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Panama’s LGBTI rights activists demonstrate outside church during pope’s visit

Panama’s LGBTI rights activists demonstrate outside church during pope’s visit

Panama’s LGBTI community and their supporters have staged a ‘kiss-in’ during a papal visit.

LGBTI rights activists and their allies chanted ‘Love is love! Love is love!’ while same-sex couples and friends kissed in front of one of the country’s landmark Catholic churches.

The protests were organized to raise awareness of LGBTI rights in the majority Catholic country.

‘They say it’s disrespectful that we kiss in front of a church, but I ask them a question: Why is it not disrespectful when heterosexuals do it? Is it that I am an aberration? We exist!’ protestor Samirah Armengol told AFP.

Armengol also said she had been the victim of anti-LGBTI discrimination in Panama and had been kicked out of shopping centers and restaurants in the past.

Iconic protest location

Around 20 people took part in the small demonstration outside the Del Carmen church.

The location is an iconic protest space. In the 1980s and 1990s, crowds gathered there to demonstrate against the rule of dictator Manuel Noriega.

‘Our call to [Pope Francis] is that something very different is happening here to what he preaches,’ said Hilka Zapata, a heterosexual mother and LGBTI rights advocate who had joined the protest to show her support.

‘I believe that the pope is more convinced of our humanity than his followers because he has already said so,’ Armengol added.

This was in reference to Pope Francis voicing support for more lenient stances towards LGBTI rights in recent years.

Still work to be done

LGBTI rights in Panama have improved in recent years, with same-sex sexual activity legalized in 2008.

However, there remain numerous obstacles for the LGBTI community.

In October last year, Panama’s highest court ruled against legalizing marriage equality, stating that the law which bars same-sex marriages is constitutional.

Many LGBTI rights activists remain hopeful that the country will legalize civil unions.