In Venezuela, Aftershocks From Gay Spa Raid Linger
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.
A raid on a gay spa in Valencia, Venezuela, in which 33 men were arrested, has LGBTQ+ people there worried that the government will be cracking down on sexual minorities, the according to the Washington Post.
As previously reported, the spa, which is called Avalon, was raided on July 23. The Post recounted that, "With neither advance warning nor a search warrant, the officers from Venezuela's National Police entered the massage rooms, the locker rooms and the saunas, witnesses said, shouting 'Get out!' and 'Hands up!'"
Advocates decried the charges of "public indecency" that were slapped on the men who were taken into custody, noting that the gathering was in a closed room on private property. Charges of "criminal association" were also levied against the men who were arrested.
But that wasn't the extent of it. "Officers sent the men's pictures, names and ID numbers to reporters, who posted them on Twitter," the Post detailed.
What's more, the police seemed to take pleasure in investigating the contents of the phones they confiscated from the men.
Officers combed through "[p]hotos, WhatsApp, Calls, contacts, messages," Avalon receptionist Jesús Araujo recalled to the Post. "From that moment it began to be a mockery. They called us [an antigay slur] and showed all our pictures and conversations to each other, including the videos, which they watched together."
"I still don't understand," Avalon's owner, Guillermo Luis, told the newspaper. "We had all the paperwork, and they still arrested us. Not even brothels in Venezuela face actions like this."
Tamara Adrián, a transgender member of the national assembly, "said the government of President Nicolás Maduro has shown a 'clear pattern' against LGBTQ+ and women's rights," the Post reported.
"I can't prove it," Adrián said, "but acts like these are carried out with authorization from the top. It creates a clear pattern of fear among many."
Watchdog group the Venezuelan Observatory on LGBTIQ+ Violence echoed Adrián's concerns. The group "recorded at least 60 attacks against the gay community," the Post detailed. "Thirty percent, the observatory says, were committed by a state agency."
The group's director, Yendri Velásquez, said that the observatory has "warned of a criminalization campaign against the LGBTIQ community, which is no different from the campaign against abortion and the political criminalization of different sectors."
"He noted that the raid was the fifth against a gay establishment in the past two years," the Post reported, "but the first time such a large group was arrested."
The men were released after a few days and, amid public pressure, the charges against them dropped, the Post reported. Still, "Luis and two of his employees were held for a week; their charges remain pending," the Post noted.
"Venezuela's LGBTQ+ community fears a new government drive to criminalize homosexuality," the Post said. "The authoritarian socialist state is one of the few countries in South America that does not recognize same-sex marriage."
"Until this year, being gay in the military was a crime punishable by prison," the article added.
Unsurprisingly, anti-LGBTQ+ evangelicals are part of the picture.
"Velásquez said the government is trying to strengthen ties with increasingly powerful and wealthy evangelical Christian groups," the Post related, noting that the President Maduro "in January announced 'My Well Equipped Church,' a state-funded program to upgrade and remodel churches 'so that the parishioners have dignified spaces where they can develop their faith in the encounter with God.'"
"We see with concern how the government has strengthened the alliance with religious groups that use anti-rights language," Velásquez told the newspaper. "These groups have funds and institutional support."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.