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Today is Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Mexico's Transvestite Candidate Out in the Open--and May Win

by JOHN RICE, Associated Press

[IXHUATAN, Mexico] - Four female impersonators, each exquisitely made up, seize attention in Ixhuatan's town plaza by lip-synching and dancing on a stage to pop music. Traffic freezes as drivers and pedal-cab operators halt in the street to watch.

Then out comes candidate Amaranta Gomez -- the first transvestite to have at least an outside chance of winning a congressional seat in Mexico.

Campaigning in a flower-print skirt, and making no attempt to hide the fact that she lost an arm last year in a bus crash, she has become a symbol of the tolerance for diversity promoted by a small, new political party, Mexico Possible.

"Our themes are very clear," Gomez said in an interview after her appearance in this Pacific Coast fishing town of 10,000 people 360 miles (575 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City. "We don't go around with ambivalence or double-talk. We call things by their names."

Gomez, born Jorge 26 years ago, is running both for Congress and her local government. Even if she loses locally, she could get a congressional seat if Mexico Possible wins 3 percent or more in the nationwide vote Sunday.

While polls indicate it may not get that many votes, the party has won national attention by filing legal complaints against Roman Catholic priests and bishops who had urged Mexicans to vote against parties favoring abortion and gay marriage. Under Mexican law, clerics are forbidden to meddle in partisan politics.

Mexico Possible also has attracted human rights and environmental campaigners, left-wing academics and homosexual rights activists with a platform that includes calls for broader legalization of abortion, homosexual marriage and legalization of marijuana.

Several leading intellectuals signed advertisements endorsing the party, expressing disillusionment with a larger left-wing party, Democratic Revolution.

Gomez is part of a Zapotec Indian culture in the Juchitan area of southern Mexico that treats male homosexuality with unusual openness.

Homosexuals, or "muxe" (pronounced MOO-shay), are generally accepted in the community as home helpers, embroiderers, decorators, cooks and entertainers. It's common to see transvestites in the streets of Juchitan, a city of 80,000 located 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of here.

According to anthropological studies, some women encourage sons' muxe leanings because they tend to stay home and care for their parents rather than getting married.

Until now, however, few have ventured into politics, and none so dramatically as Gomez.

Gomez said she was working in transvestite shows about nine years ago when "I saw that my friends were dying, that relatives, too, were dying of a problem that we saw as very far off, that we saw as a problem of the big cities."

She helped found and develop an anti-AIDS education program that gained support from international foundations.

She now uses her campaign for AIDS education. Her brief speech appealing for honest, open government was followed by a condom-promoting skit, partly in drag, that drew roars of laughter.

The leader of the dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party in Juchitan, Jesus Mendoza Ferra, insisted he wasn't worried by Gomez's campaign. Yet he repeatedly mocked by calling her "Amaranto," putting a masculine ending on the name.

Mendoza's party obviously was taking note. It held its own rally for muxes last weekend.

Gomez said her high-profile sexuality tends to obscure her record on political and economic issues, but she hopes voters will recognize that transvestites have a place in politics.

"You don't have to stop being a transvestite," she said. "You don't have to stop wearing makeup. You don't have to stop being what you want to be to be involved in politics."

Gomez's openness about her sexual orientation and her injury impressed Fulvio Toledo, a 36-year-old brewery worker among some 500 onlookers at her campaign stop.

"I admire her," he said. "She doesn't have complexes about anything."

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