By Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
In tandem with its 40th anniversary, the San Diego Diplomacy Council hosted the Diplomacy Begins Here Regional Summit and Learning Lab in San Diego in partnership with Global Ties U.S. and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on Sept. 19-21.
On Sept. 20, San Diego LGBT Pride Executive Director Fernando Zweifach López Jr. and YAAJ Mexico Director Iván Enrique Gómez Tagle, an alumnus of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, talked about cross-border LGBTQ relationships at the summit’s “Advocating of LGBT Rights in Mexico and the U.S.” session.
Although they only met the day before the panel, López and Tagle found that they had more in common than fighting for LGBTQ equality. Both of them struggled early in life as teenagers on the streets after being kicked out of their homes by their parents for being gay. Now, both LGBTQ leaders in San Diego and Mexico, the two shared their experiences and hope to continue to bring both sides of the border together.
López said many people see Pride as rainbows, booze and half naked boys dancing on floats. He said that while there is some truth to that, Pride goes much further than the parades, festivals and parties.
“San Diego Pride is a year-round education and advocacy organization to the LGBT community both locally, national and globally,” López said. “We are the single most philanthropic Pride in the world, having given out more than $3 million dollars to LGBT-serving education, advocacy in direct service organizations, again locally, nationally, and all over the world.”
Bringing LGBTQ organizations and leaders together globally is a high priority in the fight for LGBTQ equality.
“In 1981, one of our founders, Doug Moore, helped found the InterPride organization, which is the International Association of Prides,” López said. “Now, over 1,000 Pride organizations are able to connect, share resources and best practices all over the world.”
López said it is because of the vision of Doug Moore that San Diego Pride has such an intentional connection to international communities, and to the Diplomacy Council that just in the last seven years provided the opportunity to meet with 500 delegates from 135 countries across the world.
“You never know, as an LGBT person, when you are going to find allies in the ruins,” López said. “It’s wonderful to be here and see this day full of people from the U.S. Consulate in Mexico to Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas, who really do support the LGBT community and are helpful in bridging those ties. In was just in 2017 that the U.S. Consulate marched in the San Diego Pride parade for the first time and just this last year, the U.S. and Mexico consulates marched together.”
López said it was the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, Mexico that gave San Diego Pride the initial funding to host a binational LGBTQ leadership conference with its first year in 2018 when they had over 220 LGBTQ activists attend from both sides of the border.
“So clearly there is a need and a desire for folks to really collaborate on passing on best practices to better support having advocacy and education in the LGBT community in our binational region,” López said. “I’m really happy to announce that just yesterday, due to significant growth of the organization over the past couple of years, we are hiring a bilingual outreach coordinator whose job is going to be specifically to work in bridging more of those ties between the LGBT communities in the Tijuana region and San Diego.”
López said it was an incredible privilege to meet with Tagle and said he is an incredible activist in Mexico who has done some compelling work.
“In doing all of this diplomacy work and meeting incredible LGBT activists around the world, I can tell you that one of the biggest things that we have recognized is a call to stop exploiting our hate from the United States and to begin exploiting our successes,” López said. “Unfortunately, the anti-gay legislation that is happening here in the United States has moved expeditiously all over the world, including conversion therapy, which is a big part of what Ivan is combating, which is creating a hostile environment for the LGBTQ youth. Things like electroshock therapy and solitary confinement to children. I really want to commend Ivan for all of the work, and I apologize for our country’s engagements of hate and hope that by bridging our two countries that we can combat these things together.”
Tagle said the summit was very important to him and that the experiences he learned are due to the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
“When I was 17 years old, I was kicked out from my home for being gay,” Tagle said. “I was forced to live in the streets. At that moment, I was able to play the violin. When I was in the streets, I noticed teenagers that were going through the same situation. This was something within me that we had to do something to change things around. That’s how I started a community project where we would meet up weekly. In less than a month, we were 40 teenagers, everybody with the same objective — providing.”
Tagle said he realized that if they were going to help some of these teenagers, they needed to generate a professional framework that would allow them to make a difference.
In 2012, the U.S. Embassy invited Tagle to the first IVLP summit to talk about LGBTQ issues in his country. At that time, he said that he couldn’t imagine that he would get to go to another country because of his reality and the misconception from living on the streets.
