|I am the Commission: Hugo Ovejero and his activism against discrimination towards the LGBT community
Hugo Ovejero is the Director of the Mpowerment Project, a prevention and education program within the Commission. Hugo Ovejero was born in Argentina where he obtained his degree as a lawyer in 1994. There, one of his first jobs was at a nonprofit organization that helped people living with HIV to get medicines. When he moved to the US he took his passion for activism with him. He founded the first radio program for Spanish speaking gay community and later he founded the first LGBT movement for the Argentineans and Uruguayans in NYC. Besides his passion for activism, Hugo enjoys graphic design and photography in his spare time.
Tell us a little about Mpowerment.
This is a prevention program for gay and bisexual Latino men in New York who speak Spanish with ages 20 to 35. We do prevention in three ways: organizing events (social, cultural and educational), training and supervising a group of young adults who make decisions and take responsibilities within the program; and developing social marketing campaigns with HIV and STD prevention messages.
Your program works with gay and bisexual men 20 to 35 years old. Why not make the program more inclusive for people who are outside that age range?
Unfortunately, prevention programs have a specific target population, often determined by the type of intervention and by the agencies that provide the funds. Therefore, we cannot change this requirement. However, we try to be inclusive by being flexible in accepting participants at our events but we do clarify that our messages are aimed to people in the program age group.
Can you share some numbers that showcase the success of your program?
In 2009 we gathered 1,530 people in 32 outreach sessions. We organized 28 events with 1,360 attendees. We provided 44 educational sessions called "Puntos de Encuentro" with a total of 1,270 participants. We had 20 experts facilitating sessions related to HIV and mental health.
You have given many lectures on homo-lesbo-bi-trans-phobia. Besides being a difficult word to pronounce, what is homolesbotransbifobia? What are the implications in the gay community?
For many people speak only of homophobia is to diminish other populations that are subject of discrimination such as the lesbian, bisexual and trans community. For that reason, this homo-lesbo-bi-trans-phobia has a wide use now, as it is more inclusive.
Homo-lesbo-bi-trans-phobia is the rejection to any of the sexual identities described in the word. The homo-lesbo-bi-trans-phobia may come from people who are not part of the LGBT community and also from people within the LGBT community -this being called internalized. While the rejection to any of the sub-communities exist, the whole LGBT community will not developed to their fullest and this will affect the mental and physical health of its members.
Your home country is a woman president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and most recently performed a gay marriage, which had been the first of its kind in Latin America. Is Argentina a progressive country?
As a Latin and predominantly Catholic country, there are still a lot of rejection towards the LGBT community in the countryside but big cities are more accepting and progressive. I recognize that the media has played a big role in the process, showcasing what the LGBT community really is. For instance, I remember that in the mid 90's television programs were showing the real face of the LGBT community and they didn't not rely on stereotypes or pre-conceived ideas. The media didn't ridicule us but instead showed the different aspects of our community. That is completely different in other Latin-American countries. While we allow jokes and gender comparisons being made, we will enable the prejudice and discrimination against our community.
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