NPCA’s Wedding Wednesdays

Did you know that the NPCA collects and publishes Peace Corps wedding stories? In fact, in 2015, LGBT RPCV made a concerted effort to make sure there was more same-sex couple representation in the album. We are proud to say that the inaugural same-sex couple is still the holder of the most amount of Likes! CLICK HERE to view the full album on Facebook. Are you interested in submitting your own? Copied below are the instructions:

Send a photo of your #peacecorps wedding, plus a BRIEF caption/story (Ideas: How you met? About the wedding? What’s distinctively “Peace Corps” about you two?), to and include the word “Wedding” in the subject line. Include only as much personal information as you feel comfortable sharing with the internet. We’ll let you know when it’s posted and you can choose to “tag” it at that time. What qualifies as a “Peace Corps wedding?” You got married while in the Peace Corps, met in the Peace Corps and got married afterwards, or are RPCVs who met and married after service. Marrying a host country national or a member of another international service organization (ex. CUSO, VSO) “counts,” of course. Peace Corps: making peace one person at a time.

Below are few that we’d like to highlight:



Posted June 10, 2015: Norbert (Ivorian) + Phillip (American, RPCV Guinea & Burkina Faso 2009-2011). Met in Ouagadougou, August 2010. Marriage ceremony in Abidjan, July 2011. Officially married in New York, August 2011. “Norbert and I met through friends of friends, dancing at a nightclub in Ouagadougou. We hit it off right away and have been together ever since” – Phillip


Posted November 30, 2016: Marisa (Education 2011-13) and Fiona (Agriculture 2010-12) met during Peace Corps service in Paraguay. They shared the following: “We proud to say we got married on July 9, 2016, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a year after marriage equality reached the U.S. Our wedding clearly reflected our experiences as LGBTQ Americans and Paraguay RPCVs – including tereré (ice cold mate tea) and ñanduti (Paraguayan lace). There were 4 RPCVs in the wedding party, and 13 RPCVs in attendance (representing 4 countries and 2 decades)


Posted November 30, 2016: Betsie, pictured right, and Shay met during service in Ecuador (2014-2016). “We were the two in our omnibus vehemently opposed to finding new relationships in Peace Corps. We signed up to service, not to fall in love. We fell for each other and the rest is recent history. We’re married, adjusting to life back in the U.S. and looking forward to a life together full of adventure”


Posted December 21, 2016: Sarah Bender and Stephanie Hubbell met while serving together in Jordan (2009-2011). Sarah says that “It was until the end of our service that we realized true love had been right in front of us, but once that happened we never looked back. We married in New York City on September 4, 2016. We were lucky to get to share our wedding celebration with many members of our RPCV Jordan family and would not have had it any other way. We look forward to serving again one day, together as wives!”


Posted December 28, 2016: Together for 26 years and married for 3, Ronald Hemmer (Thailand 82-84) and Franklin “Dan” Davis (Colombia 66-68) met in Phoenix, Arizona were Ron worked for the USDA and Dan worked for the Arizona DOT. Being RPCVs, as well as being from Ohio, led to the initial friendship. “As it turns out, most of our long-term friends are RPCVs. Shared values led to lasting friendships. Here we are with our Thai gold weddings in Palm Springs were we are living at the time”. 





Serving as the First: A Same-Sex Couple Perspective

By Jessica and Khayla

My partner and I knew that we always wanted to join Peace Corps. Like all those who have come before us, it was a dream. We didn’t want to become another person in their aging years proclaiming “I should have… I would have…. I could have…” So we did. Knowing we couldn’t serve together we tried in our interviews to at least get placed on the same continent. As we received our invitations our hearts broke. Africa and South America. It doesn’t get much farther. With one of our staging dates coming 6 months before the other, we were going to be apart for 32 months. Thirty two. Even now the number is hard to grasp. But this was our dream, how could we not take the leap? So I went off to staging first, and that was the first time I truly felt my heart break. It wasn’t for another 16 months that my heart would be whole, when thanks to the wonderful staff of Peace Corps and Peace Corps Ecuador that I was able to put my pieces back together.  I am incredibly grateful and proud to be a part of one of the last couples that will ever have to feel the pain of being separated.  The pain that comes only because I fell in love with someone who checks the same box as me on forms. Female. It’s a huge and scary leap that Peace Corps is taking into the new age, but if you spend 10 minutes with my partner and I, and see our relentless love and gratitude to be serving together, you’ll know it’s the right choice.

Jessica and Khayla share their success story as a same-sex couple in the Peace Corps.

Jessica and Khayla share their success story as a same-sex couple in the Peace Corps.

