Not Your Traditional Mommies

By Laura M. Olivieri

“Untraditional families are just the same, the only thing you need is a big heart,” said Rey, a boy who requested to be adopted into a same sex relationship.

On Wednesday, March 5, Rey’s two mothers- Zulnette García Ramos and Elga Garcia Casilla- and two other panelists- Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro and Shariana Ferrer Nuñez confronted the “mom and dad” myth at a round table discussion held on the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez Campus.

The round table of discussion was part of the program of the fifth edition of the Colloquium Del otro la’o? celebrated every two years on the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez. An English department professor, Dr.Jocelyn Géliga Vargas moderated the event, which took place on the Amphitheater Ramón Figueroa Chapel.

Professor Jocelyn Géliga Vargas presenting the participants at the round table discussion: Demystifying Mom and Dad, on March 5,2014

Professor Jocelyn Géliga Vargas presenting the participants at the round table discussion: Demystifying Mom and Dad, on March 5,2014

The speakers were carefully selected in order to provide the audience with diverse opinions, Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro is an Lesbian Bisexual Gay and Transgender (LBGT) activist and an award winning writer while Shariana Ferrer Nuñez is part of a student organization, “La Juventud 23 (J23-MAS),” that fights for socialism and independence in Puerto Rico. Zulnette García Ramos is the founder of a feminist organization named “La Juntilla X” as Elga García Casilla is the founder of an organization that promotes working women in the Syndicate, “Comisión de la Mujer UTIER”

Present in the Amphitheater were over 50 people, mostly UPRM students. The event’s mood was serious yet comfortable enough for the panelists to speak frankly. They were asked three questions by the moderator, which they answered with very diverse opinions.

The first inquiry was about their respective identities and labels. Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro answered that she did not make much of labels but she recognized the need of society to label things in order to classify and understand. While  Elga García Casilla said that identifying herself as a lesbian was a very hard process because of her involvement with religion. Elsa’s partner, Zulnnette García Ramos stated that she did not mind the term lesbian as Shariana Ferrer Nuñez shared that she preferred to use the term queer.

The event moderator’s second question was how has heteronormativity affected their lives?  Shariana Ferrer, the only panelist without a child stated that heteronormativity (imposing heterosexuality as the only sexual orientation) is a violent manifestation because it is something that’s imposed by our society. Panelist Zulnette García Ramos, added that it has made some processes in her life more tense or problematic than they should be.

Defining family was the last question. Ferrer, quickly answered that family is an economic institution that will later become, if allowed, a support net. The other three participants answered along the lines that family is defined by those who you share your daily life with, aside from biological family. In a post-session interview, panelist García Ramos challenged the general belief that ‘children with same-sex parents are affected psychologically.’ “There have been numerous studies that prove that these children are not affected negatively, they instead grow up with a broader and more respectful perspective than other children,” said the pre-adoptive mother of two.

García Ramos’s advice to parents who are afraid of embracing their homosexuality is that although the closet is a safe zone– a place you have to leave only when you’re prepared– “a life of hiding one’s true self is just not worth it.”

Intersection of Queerness and Race

By Laura M. Olivieri

The movie Gun Hill Road was presented on March 6, as part of the program of the V ¿Coloquio Del otro la’o? held in the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. Movie screenings where held everyday of the colloquium, the selection of films focused on the intersection of queer sexualities and race.

 Pictured is the programed film cycle that took place at the colloquium.

Pictured is the programed film cycle that took place at the colloquium.

Gun Hill Road, written and directed by Rashaad Ernesto Green, was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival on 2011. The film tells the story of an ex-con who arrives home and has to deal with the fact that his son is a developing transsexual. Race plays a crucial role in the storyline, situated in the Bronx, amongst Latino people.

A Professor from the humanities department and the event coordinator, Lissette Rolón, , proposed to the dozen people who attended the screening to keep three questions in mind in order to participate in the discussion: “What does the movie propose about the theme of queerness and race?, How can we make the situation more familiar? What are the implications of the movie’s proposal?” The film’s protagonist, Harmony Santana is actually a transgender actress. When Green found his protagonist, Santana, she had not started her process of becoming a woman. Santana won Best Supporting Actress in the Independent Spirit Awards for her performance on the film.

The official poster for the film Gun Hill Road (2011).

This film is centered on social issues for transgender people, Rashaad Ernesto Green decided to emphasize problems due to culture, social strata and family. The handful of people that participated in the discussion after the film made it very clear. The interpretation of the movie was richer because the audience shared the same culture as the protagonists: Puerto Rican.

Another central issue in the film was the intersection between queerness and people of color. One audience member pointed out, during the discussion, that culture plays a big role when coming to term with your sexuality.

