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Gay Say They Still Feel Oppressed, But Tolerance Slowly Growing

March 26, 1992

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Police can arrest anyone at a gay bar in this country, and men are forbidden from ″disguising″ themselves in women’s clothes.

A ″known pervert″ cannot associate with people under age 18.

″A ‘known pervert.’ That’s me, for example,″ says Rafael Freda. The 43- year-old past president of the Argentine Homosexual Community has been arrested once and fired twice. He teaches literature at a high school.

In Argentina and other Latin American countries, laws like these have kept homosexuals underground. But some activists in this conservative, Roman Catholic nation say tolerance is slowly growing.

In Chile, gays have virtually no public presence. The appearance of transvestites in a recent fashion show at the Fine Arts Museum in Santiago caused a scandal. In Uruguay, gays also live underground. The group Homosexuals United has no headquarters or legal status.

Only in Brazil are gays treated with little prejudice.

Since the end of the brutal military regime in 1983, Argentine gays have been challenging social taboos.

A big victory came this month when the presidency granted legal recognition to the Homosexual Community. For three years, tribunals up to the Supreme Court had upheld the initial court denial.

One Supreme Court justice, Antonio Boggiano, had stated: ″All social defense of homosexuality offends public morality and the common good.″

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Buenos Aires, the Rev. Antonio Quarracino, publicly thanked the court after its November ruling. ″The ‘homosexual community’ - how strange those two words sound together,″ he said.

Gays face discrimination throughout the culture.

Emanuel Brau was booted from the army 21 years ago, and detained by police seven times since, for being homosexual.

″They hospitalized me for nearly three months and made me submit to psychiatric exams, not because of my conduct but because of my sexuality,″ said Brau, 42, an expert in building demolitions. ″It was denigrating, humiliating.″

Mistreatment can go far beyond harassment.

Two months ago, an Argentine homosexual was granted asylum in Canada after he convinced an immigration panel he had been persecuted by police and might be again.

Jorge Alberto Inaudi, 28, said he had been arrested repeatedly over the years, forced to pay bribes, and tortured and raped during a four-day detention in January 1990.

But activists say things are slowly changing.

Police raids on gay bars, common until just a few years ago, have diminished.

″Five years ago, I probably would have been arrested. Now, probably not,″ said K. Urbana, a 36-year-old transvestite. For months, Urbana has demonstrated outside Congress and the Justice Palace to press for the legalization of sex-change operations.

The Homosexual Community, founded in 1984, also reflects the changes.

At a demonstration for gay rights five years ago, group members used handkerchiefs to hide their identities from police and friends. Last August, they openly handed out condoms in front of the national cathedral.

″There is a generation gap,″ said Monica Santino, 26, co-president of the Homosexual Community, which has about 50 gay and lesbian members and counsels about 200 others a week.

″Most gays in Argentina lead secret lives,″ she said. ″At work, you have to put up with a lot of jokes in poor taste. There are a lot of people who the whole time lead double lives - mothers, fathers, sons, daughters.

″They come here at age 50 and say, ’I can’t do it anymore.‴

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