Gay rights activists in Mexico City accuse police of abuses

Jonathan Zamora, 31, stands at the spot near his downtown Mexico City residence where he says two police officers arrested him in March.
(Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times)

MEXICO CITY -- Same-sex marriage is legal in this city. Gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and the government touts tolerance and respect for “sexual diversity” in messages posted on subway platforms and bus billboards.

Yet, according to Jonathan Zamora, a 31-year-old psychologist, the advancement of gay rights in Mexico’s capital in recent years conceals an ugly, persistent problem: unchecked discrimination and violence in what is, on paper at least, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.

Early on March 15, Zamora alleges, he was detained while walking home by police who beat and jailed him for hours.

Zamora says he was not drinking in public, was fully clothed and only blocks from his door after a night out with friends. When he asked officers why he was stopped, Zamora says one of them told him it was for being gay, using a Mexican slur for homosexuals.

When Zamora reached his home later that afternoon -- bruised and without his belongings, which he said were confiscated -- he posted photos of his injuries online. Thus, a campaign began targeting what gay rights activists call police discrimination in Mexico City, as well as reports of homophobic threats and violence on the streets.


“I thought my case was isolated, but we know it’s not,” Zamora said in a recent interview at a cafe in Mexico City’s refurbished historic center. “There are so many other cases like mine, and they keep coming to me .... Some [people] have even lost their lives.”

The spokesman’s office for Mexico City’s police department declined to answer questions about Zamora’s case. But city prosecutors said they were aware of the case and that an investigation was underway.

On Friday, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera was taking part in an event to roll out new protocols for the police that are intended to ensure that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are respected.

Zamora’s complaint is one of numerous reported incidents of violence or discrimination against the gay community in Mexico City in recent months.

In mid-January, gunmen held up an upscale men’s bathhouse near the ritzy Polanco district. Men identifying themselves online as customers of the bathhouse later complained of abuse at the hands of police who responded.

At least three men have been were reported killed or found dead after confrontations near gay bars since the start of the year, according to police reports

Zamora, a native of a middle-class suburb northwest of Mexico City, offered chilling details of his detention. He said the officers who stopped him drove around aimlessly for at least an hour before delivering him to a jail cell. At one point, Zamora alleges, one of the officers said he could be set free if he performed oral sex on them.

Hours later, alone in a cell, Zamora said he began kicking a door to demand his release. He still hadn’t been told what crime led to his detention, he said, and hadn’t been permitted to make a phone call.

He claimed four officers entered his cell and proceeded to punch and kick him. Zamora said he was then taken to a hospital, examined, returned to a police station and let go, ending an ordeal that lasted about eight hours.

“In my case, it wasn’t just about a lack of training, it was a lack of everything,” he said. “How can you hire people who are aggressive, violent, who don’t behave like community?”

New police protocols published Thursday instruct officers to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people “with respect for human rights” and to respect their “gender identity.” They also prohibit the use of insulting language or degrading comments.

“First, the police have to recognize that we’re people,” said Jaime Lopez Vela, a longtime gay rights activist who helped draft the new rules. “We’ve been talking about this for years. It’s been on the agenda, and sadly, it’s been expedited by the recent aggressions.”

More than two months after his arrest, Zamora says he is still waiting for justice. The officers who allegedly detained and beat him have been identified, but no charges or disciplinary measures have been announced. Meanwhile, he’s turned to Facebook, Twitter and to keep the public’s eye on his case.

“Any moment that your dignity, your values, your rights are broken, you must raise your voice,” Zamora said.


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