President Obama has announced James “Wally” Brewster, Jr. as his choice for U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. It is an interesting choice that could either be historic or hysterically wrong.
On the surface Brewster appears to be the perfect ambassadorial candidate for a U.S. trade partner and ally. He is a Chicagoan, a city that is home to a large Latino population including many Dominicans. He is a senior managing partner at a consulting firm and has a long resume of professional accomplishments to bring to the appointment. Like many other ambassadorial candidates Brewster has been a large donor to the President, raising more than $500,000 for his re-election campaign in 2012.
Check. Check. Check. All good things.
What makes Brewster an interesting choice and potentially problematic is that he is openly gay going to a country that is not openly accepting of homosexuals especially those that don’t call themselves tourists.
Though homosexuality is legal in the country, DR has engaged in activities aimed to suppress gay rights from shutting down of gay bars without cause to denying permits for gay pride events to overlooking gay bashing incidents. Some locals quietly call elements of the Dominican police the gay Gestapo but lets not confuse them with Dominica where same-sex activity will get you a 10-year prison sentence.
The country does not legally recognize same-sex unions and constitutionally bans same-sex marriage.
Homophobia remains pervasive throughout much of the DR, especially in rural areas. Many gay individuals remain closeted in fact 81% of HIV and AIDS cases are heterosexuals believed to be living a double life. This is the country where its top religious leader, Cardinal Jesus Lopez Rodriguez feels comfortable enough to openly refer to gays as “maricones” (faggots) and “social trash”.
Good Luck to Brewster who will be the seventh U.S. Ambassador in history to be openly gay and the first ever in the region. How welcoming the general population will be to Brewster should be interesting and a gauge as to how provincial the country is or is not. Undoubtedly, the power of the U.S. will make most Dominicans have their party manners on when confronted with Brewster’s sexual orientation. We are also confident that Brewster does not assume tolerance is measured solely by how a country treats its guests but rather how its treats its own people.
Typically U.S. ambassadors serve in a largely ceremonial role - he or she is there to promote the interests and culture of the U.S. We hope that Brewster, who is the national LGBT co-chair for the Democratic National Committee and Board member of the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a gay rights organization, will see this appointment as a historic opportunity to take DR out of the closet and the middle ages as it relates to gay rights.
Here’s hoping that this July when gay pride events attempt to launch they will not be “suddenly” shut down by authorities but rather led by the new U.S. Ambassador.