“The Place Without Limits” LGBTQ cinema festival is Nov. 17-27, but the opening ceremony here in Cuenca is this Thursday, November 24, at 6pm at Auditorio Museo de La Ciudad, the white cultural building on the corner of Gran Colombia and Benigno Malo
For the afternoon, I talked with Jorge, the general coordinator of Verde Equilibrante (Green Balance), an organization devoted to creating safe spaces for the LGBTQ community in Cuenca. I learned more about the LGBTQ film festival starting this Thursday. The festival is called, “The Place Without Boundaries.” I love cinema, especially cinema of diverse populations. With Jorge, I wanted to learn about the importance of this event in Cuenca, for the LGBTQ community and its allies.
Steven: So who would you say is Jorge Luis Betancourt? How did you start working with Verde Equilibrante?
Jorge: I am Jorge Luis Betancourt and I am the general coordinator of Verde Equilibrante (Green Balance). I am the one who organized and created the organization. Verde Equilibrante is a community-based, civil organization, and basically we work in human rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and issues that deal with HIV and AIDS. There are also public policy issues with an emphasis on the LGBTI* population (*typically in American English, we say LGBTQ, Q for queer, but in Spanish they use I for intersex). When we started the organization, we created acronyms like: LGBTIH. Well, the “H” was different, and it made many ask about the birth of Verde Equilibrante in 2012. From the beginning, we wanted to integrate different groups of sexual diversity into the organization. Also we were the first organization of sexual diversity in the area. Sexual diversity is all that applies to sexuality and sexual orientation in defining identity.
So, for this reason, we have integrated the “H” into our mission, “H” for heterosexual. Our emphasis is on the LGBTI population, but also, we work with heterosexual allies and public and private institutions. We were born in 2012 as an organization. Among the work we have done, the most important was the foundation of the organization, creating a space for participation while strengthening the LGBTI community. Secondly, we initiate public policies. As I told you, we created public policy that helps both homosexual and reproductive networks.
There is an ordinance in Cuenca for sexual and reproductive rights, so we were able to create this LGBTI foundation and then join other organizations and unite our forces to create the first cantonal ordinance for the recognition and respect of sexual diversity and genetic sex in Cuenca. We were recognized on February 16 in Cuenca, and two months later, we were recognized by the province as well. It was not an easy getting our ordinance passed, but getting it passed grew our participation and strengthened the organization, and we decided to focus more on public policy.
Through our work, we have created alliances with the national police of Ecuador, in our case, in Azuay, and we gained an institutional recognition from the national police of the Azuay for our work of maintaining institutional alliances that promote awareness and non-discrimination between homosexual sexual and the police. The police gave us their support. That was the first recognition we won.
Afterwards, we also did projects through the sex network and the sexual network; the projects were all centered around non-discrimination and the LGBTI communities.
Recently, the mayor of Cuenca launched more tolerance projects. All of these recent projects were of relevance because they tied into a campaign, hosted by United Nations, called “Free and Equal.” Many people said this was the first mayoral project on this theme to have been developed in Cuenca. This project included, for example, working with hospitals about the importance of awareness and of being inclusive. For example, we worked to promote the creation of a health center where LGBTI people can go, somewhere where they cover integral health issues. This project emphasized the importance of health work and care that is available to all. Then, the health center was certified as an inclusive hospital and was replicated at other health centers here in Cuenca.
Also, the issue of HIV is, for us, an important issue. We work as part of a volunteer institution; we don’t receive a salary. One of the major events that we have worked on is this cinema project, replicating and promoting this cinema series called “The Place Without Limits” (El Lugar sin Límites) here in Cuenca. It is a cinema festival originally from Quito that is held in November each year; the topic is the decriminalization of homosexuality. Themes covered through the films are non-discrimination and the demonstration of the reality of the LGBTI population; we also talk about sexual orientation and gender identity. In some of the newer public spaces of Cuenca, we will celebrate this festival this upcoming weekend.
Steven: When did the festival start? What is the history of the festival here in Cuenca and in Ecuador?
Jorge: Well, the festival “The Place Without Limits” is celebrating its fourteenth year, but it is new here in Cuenca. For our organization, Verde Equilibrante, we have grown tremendously in the past few years, and we do have experience within the realm of film already. We had a volunteer named Claudia Caldo from the United States, a Peace Corps volunteer, who really strengthened our mission, helped organize us and empowered us to start new processes and launch ourselves as an LGBTI community. As a result, we made the first film festival with the allies of the Azuay Foundation, which works with the human rights here in Cuenca. The festival was called the “Cinema of Difference,” and as a result, this festival made new cinematographic alliances. For example, “Cinema of Difference” is a cinema festival of Cuenca, but “The Place Without Limits” is a festival that started in Quito, and they lent us films and shared materials while we were organizing our first “Cinema of Difference” festival. “The Place Without Limits” did not come here for a few years, but finally, it is now here in Cuenca, brought with the help of the SENDA Foundation and others. But still, the “Cinema of Difference” continues. Just this year in July the “Cinema of Difference” continued with its annual performance in Pumapungo.
This festival, “The Place Without Limits,” came to be in Cuenca because of the SENDA Foundation. This foundation also supported us to institutionalize the “Cinema of Difference,” a performance that we still promote and host. In fact, “The Cinema of Difference” has become an accepted part of the cultural calendar in Cuenca. Now, we want to institutionalize “The Place Without Limits” here, in Cuenca, this year, and we are making this happen for the first time with the support of the SENDA Foundation. In these ways, we are continuing our diversity projects. To help develop and bring knowledge to populations from Bolivia to Peru, we are promoting this event internationally as well.
Steven: Why do you think the festival is important in the LGBTI community?
Jorge: Well, both “Cinema of Difference” and “The Place Without Limits” heavily emphasize art and culture. Cinema functions as a bridge to connect people and to humanize us when it comes to the topic of our experiences with sexual diversity, different sexual orientations and gender identities.
The culture of cinema brings this quality with it, so that people and their families can better understand and become more sensitive to these themes. Within cinema, there are conversational forums, debates, and opportunities for questions and answers. Those who come to watch the movies of the festival this upcoming weekend will learn how to better empathize with the members of our community, and we all can work together to eradicate discrimination that continues to exist.
The festival is Nov. 17-27, but the opening ceremony here in Cuenca is this Thursday, November 24, at 6pm at Auditorio Museo de La Ciudad, the white cultural building on the corner of Gran Colombia and Benigno Malo
The second part of this article will come tomorrow…stay tuned!
*Translated by Kristen Sawyer