Meet the Executive Director of Diversidad Dominicana, Rosanna Marzan

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Global LGBTIQ advocates will once again convene this December at OutRight’s annual Advocacy Week in New York City. The ten day event will have advocates amass for trainings and meetings with U.N. representatives to discuss global LGBTIQ issues. This invaluable collaboration between advocates will culminate at OutSummit, the capstone meeting where attendees are invited to discuss unique social and political issues that LGBTIQ people face in a diverse range of nations.

As Executive Director of Diversidad Dominicana, Rosanna Marzan helps usher a new wave of LGBTIQ awareness into the Dominican Republic. While pursuing an education in law, Marzan has proudly represented the LGBTIQ community of the D.R. in a long list of local and international policy meetings. Marzan, who considers herself a “social educator,” works with fellow activists to make state heads and legislators aware of the need for SOGIESC inclusion.

In recent years, Marzan has acted as a spokesperson to the LGBTI Caravan of Pride in the D.R., attended assembly at the Organization of American States, and was among activists at the first LGBTI themed meeting of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. While pushing for the equal rights of all LGBTIQ people in the D.R., Marzan is also particularly adamant about protecting the rights of lesbian women in this community.

In anticipation of Marzan’s collaboration at this year’s Advocacy Week, OutRight reached out to her by email. We asked Marzan to share her backstory and to set the lens through which we should view her activism.

Note: the following questions and responses have been edited for the convenience of readers.

OutRight: What experiences first made you aware of the need to advocate for LGBTIQ rights? How did you first get involved with your earliest experiences and current organization?

Rosanna: The experience that made me aware of a need to advocate for LGBTIQ rights was the suicide of two gay friends, between 2000 to 2002. They were expelled from their families by their parents, left without work and without support. The rejection and lack of support from relatives, at the time, was so hard for them. In order to survive while being homeless, they were forced to dedicate themselves to sex work. But, without guidance on safe sex, they were infected with the HIV virus.

I saw myself in their story, what would have happened had I said I was a lesbian. At the time, admitting openly that you were homosexual meant a life lived in solitude, without the support of your family, friends or the Dominican system.

For many years, my sisters and I lived alone with my mother, until she married a gentleman who, for 20 years, mistreated us. It was because of this that I decided to leave home, at a very young age. I dedicated myself to work, in order to survive. I continued my university studies in order to progress in life. Over the course of time, I got involved with social protests concerned with issues as diverse and varied as the rising cost of gasoline or of higher education.

In 2010, when the earthquake occurred in Haiti, I volunteered with a NGO called the Haitian Dominican Women's Movement (MUDHA)--led by the late Sonia Pierre. For ten months, I worked and learned from various NGOs stationed there.

I became a Spanish teacher to orphaned children. I got involved in trainings for psychosocial support and conflict management. Through the many different programs, the organization managed to improve the state of post-earthquake Haiti.

In December of that year I returned to the Dominican Republic and began my own advocacy, at the community level. I worked to raise social awareness, using the MUDHA as a platform, in the bateyes settlements.

By 2012, with the help of others, we conceived the idea of a Dominican Republic-based NGO focused on the human rights of LGBTIQ people. This is how ​​Diversidad Dominica came to be. Since its inception, Diversidad Dominica has worked to prepare reports on the status of LGBTIQ rights, presenting research--at an international level--to the U.N. system, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, all levels of local and regional government.

OutRight: How have global politics impacted your work?

Rosanna: The global policies that surround the rights of LGBTIQ people have helped positively impacted my work. Over the course of time, issues of LGBTIQ human rights have become much more visible to the public. The well identified problems that exist in the world concerning LGBTIQ people, as well as the positive practices developed in recent years have become working tools that we can replicate in a domestic setting. Both the advances and challenges that LGBTIQ communities in other countries face serve as examples from which we can build off of.

OutRight: Why is it important to be a part of advocacy week and how will that impact the work that you will do at home?

Rosanna: It is important for me to participate in this event to expand my advocacy tools, know other realities, and see what methods other activists have successfully applied in their respective countries. I’d like to apply these methods and skills to the work that we do in our country, at all levels. At the local level, this will help us develop an advocacy plan to achieve a greater impact.

OutRight: What are some local social or political obstacles you and your organization currently face?

Rosanna: Locally, we understand that the Catholic and Evangelical churches are some of the most powerful institutions in the country. They influence the discourse of hatred and violence pointed towards LGBTIQ people who live in D.R. They have ample resources to carry out their campaigns of hate and violence. A large part of Dominican society is made up of ultra-conservative members of these aforementioned churches.

The other issue we face is the heteronormative binary, and a historically “macho” society that has set the accepted “norms”. Because of this, the general population remains ignorant of the need for LGBTIQ human rights.

On a broader national scale, there is widespread disinterest in recognizing the rights of LGBTIQ people from within the Dominican State. Violations of LGBTIQ Dominicans’ human rights is still commonplace in the country. This is due to a lack of public policy, created to eradicate the discrimination, stigma and violence that LGBTIQ people receive.

Finally, on a grass-roots level, the lack of financial resources, needed to sustain our long term community-based work, continues to be a problem.

Note from OutRight:

As Marzan has astutely observed, the discrimination LGBTIQ people face in the D.R. is born of widespread religious or social conservatism. Having witnessed, first hand, the families and lives torn apart by pervasive intolerance, Marzan is now working to combat violent heteronormative standards and the general lack of awareness.