By Kieran Kennedy
The Speaking Out Initiative is run by MSMGF and focuses on addressing the health and human rights needs of MSM. It aims to support HIV advocacy efforts and leadership at the grassroots by training MSM and transgender people to protect their rights.
Marco Polo Yáncor (Colectivo Amigos Contra el Sida) is a Guatemalan gay man who became politically active on behalf of LGBT rights when he moved to Quezaltenango city in 2005. He describes himself as someone who can be easily identified as gay. Consequently, he was the target of stigma and bullying growing up in Guatamala. The lack of sexual orientation and gender identity protection legislation in Guatamala propelled Marco Polo to learn more about his rights as a citizen and to help empower others. As a result of his activism, his sexual identity is a matter of public knowledge to his immediate and extended family. He counts himself fortunate that he has been able to introduce his partners to his family and to participate with them in holiday celebrations like Christmas.
Marco Polo spends a lot of his time helping to build a stronger, more unified LGBT community in Guatemala. He helps organize “noches culturales” where members of the LGBT can share talents such as singing or playing an instrument. While these get-togethers are fun and supportive, they also provide a space where people can begin to address human rights issues. When he learned about the Speaking Out training, Marco Polo was drawn to it as an opportunity to gain a broader vocabulary and tools for his political activism. He participated in the 2013 training in La Ceiba, Honduras.
“For me, Speaking Out was an empowering experience that helps me do my activist work more confidently,” Marco Polo reports. The exercises in the workshop he attended helped him see how to claim a space for LGBT people in the public sphere. For example, because of advocacy by Marco Polo and others, language recognizing and protecting LGBT people was added to city regulations in the municipality of Quezaltenango.
Marco Polo asserted that Speaking Out not only strengthened his character and confidence but also afforded him the opportunity to connect with a group of LGBT activists across Honduras and Central America. “By doing exercises with activists from Nicaragua and El Salvador, I recognized that we have many issues in common,” he says. The shared human rights issues across the region sparked the idea of a Central American support network of LGBT organizations. The leadership for this network would come from the region. As local activists take ownership of this process, MSMGF can continue to help support what they envision.
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