First, let’s touch on the challenges that come as a same-sex couple serving abroad. With regards to being out at site, my partner and I have made the decision to not tell any host country nationals about our relationship. The decision was a personal one, and ultimately was made to maintain our safety in country.  I work with three wonderful women, whom I’ve witnessed talking positively about homosexuals in Ecuador, but I still have reservations about telling them because of the gossipy nature here. I don’t think my coworkers would ever maliciously tell anyone about our relationship, but everyone I’ve met separately in Loja seems to know each other in one way or another. So, one small piece of gossip could become a universal truth in less than a week. We each go to the other person’s organization/school to help when we have the day off from our prospective jobs (Health and TEFL are our respective programs) and each of our colleagues loves the other. Any time either has an after-hours event or social gathering, they make sure we are bringing our lovely roommate and friend. Keeping this secret is absolutely a challenge; finding new reasons for why I don’t want an Ecua-boyfriend, dodging blind-dates from host family members, and above all having to watch as men make passes in cafes or bars at my partner and not being able to tell them that not only is she taken, but that she’s with me!, can be trying.

Another challenge is not being treated the same as married couples, with staff and other Ecuadorians. When my partner and I are booked for a hostel room in the capital city for medical purposes, the hostel staff is just doing their job when assigning another female Volunteer to our room or requesting that we move into a room with another female Volunteer, because that is their standard procedure.  But if we were a heterosexual couple, no one would ever be added to the room. We wouldn’t have to worry about acting “normal” in front of strangers, or explaining when we slip up and call the other one “honey”. This can be helped by the Peace Corps staff by keeping the couple in mind and making sure the hostel puts them in a double room. I know it’s an extra step, but being treated as a normal married couple will gain the unyielding respect of your future same-sex couples. When we encountered this situation for ourselves, Peace Corps Ecuador handled it quickly and professionally, something we appreciated and a feeling of support that we will never forget. Additionally, if a same-sex couple puts in a reimbursement for the cheapest double room they could find on their way to mid-service, when they could have spent less if they had stayed in a dorm room with strangers, be kind and accept the receipt.

Again, it’s the little things that will make your couple feel safe and welcomed.

Although we have to watch what we say and how we act around our landlord, one of the advantages of living in Ecuador as a same-sex female couple is that everyone who knows we live together is overwhelmingly supportive and genuinely relieved that we have each other for company. This is definitely a cultural advantage for us. However, that’s not to say that male couples would be subject to suspicion. Because we are foreigners in a new country and culture we would recommend more than anything that a same sex-couple be aware of their site’s views on homosexuality when making decisions about how to act and what information is shared with host country nationals.

Finally, and somewhat surprisingly, other challenges that we’ve faced have originated with other PCVs. Again nothing that has happened was done maliciously, but because they aren’t constantly thinking about their sexuality or trying keeping their relationship private. For example, sometimes we will invite another volunteer over for dinner and they show up at our door with an Ecuadorian we’ve never met. At this point we have to run and shut two doors (one to our actual bedroom, and one to the room we tell others is my room, which sorry to digress, but same-sex couples will most likely need to rent two-bedroom homes if they want to invite host country nationals over and maintain their relationship privacy) and hide anything around the apartment that may hint that we are a couple, like an anniversary banner I once had hung up in the kitchen. PCVs don’t immediately see why it would be important to mention they are bringing someone over whom we don’t know, because it’s not something they’ve ever had to think about. They also may forget themselves and make passing comments about our relationship around others, creating a stressful moment as we wait to see if the other guest didn’t hear, or if we need to explain ourselves/think of a quick lie. In another situation my partner was outed to one of her colleagues by another Volunteer. This placed her in a difficult situation, not knowing what her counterpart would think, say or do with this newfound information. Thankfully everything turned out okay; my partner’s Program Manager was incredibly supportive, met with her and her counterpart (who ended up being both understanding of the delicacy of the situation and accepting of our relationship) and to this day we haven’t had any problems. That being said, most Peace Corps posts have begun preparing LGBTQ couple specific training for the office staff, but it’s important to remember sensitivity, respect and outing training for Volunteers as well. Despite having listed the above challenges, we want to mention that more than anything they’re just things to think about. Things to be aware of to help anticipate and prevent any potential bumps in the road.

The good! Let’s talk about the good! My partner and I are ecstatic to be serving together, and all of the volunteers close to us are happy to have us here as well. About twice a month we host small dinners at our apartment for the local PCVs, we take a poll and cook whatever people are craving. I love to cook and my partner loves to bake. I wouldn’t say we are the best chefs in the world, but you certainly won’t hear any complaints from the Loja area volunteers! We also adopted a kitten a few months ago named Milo (pronounced Meelow, the Spanish way!)  He’s adorable and always the hit of the party when we host group dinners. Additionally, my partner and I have taken on a secondary project teaching two classes a week at the Universidad Nacional de Loja. Each class is three hours long, and we are teaching students who are studying to become Ecuador’s future English teachers. They are so driven and dedicated; it’s an honor to be a part of their education. All in all, my partner and I couldn’t be happier. We are living a dream we never imagined could or would ever become a reality. The opportunity to live and serve together as Peace Corps Volunteers is absolutely incredible! We feel complete and happy and beyond appreciative. But at the end of the day, we’re still Volunteers, the same as any other couple serving in any country; we just have to put a little more thought into our actions when we are out in public. The majority of our interactions with PC staff are the same as with any other volunteer; VRFs, questions for program managers, calling medical when ill, etc. We go to work, interact with our communities, plan projects, engage in mutual cultural exchanges, and truly love being a part of Peace Corps. We recognize that introducing same-sex couples to Peace Corps is scary.

