriage, yet lesbian and gay couples tend to identify themselves as “friends” to avoid facing discrimination at hotels or from school administrators unwilling to accept co-maternity or co-paternity.

And in the event that one member of a same-sex couple requires hospitalization, his or her partner will frequently encounter difficulties when it comes to visiting.

Venezuela, which boasted the continent’s first openly transsexual member of congress in 2015, currently has no political figure representing the LGBT community at the national level.

The issue of LGBT rights is also easily overlooked in a country struggling with a protracted economic crisis and political polarization and that silence suits some religious groups who want to see sexual minorities marginalized.

Opponents of same-sex unions will point to words in the Venezuelan Constitution that expressly protect “marriage between a man and a woman.”

But attorney Richelle Briceño told Efe that the constitutional language does not imply a ban on same-sex marriage, because in law, anything not explicitly prohibited is permitted.

The 2009 Civil Registry Law allows any adult to change his or her legal name if the existing name “submits (one) to public ridicule, assaults his or her moral integrity, honor, and reputation, or does not correspond to his or her gender.”

In practice, however, transgender individuals find authorities unwilling to grant their applications for name changes.

“Though the most recently approved laws refer to prohibiting discrimination for reason of sexual orientation or gender identity, there is no formal law that specifies the criminal offense with juridical consequences that establish any punishment or sanction for the individuals or groups that commit such acts of discrimination,” Briceño said. EFE hp/dr

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