BARRANQUILLA, Colombia — Every year, the coastal city of Barranquilla throws one of the biggest parties in the world.
For members of Barranquilla's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, the four-day carnival celebration is a chance to be more open about their sexuality.
There's a Gay Carnival, a week before the official start, with a parade through the streets and the coronation of kings and queens. Then, during the city's carnival, LGBT participants dress up in costumes and ride with floats.
They're an eye-grabbing group during carnival, and many applaud the visibility the community gains during carnival. Many participants say they feel appreciated by the public, as their colorful and flamboyant costumes are met with cheers and requests for photos with spectators.
But others question if carnival may just cement an attitude from the public that the LGBT community is merely a visual spectacle to be looked at. They say carnival fails to promote true acceptance into a largely homophobic society.
The LGBT community in Colombia has historically been the target of widespread discrimination and violence. Since in the 1980s, gays and transgender citizens have been the target of social cleansing operations, and torture and murder are not uncommon.
Here in Barranquilla, residents are known for their open, easy-going Carribbean nature, which some say makes being gay easier than in the country’s interior. But the northern coast is also known for its machismo, and there's still a lot of public ill will toward the LGBT community. Affection between gay couples is limited to private spaces and the gay club scene.
Nationally, there have been a few recent advances for the LGBT community. A series of court rulings granted same-sex couples the same principal benefits as common-law heterosexual couples, such as social security, pension and property rights. But same-sex marriage is still not permitted.
The adoption of children by same-sex couples is currently not permitted, but the court is studying a case of a a lesbian couple seeking legal guardianship over a child.