But it’s also unbelievably exciting. If you have any specific questions or concerns please let us know. We are more than happy, if not eager, to engage in a dialogue about our experiences and insights.

Serving in Ecuador: Closet or Cocoon?

– Brad Mattan, Former Volunteer, 2008-2010, Wendell, Current Volunteer, 2009-2011

Editor’s Note:
This document was written and contributed to by a group of LGBT Peace Corps Volunteers in Ecuador. It was originally to be a chapter in a longer document put together by Ecuador PCVs to help new volunteers familiarize themselves with their lives as a PCV in this country. This chapter was aimed at newly arriving LGBT PC trainees. We are including it on our website as a resource for applicants and nominees to Ecuador, but also to other Latin American countries where the cultural and social situation may be similar. It could also stand as a model for another country specific document put together by current and/or recent LGBT PCVs. We are including it as a PDF file [Ecuador Mattan] to facilitate downloading.

I. Introduction

“I don’t regret the decision [to join Peace Corps] whatsoever. I wanted to have an expanded sense of what it is to be human in other parts of the world. I wanted to have a better understanding of poverty and those who are among the most vulnerable. I wanted some time away from academia to define who I was and if I really wanted to be a psychologist. I also wanted an experience that would really challenge me and force me to grow up in a way that [university life] simply doesn’t permit. In a surprising way, Peace Corps really forces you to get to know yourself and take care of yourself. As I once put it, it teaches you to be your own best friend. In a “foreign” culture and country, you’re the only one who knows what your wants, needs, strengths, and weaknesses are. If you don’t, you figure it out fast! I encourage you to consider not just your sexual orientation but also what your values are…  …Consider in what ways you want to be formed.

However, that’s not to say that your concerns about being able to be yourself aren’t valid: far from it! I wish I had considered that a little more seriously before heading off to Ecuador. As I said, I don’t regret my decision to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Yet, I realize now that I was a little naïve with respect to thinking that being in the closet would be a piece of cake…  …In Ecuador, I figured, ‘hey, I’ve been in the closet before. I can go back, no problem.’ What I didn’t realize was that once you’re out, you don’t want to go back. As you can imagine, it’s not healthy to hide such a meaningful part of who you are. That’s especially true if you highly value honesty and authenticity as I do. In short, it’s not a good idea to sugar-coat just how difficult it can be to be a LGBT volunteer.”  –Brad Mattan, Former Volunteer

Let’s face it; being LGBT and working in Ecuador is tough. Many, like Brad and Sonia (see Section V,) arrived naively thinking that returning to the closet would be no problem. Others know exactly what they are getting into and yet realize that knowing that helps little. Others still begin service in Ecuador and later come out to family and the friends for the first time. Some LGBT volunteers early terminate in part because of the stress related to hiding their sexual identity. Wherever you may be in your service-journey, know that you’re not alone. Many have been through and/or continue to deal with similar excitements and frustrations and we want to share them with you.

In this resource, we will discuss a number of aspects related to being a LGBT volunteer in Ecuador. Topics include being in the closet (Section II,) relationships (Section III,) stereotypes (Section IV,) and the LGBT communities of Ecuador (Section V.) In each section, we offer different perspectives on how to manage such difficulties. However, as with all ideas, take these with a grain of salt. The only person who truly knows what is right for you is you. In the last section, we provide a list of additional resources (Section VI) that volunteers in Ecuador may find useful during their two years of service.

As you read through each section of this resource, try to note especially the positive aspects of what is presented. For example, having to be more wary of sharing your sexual identity (see Section II) is certainly stressful. However, what knowledge or understanding could you gain from such an experience? As Brad mentions above, it’s good to occasionally reflect on what you want out of your service, be it personal growth, independence, making your mark, learning about others, or even learning another language. In addition to contemplating your goals and growth experiences as a volunteer, be sure to note and use the resources presented here and elsewhere.  Though you’re your most important resource, there are a number of people, places, and things that will also help to make your service just a little easier.

Yes, living in Ecuador or anywhere as a LGBT volunteer can be difficult. As Brad cautions above, the difficulties are not to be sugar-coated. In spite of difficulties, you are not without resources and support. Above all, your greatest support will be you. Take care of yourself, and not just your physical wellbeing but also your mental and spiritual wellbeing. Stay in touch with your friends and family. Most importantly, check in with yourself every so often and make sure that your goals are still relevant and in sight. If you know you are doing what you want to be doing and becoming the person you want to be, the difficult stretches of your service will eventually give way to more happy and memorable moments.

