PFLAG, Young Latino Network, and IRTF Panel

On Tuesday evening we went to Trinity Commons to attend the monthly PFLAG meeting which is a combination support group/educational option for families and friends of the LGBT.
Since Gay Games 9 was happening at this time, the educational option for this evening was a panel discussion involving 2 people from Cleveland and 3 people who had journeyed to Cleveland to take part in Gay Games 9. This presentation was a joint venture between PFLAG, the Young Latino Network, the Interreligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) and Margaret W. Wong and Associates donated funds to buy some sandwiches, drinks, chips and cookies for which everyone was very grateful.

One of the foreign born panelists was a reporter from El Salvador and the other two were from the Columbian Gay Volleyball team which was doing a terrific job rolling up victories in the gay games and is ranked Number 1 as of Tuesday night. The coordinator of the discussion was our friend Mr. Brian Stephan from the IRTF and the questions he posed had to do with the process of coming out, finding support after one does, what organizing movements are worth belonging to, and what can those who attended this event do to help.

For us, the most memorable thing about the discussion was learning that the movement for LGBT recognition in Central America has some bright spots but is unfortunately very fragmented as a whole. It was pointed out that the the Mayor Gustavo Petro of Bogota, Columbia created a sexual diversity office that employs 22 people and El Salvador passed an anti-discrimination law in support of the LGBT but, as one of the panelists pointed out, these are cosmetic “laws without claws” created mainly because the Obama Administration insisted that something be done for the LGBT as a condition for foreign aid.

We really liked it during when Cleveland PFLAG President Sharon Groh-Wargo stood up during the Q and A and pointed out that PFLAG was created 40 years ago by a lone mother/son team in Philadelphia and it grew to be a powerful force in the LGBT movement around the United States. Ms. Groh-Wargo looked directly at the three panelists from Central America and said that “we will help you do that.”

All told, the Columbian Volleyball team has nine members and we got to speak with a couple of them about how they liked Cleveland and Gay Games 9. Mr. Leo Ospina said that Cleveland has “kind people” and is “a really clean and comfortable city.” Mr. Ospina thinks that Gay Games 9 is “a lot of fun and it is good to see teams from all over.” His teammate, Mr. Felipe Romero, said that he liked taking part in the games because they are “inclusive” and he enjoys “getting to know people from different parts of the world” and feels that this experience has “brought us closer together as a team.” Mr. Romero went on to say that their team in not professional but they work hard practicing 2 to 3 times a week. It was pointed out that in addition to the Volleyball team, there is a Women’s Softball Team from El Salvador participating but they were competing in Akron and couldn’t be with us.

In addition to the discussion this evening, it was announced tonight that two of our friends have been doing very well competing in Gay Games 9. First of all, Ms. Rachel Napolitano from the IRTF won a medal for swimming and Mr. Julio Aponte, who worked so hard to raise funds to bring these athletes here from Central America, also won a medal for swimming and it was a Gold one! Both of them earned their medals by swimming in contests actually held in Lake Erie, itself, on Sunday.

We talked about Gay Games 9 for a minute with Mr. Craig Hoffman from PFLAG who said, “I am meeting people from all over the world and am being told that they have never felt so welcomed as they have been by Cleveland.”

In response to all of this we say, “let the games continue!”