-Op-Ed-

BOGOTÁ — Very soon in Colombia, LGBT-friendly cafés, restaurants and shops will begin displaying rainbow-colored signs in their entrance, in an important step toward turning this country more tolerant and modern.

The idea of inviting businesses to declare their support for a more open society came from the YouTuber Juan Pablo Jaramillo, who launched the initiative with his ex-boyfriend Christian Castiblanco across social media. The campaign attracted millions of viewers online and caught the attention of the Interior Ministry, which said it would sign a decree promoting tolerance and inclusion. The initiative is much-needed in a country where homophobia remains pervasive.

I witnessed this personally a few days ago. I was in Medellín in the Oviedo shopping center, when I saw two young women walking hand-in-hand. I thought, how nice that gradually, everyone will be able to show their affection for their partner without having to hide, regardless of sexual orientation. History shows that societies progress as civil rights expand.

But my optimism suddenly deflated when I saw a female security guard and her colleague laughing at the couple. I didn't really feel sorry for the couple who clearly now had the strength and freedom to live their love openly, regardless of the intolerance and ignorance around them. I was sad for the guard and the narrow-mindedness that governs her life and perpetuates her ignorance, prejudice and exclusion of anyone who may seem different to her.

Homophobia is not just a feeling, but a power structure.

Homophobia doesn't just insult and discriminate, it can also kill. Recall 16-year-old Sergio Urrego, who committed suicide in Bogotá in 2014, after facing months of harassment from senior staff members at his school. The principal of his school, the Gimnasio Castillo Campestre, has kept her job even after facing prosecution on charges of hiding incriminating evidence, false denunciation and discrimination. What this bitter incident has shown is that homophobia is not just a feeling, but a power structure that marginalizes and discriminates.

That is why, when I saw the security guard mock a simple, tender gesture of affection between two women, I realized the importance and power of Jaramillo's proposal, simple as it may be. Because making LGBT-friendly places visible with a sign, as is done in many cities worldwide, will help make homosexuality start to seem as natural and absolutely human as it is. At the end of the day, gay people are no children of a lesser god, but created in His image like everyone else.


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