II. The Closet

“When I first arrived as a trainee from Florida, I was still in the closet to most of my friends and family. However, I saw the Peace Corps as an opportunity to start over, to begin a new life as an openly gay individual. Likewise, in-between tech-trips, workshops, and vaccinations, I scouted out the perfect moment to share my deep, dark secret. I eventually found that moment, and by the time I was packing my bags to go to site, the majority of my [training group] knew I was gay.  And to my surprise, everyone was very accepting. It turns out my being gay wasn’t a big deal to anyone but me. Having a network of friends in Ecuador who know about my sexuality has helped me to be a successful volunteer. I can’t imagine being closeted to my Peace Corps friends–it would have been a lonely two years.”  -Wendell, Current Volunteer

Life in the Closet

One of the most stressful issues facing LGBT volunteers in Ecuador concerns “the closet.” Upon arrival, many volunteers question how their life in Ecuador will differ from their life in the States. Closeted volunteers may consider coming out, and openly gay volunteers may wonder if prejudice towards homosexuality merits a return to closeted life.

Either way, the question is a difficult one. Regardless of whether or not (and to whom) you decide to come out, it’s important that you’re comfortable with your decision and that it’s what’s best for your wellbeing. If you find yourself wondering about where you belong in relation to the closet, please read the following points concerning “the closet” in Ecuador.

Your Fellow Volunteers

We all know that life in the closet sucks. Perhaps the only thing more stressful than being in the closet, unfortunately, is coming out. Although being an LGBT volunteer in Ecuador presents a number of difficulties, it also presents a unique opportunity. As seen in the above story, many LGBTs find their Peace Corps service the perfect environment in which to reveal their sexuality. Peace Corps volunteers are generally more open to LGBT issues, and the Peace Corps community provides a positive environment in which to experiment with a new identity. Among other support services, you’ll have access to Peace Corp/Ecuador’s LGBT Support Group, an organization of volunteers who understand your anxieties and can offer resources and encouragement. Additionally, many LGBT volunteers feel that their experience coming out to fellow volunteers builds the needed confidence to address the subject with family and friends.

Your Community

While coming out to fellow volunteers is often a positive, character-building experience, coming out to one’s community is a very different issue. In many parts of Ecuador homosexuality is not-well tolerated, and in extreme cases, coming out may prove deleterious to a volunteer’s integration, work, and security. Likewise, one should exercise much prudence when deciding to come out to friends and coworkers in the community.

Despite the negative tone of this passage, coming out to community members may be the best choice for some volunteers, and in other cases, it may even be a very positive experience. The best recommendation is to use your knowledge of the community and common sense to determine how receptive host country nationals will be to an LGBT volunteer. If you feel apprehensive concerning the attitude of the community towards LGBTs, it may be best to keep your sexual identity under wraps. If for any reason you feel threatened, you should contact the Peace Corps Security Officer.

Being a “closeted” bisexual presents a special challenge for some volunteers in their sites. In a way it’s an advantage if you want to be in the closet. For example, you can still date the opposite sex and not have to explicitly lie about your gustos (preferences.) However, as former volunteer Sarah Goodspeed says, “Although I was able to date and tried to be open with my partners even if they wouldn’t get it, there was a part of me unfulfilled not necessarily because I didn’t date women but because I haven’t been wholly accepted for everything I am.”

Sarah’s frustrations stem in part from the fact that there is little comprehension among the majority of Ecuadorians of bisexuality and the reality of bisexual individuals.  As volunteers come to learn, many in Ecuador consider homosexuality to be an illness and believe strict gender roles to be the God-given order. For these reasons, bisexual individuals many times find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to expressing their full identity.

Coming Out to Yourself, Family, and Friends in the US

Though “The Closet” section may seem somewhat discouraging at best, there is a silver lining.  Peace Corps offers you the opportunity to recreate yourself as one can do when changing schools or cities of residence. The intense self-discovery that many LGBT volunteers go through during their service leads many to discover their sexual identity and the strength and pride to show it. Even if you spend your service more closeted than you might prefer, most volunteers find that it is a small price to pay for developing a stronger sense of self and self-esteem.

That being said, don’t forget about your friends and family back home. Without a doubt, personal growth comes as a pleasant surprise to the volunteer. At some point, that change will show through to family and friends back home. The stronger sense of self and self-esteem that LGBT volunteers develop leads many to consider coming out to family and friends back home, something that would have been inconceivable to them during pre-service training. As a matter of fact, several LGBT volunteers have come out to themselves and/or to their family during their service.

Former volunteer Sarah Goodspeed notes that, in addition to her in-service self-discovery process, the “distance cushion” from her family was particularly helpful in her decision to come out to her parents. The physical separation from home helped to reduce the intimidation or uncertainty that she once felt from certain members of her family. Plus, the distance helped to make both Sarah and her family more aware of just how much they love each other, causing all to feel much closer. As was the case for Sarah, the personal growth process and the separation provide for many difficult moments for volunteers. However, those are also experiences that are very favorable to coming out to family and friends back home.

