Alumni Spotlight: María José Jiménez, Ecuador (IVLP)

In October 2012, María José Jiménez was one of six international visitors from Ecuador that participated in a two-week International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) project focused on Protecting and Defending LGBT Rights. Two years later, we are catching up with María to see how the program impacted her and what she is doing now. 

Tell us about yourself and your work.

I am a clinical psychologist with a private practice and run a project called Casa Baubo, which focuses on psychology and sexuality. In addition to activism for the rights of sexual diversity, I have worked on issues related to refugees experiencing violence on the border of Ecuador and Colombia, as well as education rights and democracy. Last year I completed a degree in sexology.

What is the LGBTI community like in Ecuador? What are their legal rights?

The LGBTI community in Ecuador is diverse, and so is its agenda. In Ecuador, homosexuality was decriminalized about 18 years ago and since then there has been a trend towards greater protection of rights at least formally. The law recognizes a form of civil union but expressly prohibits same-sex couples from adopting. At this time, proposals on equal marriage and registration of gender on the ballot are discussed. Despite this, problems such as violence and discrimination in education, at work and in daily life is still a reality.

Meeting with the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.

How did your IVLP experience change or inspire you?

The program allowed me to open my mind and learn about experiences that are a milestones in claiming the rights, such as the work of Harvey Milk. On the other hand, it was also a great learning experience to see the operation, planning, organization, strategies, and overall professionalism of the organizations working on LGBTI rights. Their work is extraordinary and I use it as reference to the work that I do at home.

After visiting three U.S. cities and meeting with many organizations, what was your biggest take-away from the program?

The idea that activism requires more and better organization; clear and structured strategies that go beyond good intentions or reaction at the time, but consist of set goals and working toward them. In addition, I was impressed by the ability of each organization to consistently manage resources creatively.

Do you have any favorite memories from the program?

I have many fond memories, especially because, for me, travel is also an inner journey, a moment of introspection and learning. Visiting places about which we had read or heard, such as the Castro neighborhood made me feel part of this wonderful story. Visiting the U.S. Department of State also verified the importance attached to the issue of rights for LGBTI public policy. This was  very motivating, especially when many countries are still marginal on these agendas and it costs a lot to be recognized and considered at the highest levels of politics. The U.S. Department of State treated us with great respect and warmth which motivates me to dream that one day our country will as well.

Meeting with National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce.

What do you hope the world to be like in 10 or 20 years?

Human rights are a conquest of humanity. I think many people in the world are working for a more just society, with freedom and rights for all. While it is always possible to find stories that inspire and create major changes, it is also true that stories of violence, discrimination and hatred are still present. I look at the world in 10 or 20 years struggling with other conflicts, but I want to believe that the ability to circulate information will help us fight against prejudices that are directly related to ignorance.