Rosmit Mantilla is a revolutionary in every sense of the word. He is the first openly gay man elected to the Venezuelan National Assembly. If that weren’t enough, he was elected to this office while serving time as a political prisoner.
As Venezuela experiences continual, and often violent, repression by the government of President Nicolas Maduro along with vast political corruption, debilitating inflation, and food shortages, Rosmit’s dedication to empowering LGBTI people is undiminished.
“During the past 18 years, the Venezuelan government made fun of the LGBTI community of Venezuela. They never recognized our rights and hate crimes increased 200%,” Mantilla says of the de-facto dictatorial governments of Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez.
Rosmit is a leader of the Popular Will (Voluntad Popular) Party which holds 14 seats in the National Assembly and is a member of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the electoral coalition that currently holds a supermajority in the National Assembly. Popular Will is also the party of Tamara Adrian the first transgender person elected to the National Assembly alongside Rosmit in 2015. Popular Will is dedicated to the social, economic, political, and human rights of every Venezuelan.
According to Rosmit, “Popular Will is the first and only political party that has a national commitment to work on LGBTI issues.” The movement to reform the civil registry to allow same-sex marriage has seen been stalled in the courts over the past dozen years with the Supreme Court agreeing in April 2016 to hear a civil suit seeking to overturn Article 44 of the Constitution which defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Without much hope that the court would rule in favor of same-sex couples, the political opposition announced in June 2016 that it would begin work on a civil unions bill to provide some protections to same-sex couples.
Legislation which would allow transgender Venezuelans to change the sex listed on public documents is also pending in the Assembly.
Rosmit believes that none of these changes will become law without the removal of Maduro from office. “Popular Will faithfully believes in the power of constant, peaceful street protests as the fundamental tool to recover democracy.”
These protests occur in the capital city of Caracas and across the country including Rosmit’s constituency. “I am a congressman from the state Tachira on the western border with Colombia. In our state we can see every day how the drug trade works freely with the help and support of the Maduro government,” says Rosmit.
In early April Rosmit attended training in the Dominican Republic which brought together LGBTI leaders in civil society and politics from across Latin America and returned home to begin work on his latest project “to build the LGBTI youth movement within Popular Will and gain international political and financial support.”
Rosmit approaches his transformative work with youthful optimism. “Today Venezuela lives a new day of protests, and we are convinced that very soon thanks to the street demonstrations we will be free.”