In conclusion, the looming closet may seem as oppressive to some Peace Corps Trainees as the cocoon is to the caterpillar. However, keeping the big picture in sight and your good friends on speed-dial, your service as an LGBT volunteer may prove to be the most transformative experience of your life. It is our hope that you find yourself among the many fabulous butterflies at your Close of Service (COS) conference.

III. Relationships

“The hardest part, for me, of dating during PC service is the inability to express my affection in public. While I have never really engaged in any public displays of affection, I have found myself being particularly on edge when embracing my boyfriend. Whether it’s in my own house or a public place, before making any advances, I have to quickly assess my surroundings to ensure that we have ABSOLUTE privacy. This has come to be particularly stressful given that in the US I was totally ‘out’ and never had to worry about being discovered.

However, in Ecuador we do have some advantages to help confront these stresses. First, in Ecuador men are generally more physical with each other than in the US. It is very common to see two ‘straight’ men walking together arm-in-arm. Also, given that the vast majority of people do not speak English, I am able to speak openly and publicly about my emotions and know that people generally do not understand me. Lastly, since homosexuality is generally repressed in Ecuador, I have found that people will not assume someone is gay unless they state it or perform an overtly gay action (i.e. kissing in public.) So while there are certain restraints that one must exercise while having a LGBT relationship in Ecuador, it is certainly manageable to enjoy a happy, healthy relationship.” –Jason, Current Volunteer

Committing to an LGBT relationship in Ecuador, whether it’s with a fellow volunteer or a host country national, can be one of the most treasured experiences of your two-year service. As with any relationship, however, dating an LGBT in Ecuador has its ups and downs. It’s therefore beneficial to have an idea of the problems you’re liable to face and strategies to deal with relationship issues.

Dating Another Volunteer

One of the best parts about dating another PCV is the support they can offer; not only do relationships between volunteers provide a healthy environment for sharing anxieties about volunteer life, but boyfriends and girlfriends who are volunteers understand the pressures of being a LGBT in Ecuador. Likewise, they don’t have to worry about the cultural differences that often strain intercultural relationships.

However, a negative aspect of relationships between volunteers is that volunteer sites are usually far apart. Traveling in-between sites may prove difficult, or perhaps even unfeasible due to travel restrictions and limited out-of-site days. And of course, one should ensure that being in a relationship doesn’t undermine integration efforts or weaken ties with the community. In addition to the distance-related problems, there may be problems related to the level of comfort each volunteer has with respect to being out. William Tanner, a former volunteer, shares that, “an LGBT couple may be at odds if one person is uncomfortable with expressing his or her sexual orientation with the volunteer community while the other wants the world to know. These differences can cause stress for both people in the relationship. It’s important to find balance so that both partners are comfortable with the level of ‘publicity’ in their relationship.”

Despite these and other challenges, however, many LGBT volunteers have successfully maintained relationships. The potential difficulties listed above should certainly not scare you away from beginning one.

Dating an Ecuadorian

Similar to relationships between volunteers, an intercultural relationship can be a very rewarding experience. Dating a host country national can provide you with insight into Ecuadorian life and culture that you would otherwise not have, and talking with Ecuadorian boyfriends and girlfriends provides another forum to practice Spanish (or Kichwa). More so than American relationships, however, intercultural relationships can pose significant challenges.

Although every relationship is different, one of the common areas of difficulty has to do with emotional attachment and expression. Social convention in much of Ecuador dictates a high level of emotional attachment and romanticism in relationships from the beginning relative to relationships in the US. Using gross stereotypes to illustrate this point, an American may view his new Ecuadorian boyfriend as excessively emotional and moving “way too fast” while the Ecuadorian boyfriend may see his American counterpart as complicated, reticent and uncommitted. Though one or both members of this hypothetical relationship could be right on in their impressions, culture could also be playing a role in their relationship dynamic.

Unfortunately, we lack the space and expertise to move far beyond such generalized examples, the moral of the story is that it’s important for both individuals to be aware of the challenges that could arise from the differences between American and Ecuadorian romance.

One strategy used by a PCV in Ecuador was to focus on being very direct about his needs and expectations of a potential partner during the period before the relationship became “official.”  This period is crucial because emotions are generally easier to monitor and control. Plus, commitment is not on the table as a “given;” so even if your potential partner may feel strongly about a relationship, there is less pressure for you to feel that you have to reciprocate equally, especially if you’re not comfortable with it. As in any relationship, it’s important to promptly stand up for your expressed needs and expectations the moment they are misunderstood or not respected.  Not doing so could result in your potential partner thinking that your expressed need or expectation is really not that important to you. This strategy works best if it is explicitly agreed upon by both partners, so it’s important to mention early on. If you are able to establish a dialogue early on about the importance of the personal needs of both individuals, then you will be better prepared when inevitable choques (culture shocks) do come up. As with any relationship, success rests in large part on a mutual negotiation of differences in expectations.  Coming to appreciate those differences will make life as a couple much easier, and much more enjoyable.

