Over the last two decades, I’ve had opportunity to at least sample what gay life is like in Latin America, Canada and Europe. We have visited bars and other establishments in Mexico City and Monterrey, Toronto, Milan, Barcelona, Paris, etc. We also traveled with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles to Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, and Berlin. We’ve had a few beers in Prague, where gay life has been quite open for a long time.
Tonight I am writing from San Jose, Costa Rica, in a “gay hotel”– a place that probably could not have existed two decades ago. It is run by an “expat” American and caters mostly but not exclusively to U.S. and Canadian tourists who, thanks to the internet, can find a place like the Colours Oasis Resort.
What I find most interesting is that “Ticos” (Costa Rica’s term for its own people) also come here from elsewhere in the country because they can be themselves, or vacation as lesbian or gay couples with relative openness. I might add, in case you are curious, that this is a legitimate, well-run boutique-sized establishment where nudity is not an option and momentary sexual encounters are not part of the scene.
In addition to the safety for guests, this is an oasis for gay employees who can find jobs and futures without shame or fear.
Costa Rica is relatively “open” to gay people, but mostly in a “don’t ask don’t tell” sense. A one-page essay inside the guest book of the hotel explains in English what is appropriate and what to expect. But it is heartening to see that the host/waiter in the restaurant and the cook in the kitchen can test out and strengthen their one-year relationship in the safety of this resort.
For LGBT people in the United States, worrying about safety in 2011 seems almost quaint. But for Latin America, it is amazing progress.
What seems to be lacking, of course, is any reference to the Christian church. Everyone mentions the church only as geographical reference point, such as a gay bar which is several blocks east and south of the Cathedral. But when we asked one person whether he was Catholic, he smiled and said “mas or menos.” As with millions in the United States, the church continues to speak in a largely irrelevant manner to its own people, and by adulthood they drift away.
I am convinced this is not because the church is morally strict and people do not want to live up to that strictness. It is because the church is not listening, does not walk with people in their real life experiences, and therefore has little which is relevant to say.
But although we have not located a worship service yet for Sunday morning, there is a small group of Lutheran missions in Costa Rica and a bishop who oversees the church. It appears from the web that they are trying very much to be relevant with ministries for those with HIV/AIDS, refugees, the poor, etc. Because the Lutheran church here is not the establishment church, it has much less to risk in ministering among the marginalized. We can only hope that it would some day also recognize its mission to LGBT people in its midst.
— Pastor Dan Hooper