Professor Lisette Rolón said in a post-screening interview that she chose the films for the screenings based on different criteria. Children of God, which was screened on March 4, has been recognized and prized by members of the queer community. The World Unseen, which was screened on March 5, and Gun Hill Road were selected because of their rich queer and race content.

The Other Side of the Law: Ana Irma Rivera Lassén

By: Mónica B. Ocasio Vega

Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, President of the Puerto Rico Bar Association attended the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez as a key-note speaker in the Figueroa Chapel Amphitheater. On Tuesday March 5 2014, Rivera-Lassén expressed her professional opinion on human rights and anti-discrimination struggles, as the opening key-note conference ¿Del Otro La’o Del Derecho O El Derecho Del Otro La’o? (On the other side of law? or The law from the other side?)  for the V Coloquio ¿Del otro La’o?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades “queer”. ((Fifth colloquium, from the other side?: perspectives on queer sexualities).

ana irma rivera

Rivera-Lassén expressed her professional opinion on human rights and anti-discrimination struggles.

More than 60 people listened as the third woman and the first –ever Afro-Puerto Rican president of the Bar Association focused on her area of expertise, human rights. She told the audience that “Puerto Rico speaks about civil rights, but not human rights,” which is why a change of perspective is needed in the country. She added that public debates push society to demand its rights.

As the first-ever openly lesbian president of the Bar Association, Rivera Lassén’s main idea for the conference was the need of inclusion in civil and human rights struggles in Puerto Rico.

To clarify her opinion, the Bar Association president related her experience of becoming elected as president: “when I was running for president I said to the voters: ‘Don’t take under consideration stereotypes, prejudice or anything apart from reason’.”

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The conference ended with a round of questions from the audience.

The speaker mentioned Puerto Rico’s current struggles for rights:  the demand for same-sex couples to have parental rights on their children, the recent law banning discrimination for sexual orientation in the workplace; and the extension of Law 54 (regarding domestic violence) for same-sex couples.

Rivera Lassén explained that the concept of Law itself is constantly growing; it maintains its meaning but continues expanding to incorporate more people and satisfy the needs of the context.

The audience seemed interested in the arguments exposed by Rivera Lassén exposed. Aurelie Arnould, Social Sciences student and audience member, said: “I really enjoyed the conference; Ana Irma Rivera is truly a perfect example of human activism and perseverance”. The conference ended with a round of questions from the audience, during which different opinions were shared and certain points clarified.

A Prostitution Issue: a discussion by Nivializ Toro

By: Mónica B. Ocasio Vega

How are Puerto Ricans informed about prostitution? Is it ironic people learn more about this theme from fiction tan from the local news? Those were the questions Nivializ Toro, undergraduate comparative literature student at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, examined for her undergraduate research Prostitución en Puerto Rico, entre esclavas y libertas: Sirena Selena, Isabel Luberza Oppenheimer y el discurso periodístico sobre lxs prostitutxs.

She presented her research on March 6 at the Luis Celis Building, as part of the V Coloquio ¿Del otro La’o?: perspectivas sobre sexualidades “queer”. (Fifth colloquium, from the other side?: perspectives on queer sexualities).

Nivia coloquio

Nivializ Toro, undergraduate comparative literature student at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez.

More than 25 people attended the round-table discussion, which focused on the reality that prostitution is not a dutifully examined area in the local news-papers.

Toro’s undergraduate research is basd on feminist theories. She examined two novels by author Mayra Santos-Febres: Sirena Selena vestida de pena and Nuestra Señora de la Noche  and also collected articles from El Vocero newspaper . She found weak information on the matter.

Toro noted an interesting contrast: both of the novel’s protagonists are transvestites who work in prostitution; however, the local newspaper doesn’t specify sexuality when reporting news about prostitution.

discussion coloquio

The discussion focused around theoretical aspects of Toro’s investigation and how it may affect Puerto Rico’s society in relation to prostitution.

Furthermore, the discussion focused around theoretical aspects of Toro’s research and how it may affect Puerto Rico’s society in relation to prostitution. One attendee, Social Sciences professor Luis Nieves Rosas, asked if the protagonists were presented as male figures at any point in the novels.  Toro explained that they were not specified points in the texts that the protagonists were described as male figures, instead as drag queens, which contributes to the confusion regarding prostitution.

At the end of the discussion the audience had a chance to clarify doubts and question the speaker. Toro responded to all of the audience’s doubts and questions, complementing the discussion in session.

As a first time presenter Toro was satisfied with the event. “I loved presenting. It’s definitely something I would like to do again,” she said in an interview. “It is pleasing having an audience interested in the theme” of her research, she added.