For more information on intercultural relationships, the Peace Corps/Ecuador library in Quito has a great book by Dugan Romano called Intercultural Marriage. Though the book talks about marriages, really it’s a good book for intercultural couples at any stage.

One final concern on the topic of dating an Ecuadorian is that LGBT volunteers must carefully consider the level of commitment to which they aspire with their Ecuadorian partner. This is a major point that is important to discuss early on, if possible. While some heterosexual volunteers do choose to marry a host country national in Ecuador, for LGBT volunteers, this is not a possibility. This, of course, makes it difficult to continue the relationship beyond the time a volunteer resides in Ecuador unless his or her partner has the means to independently secure a visa to the US or some other country where the couple may wish to live. However, even if an intercultural couple manages to legally marry in a US or foreign state that guarantees marriage equality, the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996 prohibits the Federal Government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages in any way, including granting citizen status to the foreign same-sex spouse. All the same, current and former volunteers can and have maintained relationships with Ecuadorian partners of the same sex far beyond their two years of service.

Being Single

Of course, one option always available to LGBT volunteers is to remain single. Staying single allows you to avoid the typical relationship troubles that beset many volunteers. Nevertheless, you may still receive unwanted sexual attention from members of your community. If you’re in the closet, it’s likely that you’ll be approached and flirted with by members of the opposite sex. Just like some LGBT Ecuadorians, some heterosexual Ecuadorians are excited by the prospect of an intercultural relationship and will look to date the local gringo or gringa. If you wish to avoid such attention, you can always tell the community that you have a girlfriend or boyfriend in Ecuador or in the States. Most of the time, this will suffice to deter unwanted suitors, but there are the occasional die-hards who won’t relent so easily. In such cases, you may have to be rude or even solicit aid from the much sharper tongue of a host family member or friend in the community.

For those volunteers who are out to their community, you may or may not see reduced sexual attention from members of the opposite sex. Sometimes, and especially for female volunteers, identifying yourself as a lesbian won’t make any difference to some would-be suitors. It’s important to remember that though you see your sexual orientation as an identity, many Ecuadorians (or Americans for that matter) will see it as a behavior that can easily be changed. To illustrate this point, one gay volunteer came out to a female friend who worked as a clinical psychologist in a major Ecuadorian city. The female friend later gave several signs that she was interested in dating this volunteer, suggesting that maybe he just hadn’t met the right woman yet.

IV. Stereotypes

“In any class, yet especially for those of us who teach Sex Ed, it is vital to promote awareness, positive self-image, healthy attitudes, and to reduce stereotyping sexual identity. The two rules I have in my classroom are: to have respect towards one other and the subject matter, and to ask questions. This way we build a more democratic space, where the students are free to express themselves, and all are equal. Open discussion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual issues helps reduce the isolation of lesbians and gays, demystify their situation, and change the attitudes of others toward them. The main activity built-in my curriculum is conversational activities (word association, politically correct terminology, discussion of students’ points of view, discussion of TV shows and movies). Stereotyping becomes a bad habit at a young age particularly in a culture where conventional gender roles only presume heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships.

Some of the most common derogatory words used by “jóvenes” in Ecuador are: marica, maricón, meco, badea, marimacho. These terms are judgmental and used when someone’s behavior is not in accordance to the conventional gender roles. In my classroom these words are prohibited, and whenever I catch someone using these words outside the school, student or not, I make it a point to take a minute and explain that these words are hurtful, and in the end makes them look bad for it show lack of tolerance towards others who might be different. The responses I’ve received after talking to these “jóvenes” has been only positive, no one’s ever taken the time to explain why it’s wrong to use inappropriate words, and that it promotes stereotype, hate and disrespectful behavior. So, whenever you find yourself in a stressful situation where stereotyping language is used towards you or another, just breathe, think and feel free to enlighten that person with compassion.”  -Caro Quinteros, Former Volunteer

Facing LGBT Stereotypes

Most volunteers quickly realize that Ecuador isn’t the most LGBT-friendly country. Demeaning words like maricón, marica, tortillera, and travesti are used on a daily basis by many Ecuadorians, and violence against LGBTs isn’t unheard of. So, what can you do when faced with these and other negative stereotypes? As you saw in the case of Caro, one option is to address stereotypes through your work. If you volunteer in an escuela or colegio, you can incorporate sex education and teach respect for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. As former volunteer Grant Picarillo (Peace Corps/Guatemala) used to say during his Sex-Ed classes, “we all deserve respect: mestizo, indigenous, gay, lesbian, bisexual, black, white, etc… and purple!”

