Focusing on LGBTQ Latin American, Caribbean Seniors

Pedro Paradiso Sottile, who leads ILGALAC, discussed his team’s partnership with SAGE to improve LGBTQ rights for seniors in Latin America and the Caribbean.
MATT TRACY

An international coalition dedicated to achieving LGBTQ rights in Latin America and the Caribbean is teaming up with Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE) to highlight issues facing queer seniors and advocate for improving the plight of older adults in that region of the world.

The idea for SAGE to embark on a partnership with the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association’s (IGLA) Latin American and Caribbean branch — which is known as ILGALAC — first emerged a few years ago when SAGE CEO Michael Adams and Pedro Paradiso Sottile, who heads up ILGALAC, initiated informal discussions about how the two teams could work together to ensure that LGBTQ older adults would be a priority in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The partnership represents a new frontier for SAGE, which has typically focused on serving seniors in the continental United States but now has affiliates in Puerto Rico and other locations. The alliance could be influential in the international landscape given that ILGALAC consists of member organizations across six regions — Mexico, Central America, Brazil, the Andean region across the western side of South America, and the Southern Cone encompassing the southernmost countries in South America. IGLA, which has fought for LGBTQ rights and broader human rights since 1978, consists of 1,638 member organizations across 159 countries.

“We started realizing over the last five years or so that we were getting a growing number of requests for information about our work around LGBT older adults from countries and organizations across the globe,” Adams told Gay City News during a joint interview with Sottile at SAGE’s headquarters in Manhattan on November 27. “When we adopted our new strategic plan in 2016, we made a decision for the first time to build up a body of international work to see how SAGE could be helpful and supportive of efforts in other parts of the world to focus in on LGBT older adults.”

During the interview, Adams and Sottile opened up about the collaboration and explained the ways in which the two sides envision moving forward with the partnership. The alliance’s goals include lobbying governments across member states to improve legal protections for LGBTQ seniors, amplifying the campaign via an academic and activist-driven publication dedicated to issues facing queer seniors in the region, seeking forms of economic reparations for queer older adults, and pursuing other initiatives that will be finalized in the future. Adams stressed that SAGE would offer resources and help where necessary rather than lead the way, and Sottile said ILGALAC intends to learn from the programs in place at SAGE.

The two sides have signed a memorandum of understanding signaling their collaboration and distributed surveys to members to develop an idea of the issues facing seniors in the region — and how those cultural climates differ by country or region. More than 70 organizations across the region responded to the survey, Sottile said.

“The countries where there is more of a focus on LGBT older adults tend to be the countries that have enacted equality laws, antidiscrimination laws, protections based on gender identity, marriage laws, etc.,” Sottile, who is from Argentina, said via translation from Spanish. Adams said Costa Rica, Bolivia, and Panama are among the countries that already have made strides in improving conditions for LGBTQ older adults.

“On the other end of the spectrum are countries where the problems are more repressive,” Sottile added. “We are seeing higher levels of difficulty and problems for LGBT older adults in Central America and the Caribbean, where there are particularly significant and acute challenges.”

SAGE and ILGALAC are placing a focus on transgender seniors as well as those who, as Sottile mentioned regarding Central America and the Caribbean, are marginalized in their respective home countries and have been silenced throughout their lives.

“We have information that the life expectancy for transgender people in our region of Latin America is 35, so obviously the very notion of the right to life and right to live a full life is in question, particularly for transgender people,” Sottile explained.

While Sottile carefully stated that different countries have different laws and customs, he said there are shared issues surrounding the collective struggle of LGBTQ seniors. The lack of inclusivity and visibility, elder care, couples’ rights, healthcare, and basic economic support systems like pensions are of key importance, he explained.

“All across the region there is a push for adequate social security for all older adults, and we recognize that the states have a responsibility to make that security for all older adults, including LGBT older adults,” he said.

ILGALAC and SAGE are turning to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations as part of their advocacy at the governmental level. Among key examples, ILGALAC recently sponsored a conference in Bogota, Colombia, and invited Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN’s independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It was at that conference that Madrigal-Borloz held his first-ever meeting with LGBTQ older adults from Latin America, according to Sottile, and engaged with them about pressing issues.

“We want to keep expanding this work at the governmental level,” Sottile explained. “Among other things, one of the things that I want to work on is to convince states to sign and ratify the [Convention on the Rights of Older Persons] because it contains protections within it for LGBT older adults.”

That treaty resembles the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and would address human rights issues facing seniors.

Furthermore, the two sides are evaluating the status of violence and hate crimes in the region — again with a focus on vulnerable transgender seniors — since Sottile said many seniors are facing extortion and blackmail as part of anti-LGBTQ targeting of queer people. The partnership also seeks to address the lack of social spaces in order to reduce social isolation and improve services.

“In that regard, we are very interested in looking at the programs and services that SAGE has created in the US over many years to see which best practices can be replicated in Latin America,” Sottile said.

Generating change in the region won’t be simple. Sottile stressed that well-funded, organized, fundamentalist religious groups are on the rise in Latin America and are vigorously opposed to LGBTQ rights advances, including the issues facing seniors. In Argentina, Sottile said the far-right military dictatorship that emerged in the late 1970s under Jorge Rafael Videla left many survivors of that era saddled with trauma that lingers to this day.

“We had documented cases of LGBT and trans people who were jailed and denied liberty due to their gender identity, and there is a push now for those individuals to receive reparations,” Sottile said. “We are just starting a conversation about another piece of legislation that could start in Argentina and focus on reparations.”

The two teams will continue to build their partnership after recently using that conference in Bogota to form an IGLALAC working group on LGBT older adults. SAGE, IGALAC, and organizations in Costa Rica and Argentina are coordinating that working group, which will develop a strategic plan that will outline the future timeline.

“In this collaboration, we are very committed to maximizing our impact for elders in every corner of our countries,” Sottile said. “Not just in capitals, but rural areas. The combination of isolation and lack of services and denial of human rights and justice is devastating for our elders and is something we have to change now.”

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