The state of Coahuila in Mexico recently legalized same-sex marriage, becoming the first of the country’s 31 states to do so through the legislative process. But the fight for equality for gay people living in south of the border is far from over.
“The police here are very coercive and manipulative,” says 36-year-old Cesar Salazar (pictured). “They are not on our side. They see gay people as targets.”
Salazar is a professional actor and musician. He lives with his family in Mexico City, where he was born and raised. In an exclusive interview with Queerty, he spoke about his experiences living in a country where being gay is still often considered taboo and where homophobia and police extortion are constant threats in the everyday lives of gays and lesbians.
In general, what is the attitude towards gay people in Mexico, specifically in Mexico City, where you live?
In general, it’s still very difficult here. It’s politically correct to say that you favor gay rights and accept gay people, but the actual act of doing so doesn’t happen. For a lot of gay men, it’s very hard for them to express themselves openly.
It’s a little different for me, personally, because I’m what people in Mexico would call a “chacal.” I tend to have more masculine mannerisms. I have a beard. So people don’t suspect I’m gay. When they find out, they’re often surprised.
And when they do find out, do they ever harass you?
Yes. I was in Guadalajara with a friend one time. We were crossing the street when some guys passing in a car rolled down the window and called us “putos” (faggots). I yelled back at them. They got out of the vehicle, intending to fight us. I told them to take it easy, that we didn’t want any problems, and that’d we’d just get out of there. Next, one of the guys started kicking my friend. I had to break it up. Afterwards, my friend was upset with me. He thought I had provoked the guys by yelling back at them. But they had started it. I was just sticking up for the two of us.
The police here are very coercive and manipulative. They are not on our side. They see gay people as targets. For instance, there are many locations within Mexico City where gay people are known to get together — parks, forests, public places, etc. — to hang out and have sexual encounters. Police are aware of this and will often go there just to harass them.
There’s a park close to where I live. It’s very beautiful. There’s a water reserve and a lot of trees and wildlife. One night, I rode my bike there. Another guy noticed me. So we started chatting. That’s all we were doing at that point. Just chatting. All of a sudden a policeman shined his flashlight on us. “I see what you’re doing,” he said. And I replied: “What are you talking about? We’re not doing anything. We’re just talking.”
He called for backup, then he took my bicycle and said we would have to go with him to the station. I knew we hadn’t done anything wrong, and that he couldn’t make us go with him, so I looked at the other guy and I told him he could either leave or stay with the cop. He was very scared and chose to stay. I left.
What about your bike?
I never got it back. It was easier to surrender it than deal with going down to the station.
What would have happened if you had gone down to the station?
They cops probably would have extorted me. A lot of gay men will just pay an officer on the spot rather than be taken to the station. It’s easier. You give them all the cash in your wallet and they let you go.
The “Zona Rosa” (Pink Zone) is Mexico City’s gay neighborhood. It’s the one spot where it’s okay for two men to hold hands or kiss. There are a lot of bars and shops there. It’s very nice.
Throughout the city, there are also more discreet gay sex clubs. You usually pay about $100 pesos ($7.50 U.S.) entry. There’s a bar and an area for socializing, plus several individual rooms. One of the most popular clubs is called “La Casita” (The Little House).
It’s very common for closeted men — especially older men — to be married with a family and have a gay sex life on the side. Because of family, religion, tradition, their jobs, and other various reasons, they can’t be sexually liberated. So they express their sexuality in secret. There is this ongoing bisexuality. And it often happens in places like La Casita.
Do you see a hopeful future for gay people in Mexico?
For younger generations under 30, they have no problem with being gay and expressing themselves. They’re much more free. What they are experiencing right now is a sexual liberation that is very, very grand.
I’m optimistic, but I also believe that much of what happens next depends on our leaders. They must use their influence to change things. Kind of like what’s happened in Coahuila — with gay marriage being made legal — only on an even larger scale. That will lead to a better future where gay Mexicans are able to express themselves openly and in a free way.