Greetings and Happy Spring!

I am writing from El Salvador where I participated in a conference entitled ¨Happiness and Sexual Diversity as Human Rights,¨ sponsored by Legal Assistance for Sexual Diversity in El Salvador (ALDES) and numerous organizations. I have met many activists from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities and have been very inspired by their stories, their work and most of all their courage and determination in the face of high levels of violence and stigma. After reflecting on the many lessons I have learned during this trip, the one that stands out most for me is the importance of being happy. Please read on and enjoy!

Wendy is a member of ESMULES (Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas de Salvadoreñas por la Diversidad Sexual: Space of Salvadoran Women Lesbians for Sexual Diversity) and is one of the first activists I met during my visit to El Salvador. I was deeply touched by her story of being rejected by her family, of running away and living on the street at age 15, of living in a society where it can be very dangerous being out of the closet, of choosing to be a visible lesbian activist in spite of death threats. She now dedicates her time working to education and increasing visibility for lesbian women and transgender men as well as outreach and support for these communities.

The ESMULES activists provide education for the National Civil Police, which has a history of ignoring and/or violating human rights of LGBT and other communities. When the government launched a campaign about stereotypes, Wendy was the only lesbian who was willing to appear publicly on posters, in spite of increased danger to her family and herself. One might think that Wendy would be extremely serious and tense, but she is one of the most joyful people I have ever met. Her energy is infectious.

SomoFamilia_Logo-1I attended the conference representing Somos Familia, which I cofounded and work with on a volunteer basis. On the second day of the conference,  I got up on stage with our co-founder Mirna to do our presentation about the role of families in supporting our LGBT children. I was anxious about speaking in Spanish, especially since we had just reworked the presentation the day before. I was also a little nervous about telling my personal story as the mother of a gay son and not sure of how it would be received. When I saw Wendy in the audience smiling and giving me a thumbs up, I felt more relaxed and confident and started to smile. Our presentation was a huge success!

When I became friends with Wendy on Facebook, I was struck by her posts about how hard she is working and how much she loves her work. I asked Wendy how she maintains such a positive attitude in the face of so many prejudices and so much violence. She said (translated from Spanish) ¨I get sad, but I encourage myself. It helps me to remember funny and nice things when I feel sad…like all the good things we do with the organization. Someone once told me that people are more attracted to people who are happy and positive. So, I said to myself, I´ll try to stay positive even if things are going badly and that way, people will relate to me. You see, it worked with you…¨ And it did!

I am also in El Salvador commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the death of my first husband Wilfredo, the father of my son. He also risked, and ultimately gave his life for peace and justice for his people. He wanted a better world for his mother and for his family. Like Wendy, he was willing to take great risks for what he believed in. And like her, he always had a sense of humor and joy. Wendy wishes that her mother, and other parents of LGBTI youth, would accept their children. Through their examples, both Wendy and Wilfredo have given me renewed strength to continue the work I do. When I feel discouraged, I will think of them and remember Wendy’s words about the importance of being happy!

Note to readers: I hope you enjoyed reading “Lessons from the Field.” If you find this information useful and want to share it with others for purposes of learning (not for profit), please feel free to do so. Please acknowledge Mayeno Consulting and include my web address (www.mayenoconsulting.com) if you pass it on to others. Thanks!