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Spain's latest export: Gay-friendliness?

Affinity with Spain is paving the way for equality in other Latin American countries.

“The existence of a law that legalizes these people and makes them more visible results in more assaults,” explained Miguel Angel Gonzalez Medino, president of COGAM, the Lesbian, Gay, Transgender & Bisexual Collective of Madrid.

Confronting discrimination at work and in schools tops the agenda. Machismo is another common complaint in countries with Latin roots.

Pablo Salzani is an Italian who moved from Milan to Barcelona for a job in finance. He said he will only work for English and American companies where the results are what counts.

“Spain puts on a good show, but there is homophobia and machismo,” he said.

Rodrigo Araneda is president of ACATHI, an association aimed at immigration integration that he helped found shortly after he emigrated from Chile in 2002.

“The level of social freedom we have in Barcelona isn’t felt in Italy,” observed Araneda. “The fear of firebombs at discos just shouldn’t be happening in a civilized nation, a European leader.”

News of a firebomb attack in Rome last summer convinced Salzani he will not return to Italy any time soon.

“I’m amazed at what’s happening in my country. I wouldn’t feel comfortable there,” said Salzani. He prefers Spain. “I want to be in a country that is modern, not archaic.”

Spain has made a quantum leap from the celebration of its first Gay Pride act in Madrid a little over two decades ago. The couple hundred participants of that first event in 1977 took faith in a budding democracy to claim equal treatment in a country where only a few years before the Catholic Nationalism preached by General Franco’s dictatorship saw them put behind bars.

About three in four Spaniards now support LGTB rights, according to Alejandro Alder, the head of international relations for the State Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Transsexuals and Bisexuals. It’s enough for Spain to gain notoriety as a predominantly friendly place. Alder adds that his group and others from Spain have met with lawmakers in Latin American countries like Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, where affinity with Spain is paving the way for equality.

“Spain today is exporting rights,” Alder said. “We need to be proud of it.”