“It changed my life forever,” Tagle said. “Everything I learned from that trip, little by little, started transforming into a nonprofit organization known as YAAJ Mexico. YAAJ, which means ‘love in my death,’ has been considered one of the most important organizations in the defense of the LGBT lives in Mexico with the highest level of political influence in the country.”
YAAJ developed programs that provide support for LGBTQ teenagers and has published diverse academic works that has allowed it to create new public policies. It is because of that 2012 trip that Tagle met with the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the U.S., and learned about the work that they do.
“So, I decided to start my own research in Mexico,” Tagle said. “We did the first national survey for LGBT youth in our country. We have influence at both a local and federal level to ban conversion therapy for sexuality orientation and identity in my country. It is important that this has brought support from three different Senators from three different political parties. We are very confident that maybe in November, that this law is going to pass in the Senate.”
Tagle said for YAAJ, learning how the great LGBTQ organizations in the United States work provided a guide that was needed to be able to professionally go forward with its work.
“All the work and things that you are doing in the U.S. touch us directly in our country,” Tagle said. “These things that you have done saved my life and continue to save lives.”
López talked about how fortunate both he and Tagle were to be where they are today despite being disowned at such a young age.
“But not everyone is so lucky,” López said. “I think that one of the challenges that we are competing against is this notion of protect children and families. Mary Salas, who was sitting here before us, just last week had to combat a radical anti-gay hate group MassResistance [a protest against Drag Queen Story Hour at the Chula Vista Public Library], which has connections to anti-immigrant and white supremacist groups as they called to protect children and families. We know that 40% of all homeless youth are LGBT-identified because their families throw them out like garbage.”
Tagle said having a lot of allies (to combat homeless youth) is important.
“You cannot change the world if you are alone,” Tagle said. “So, you have to learn how to communicate your powerful message. That message is to love, to rise and that we are all humans. In Mexico, we are coming up with many ways to get out this important message. We need to make everyone understand that LGBT rights are women’s rights and that these rights are intersectional rights for everyone. So, we need those allies to create this movement to protect people of color, LGBTs and women.”
López said he fully understands that legislation passed in the U.S. has significant impact all over the world. He said in looking at the fight for LGBTQ equality, people constantly look at the U.S. as leaders.
“Our Senators, when they are looking at certain legislation, they look at what the U.S. is doing in the same issues to help them determine how they vote,” Tagle said.
“One of the issues that we have seen here in the United States is packing the courts all across the country with lifetime judicial appointments that are anti-gay,” López said. “That threatens to roll back legislative processes in cities, counties, states and at a federal level. When I say that we export our hate, the same people that are passing these anti-gay legislative polices across the United States are also spreading it around the world. When those federal courts shift here, it sets up a case precedent that is looked at an international perspective.”
San Diego Diplomacy Council Executive Director Fabienne Perlov said that the summit focused on innovation in collaboration in the Cali/Baja region and beyond. She said the Diplomacy Council recognizes the close ties between San Diego and Baja California in economies, businesses, educational institutions and government working together.
“There are challenges, but at the grassroots levels on both sides of the border between San Diego and Tijuana stakeholders, there is collaboration, diplomatic engagement to address these challenges. Whether it is security, human rights, environment or immigration,” Perlov said. “One of the purposes of the regional summit was to hear experts from both sides of the border to explain how they work together, come up with solutions and address upcoming challenges.”
Perlov said another objective was to demonstrate the guiding path of its professional exchange programs with its international participants and local communities.
“This is why we invited Ivan Tagle from Mexico City to speak on the panel with the executive director of San Diego LGBT Pride about his experience with the International Visitor Leadership Program in San Diego and how it empowered him to fight for LGBT rights in Mexico,” Perlov said. “Our partnership with San Diego Pride and other LGBT organizations in San Diego have been ongoing for years now. We love it because it really shows that we are making a difference in the lives of our participants who collect knowledge, experience and then network it back home. This way they do not feel alone and are better equipped to promote LGBT rights.”
The summit also engaged San Diego youth in diplomacy with 60 high school students with a border simulated situation led by two diplomats. “This was a very informative and engaging experience for them,” she said.
“Our fourth objective was the networking opportunity for our local, national and international guests to learn from each other and to share their efforts to promote citizen diplomacy,” Perlov continued. “Basically, we bring world leaders to San Diego to connect with their professional counterparts. It can be through professional meetings and special events.”
— Albert Fulcher can be reached at [email protected].