However, what could you do when faced with negative stereotypes in the street or in a non-school workplace?  Should you do anything?  Though in every situation you need to use your best judgment, we will provide here a possibility. If you hear an acquaintance using anti-LGBT language, you can tell the individual such words make you uncomfortable. As Caro noted in the introduction above, people will recite stereotypes and demeaning-terms because they have yet to meet anyone who disagreed with their use. By stating your opposition to such language with compassion, you may be surprised by just how positive of a response you get.

Other volunteers find opportunities to challenge mistaken notions and stereotypes in casual conversation about gossip or current events.  As the global gay rights movement steadily gains ground, the subject of homosexuality increasing comes up in conversation. When one gay volunteer’s host mother mentioned an article about gay adoption in Uruguay, he unthinkingly responded “chévere.”  Upon observing the confused look on his host mother’s face, he proceeded to explain why he (as a “heterosexual ally”) was in favor of gay rights. The volunteer’s host mother was particularly moved by the fact that the volunteer had a bisexual cousin about whom he cares greatly.

V. LGBT Communities of Ecuador: A Brief Overview

“In the months before our staging event in Miami, while reading about LGBT issues in Ecuador, I came to the conclusion that if it was dangerous and unsafe for me to be ‘out’ and pursue an LGBT life, then I wasn’t going to have one there. I figured that if I have been in the closet before I could do it one more time in Ecuador; I figured that if I have been single before then I could be single again; I figured two years with no LGBT ‘contact’ whatsoever couldn’t be that bad. Very positive of me, huh? Well, it turns out I was wrong… No, it turns out I was extremely wrong. Yes, there is still discrimination and stereotypes in the Ecuadorian society; yes, people still wonder and ask about a thousand times why am I still single and have no children (‘¡Dios Santo… que pena!’); and yes, it is somewhat unsafe to be ‘out’ in the community. Nonetheless, I found that (and now you too will see) that Ecuador has a big and influential LGBT movement that is pushing very hard for a more tolerant society and a more inclusive government. Quito and Guayaquil offer a great extent of LGBT resources that you can use for your own well-being (psychological, physical, moral and -… yes- sexual) and that will make your Peace Corps service (and mine) more enjoyable. I don’t only have ‘contact’ with LGBT issues; I actually work for an organization fighting for LGBT rights, I have a serious relationship with an incredible (and very hot) Ecuadorian, and I have a group of lesbian friends that are always happy to support me and make feel like at home.” –Sonia, Current Volunteer

In comparison to many countries where Peace Corps has posts, Ecuador has fairly developed LGBT communities. By far, the largest and most organized of these communities are concentrated in Quito and Guayaquil.  In the rest of Ecuador, small, though sometimes underground, LGBT communities can be found in the provincial capitals. Unfortunately, there seems to be lacking a sense of national and oftentimes local unity among the LGBT populations of Ecuador. For this reason, we refer to the LGBT populations of Ecuador not as one homogeneous community, but rather as several communities.

Toto, I Don’t Think we’re in Kansas Anymore…
In spite of the presence of LGBT communities throughout Ecuador, be careful not to think that your local gay community will be like the one you left in the US. In fact, if you come from, or have spent time in, a thriving LGBT community in the US or other parts of the world, the LGBT communities of Ecuador are likely to surprise you in a number of ways, both pleasant and unpleasant. All the same, we hope that the Ecuadorian friends of Dorothy will soon be yours too.

You’re a Rock Star

Among the surprises that many volunteers discover when they dive into a LGBT community of Ecuador, is that they are suddenly the center of attention. Especially if a volunteer is fair-skinned and has an eye-color other than brown, Ecuadorian LGBTs take notice. Now, this attention may be quite desirable for some volunteers. Who hasn’t dreamed about being a rock star (or a diva) just once?  However, for those who are either in a relationship or are single and do not want one, it proves to be an incredible frustration. As is the case for heterosexual volunteers with Ecuadorians of the opposite sex, it can be very difficult for a LGBT volunteer to be “just friends” with LGBT members of the same sex. If you find yourself feeling lonely and wishing for LGBT friends, you will likely have to deal with some of your new “friends” wanting more. Así es la vida de un rock star.


One way you can go about developing friendships with LGBT Ecuadorians in, or close, to your community is to find the local hangout. Oftentimes, there’s a bar, hair salon, or restaurant in town where the LGBTs go to hang out and chat. If you can strike up a conversation with one of them, you can learn a lot about that particular LGBT community and the people who are part of it. Alternatively, by word of mouth, you can generally find your local socialite; you know, the friendly guy or girl who knows everyone. If you get to know one person, you can get to know many more. Or, if you can’t find your local social butterfly, another good LGBT person to get to know is one that already is in a relationship. Though this doesn’t always exclude the possibility of some drama, it is generally a safer bet than looking for random single friends at the discoteca. If you live in, or near a major city you may consider volunteering at a local foundation that works in HIV-AIDS or LGBT concerns. Unlike at a club or bar, the environment at such organization ns is much more conducive to getting to know a person and groups of people. It will also be a place where you can feel freer to be yourself.

