SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — Deivis Ventura is still just a candidate for the Dominican Republic’s Chamber of Deputies, but he feels like he’s already scored a victory.
The 42-year-old former private school teacher, the first openly gay person to run for his country’s Congress, is delighted his campaign has not encountered overt hostility as it likely would have in the past.
“It’s an important moment for our country,” Ventura said one recent afternoon during a break from campaigning with a transgender friend. “The fact that we have openly LGBT candidates in an important political party speaks of change.”
Another openly gay man, Yimbert Telemin, is running in the May election for city council in La Romana, an area of famed beach resorts on the southeastern coast.
That they can run openly as homosexuals is the sign of a cultural shift that activists say has been helped by the presence of U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster, the first openly gay top diplomat the United States has posted to a Latin American country. Brewster’s appointment angered some religious leaders and their followers in the Dominican Republic, but it was an important move for people who’ve long felt marginalized in the conservative Caribbean country.
“Wally has become an iconic figure in the LGBT movement because the movement does have strong local figures,” said prominent activist Alexander Mundary.
Dr. Victor Terrero, director of the National Council on HIV and AIDS, noted that Brewster and his husband have been guests of President Danilo Medina and the ambassador has hosted many of the country’s notable figures.
“The presence of the ambassador has contributed to the breaking of much of the stigma,” Terrero said. “It has shown in a way that (homosexuality) is not a sin, nor is it something to get crazy about.”
Representatives of U.S.-based Human Rights First said every person they met with before issuing a December report on the status of LGBT people in the Dominican Republic mentioned Brewster in their conversations.