‘Here I feel free’: Mexico City celebrates its role as a haven for LGBTQ migrants

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Tens of thousands marched through the streets of Mexico City on Saturday to celebrate the capital’s growing role as a beacon of tolerance for migrants fleeing persecution for their gender and sexuality in Latin America.

Clowns on stilts and drag queens in stilettos towered over the crowds that filled the city’s Reforma Boulevard for the 41st annual Pride Parade, as revelers strode past police officers to join the throngs of bright flags and flashy outfits.

The first Latin American capital to legalize same-sex marriage a decade ago, Mexico City has become a stronghold of progressive causes in a country whose border towns have come under increasing scrutiny for their treatment of vulnerable migrants.

“Here I feel free from my own country, which is very repressive,” said Daniela Morillo, 25, a rainbow-clad lesbian who left Venezuela to marry her partner.

Above her, an array of balloons hovered above the crowd, as peddlers offered cold drinks and rainbow paint, applying all six colors with one thick brushstroke.

Mexican immigration authorities do not register sexual orientation, but activists say the number of LGBTQ migrants in the capital has increased as people flee discrimination elsewhere.

The LGBTQ exiles have been part of a wave of mostly US-bound migrants that have pushed into the country from Central America and fueled tensions between Mexico and US President Donald Trump, who wants the exodus is stopped.

The road through Mexico is perilous and LGBTQ people, especially transgender women, are at even greater risk. Some were attacked in border towns like Tijuana.

Nashieli Ramirez, head of Mexico City’s human rights commission, said the capital has received a number of migrants returning from US border towns, including a group of transgender women who moved out of Tijuana last December.

“They decided to come back because in the border town they were doubly discriminated against,” she told Reuters.

Still, officials say the capital has its own problems.

Mark Manly, the Mexican representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said even Mexico City needed to do more to fight discrimination as the UNHCR made its first-ever parade appearance this year.

Henry Javier Umana, a migrant from Honduras, never dreamed of going all the way north. Once an activist in his local LGBTQ community, Umana began thinking about fleeing his homeland for Mexico when his ex-partner was murdered there.

“I heard that Mexico City is very big and very open,” said Umana, a 34-year-old man with shaggy hair who wore a “love has no borders” shirt as he strolled through the section for migrants and asylum seekers – another first for the parade in Mexico City.

Parade organizer Patria Jimenez said solidarity with LGBTQ migrants has become more important since Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador agreed on June 7 with Trump to send the National Guard to border regions to stem the flow of people.

“We are really worried,” Jimenez said, “because it has made the journeys of migrants more difficult.”

Reporting by Rebekah F Ward; Editing by Dave Graham, Robert Birsel

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