We speak with the creator of Diversidad Senior Colombia about how things have changed in the country regarding gender rights over the past 30 years.
A few years ago, Juan had a sudden realisation: all of his previously large circle of gay friends had disappeared. “I asked myself, where did all of those people go? Did they die of AIDS or go back into the closet?”
It turned out that sadly, some had died, and others had indeed felt the pressure of the need to have a family approaching a certain age. Juan felt alone.
This realisation inspired him to create Diversidad Senior Colombia (or Senior Diversity Colombia), a group for older gay men to meet and share experiences and, most importantly, company.
Juan believes many older gay people struggle to accept themselves, as they grew up in a time when being gay was not accepted.
“We find it hard to realise that we have rights – to have a partner and a full and dignified life,” he said.
In a stark illustration of what things used to be like for gay people in Colombia, Juan told us the story of his encounter with police back in the 1980s.
“The police came and asked for our documents. If you had them usually there was no problem, but this time they rounded everyone up and put us in a police van with all types of people – criminals, thieves, street people, people with mental problems and prostitutes – without legal justification. They locked us up for 24 hours. It was as if they were ‘cleaning up the streets.’”
Juan told us that what he saw in those 24 hours in jail was grotesque. When two people in the jail cell began showing affection,“They put them in front of everyone. The jail was like a football pitch and that night there were about 1,000 people there.
“The police made the couple hit each other, and if they wouldn’t the police struck them. They told them what to do, first an open palm, then a punch, then on the buttcheeks. The idea was to do it until they bled.”
Juan said that today this couldn’t happen or at least if it did you could report it.
“Thirty years ago you had to let the police do what they wanted. We used to go to a gay club on the weekends and they’d come past every 2 hours asking for money. It’s definitely changed a lot. Now if you have been together two years you have common law spousal rights,” he said.
Diversidad Senior meets every Saturday from 4pm-7pm at the Centro de Atención Integral a la Diversidad Sexual y de Género Sebastián Romero, at Trans 17A Bis No.36-74.