If you are able to develop a friendship with even one LGBT Ecuadorian, it will help tremendously. Among other things, your LGBT Ecuadorian friend will provide a listening ear and (generally) sound advice if you have concerns regarding concealing your sexual identity or your Ecua-novio.

The Closet

Even in the large cities like Quito and Guayaquil, you are bound to find a much larger proportion of closeted individuals than in the big LGBT communities of the US. The level of ignorance, stigmas, and discrimination regarding LGBT individuals in Ecuador is relatively higher and so more threatening for LGBT Ecuadorans. Though there are many Ecuadorian families who love their openly -gay children, many others prefer to send them to conversion therapy or even to the street. Such isolation can be devastating for LGBT Ecuadorians as family is very central to one’s identity.

In addition to exclusion from the family, an LGBT Ecuadorian faces workplace discrimination, housing discrimination, and physical harm should his or her sexual identity be revealed. Though the constitution of 2008 protects many gay rights, most people seem to distrust that the government/police will actually enforce them. One gay couple in Cuenca was kicked out of their apartment for being gay. They did not contest the decision of their landlord.

For these reasons, it is not uncommon to hear of LGBT Ecuadorians who marry the opposite sex and who even have kids. Though this is especially true in smaller provincial towns, it is known to have happened even in Ecuador’s largest cities.

Also due to the perceived necessity of hiding one’s “alternative” sexual identity, many LGBT Ecuadorians from smaller cities tend to despair of maintaining a relationship with a partner of the same sex. This sense of despair tends to affect the culture of provincial gay communities, shifting the focus of its members more towards discreet and/or casual encounters and less towards developing trusting friendships, relationships and a sense of community identity. Some volunteers find this dynamic frustrating as it tends to drive a potential gay community underground. This tends to make it more difficult (though not impossible) to have a healthy friendship/relationship with an LGBT Ecuadorian of that community.

Sex Ed 101

Thanks in part to the efforts of many Peace Corps Volunteers, Ecuadorian sexual education and HIV-AIDS outreach have made remarkable strides in recent years.  Unfortunately, many adults of all ages remain unaware of the ways in which Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), including HIV-AIDS, are transmitted from one individual to another. Even if your partner seems quite educated, don’t take for granted that he or she knows everything about STIs. Case in point, one volunteer’s partner did not know that HIV could be transmitted by semen and vaginal fluids.  PLEASE be sure that you use condoms and/or other protection if you are sexually active. Talk about STIs with your Ecuadorian partner even if it is awkward. If you enter into a long term relationship, you may consider getting tested together, just to be sure.

VI. Additional Resources for PCVs in Ecuador

“So where is the salon in Cayambe with a trans stylist?” –Brad Mattan, Former Volunteer

During your time in Ecuador, you’ll be quite happy to discover that there are a number of gay-friendly resources, organizations, and locales throughout the country. Some are even closer than you might think.  Read on!

Peace Corps/Ecuador LGBT Peer Support Group: SpeQtrum

In addition to the stresses that most volunteers face in Ecuador, LGBT volunteers face the additional stress of coming to terms with their sexual identity in a number of new environments, including the Peace Corps office, training site, work sites, the coast, the sierra, the oriente, and even family back home. All of these environments are, to varying degrees, stressful to an LGBT volunteer who is forced to re-learn the place of his or her sexual identity in each one. In response to this and other stresses inherent to the situation of LGBT volunteers serving in Ecuador, the LGBT Peer Support Group (now called SpeQtrum) was reinstated in November, 2009. The first priority of this group was the creation of a strong support network for LGBT volunteers during their 2+ years of service.

In an effort to meet its goal of supporting LGBT volunteers, SpeQtrum developed the following goals for the fiscal year 2009-2010:

  1. A “safe space” sensitivity training for Peace Corps/Ecuador staff.
  2. Co-facilitation of the Diversity Session during Pre-Service Training
  3. Facilitation of regional (cluster) sensitivity trainings with the end result of at least one “allied” contact person in each cluster.
  4. Non-political pride gathering in June.
  5. Three to four support/work meetings during the fiscal year.
  6. Regular online social networking and blogging.

If you identify as LGBT or Q and are interested in joining the group, you may email the group

SpeQtrum: Online Contacts/Resources

Another help for LGBT volunteers in Ecuador is the online resources provided by SpeQtrum.  Since November 2009, SpeQtrum has been maintaining a website. (See below for the corresponding URL.)  On the website, you’ll find a listing by city of LGBT-friendly resources and locales including, but not limited to, movies, literature, DVD stores, bookstores, libraries, foundations, discotecas, cafes, and, of course, hair salons. In addition to the resources presented on the website, you will also be able to read about the experiences of LGBT PCVs and other LGBT-relevant news/reflections.


SpeQtrum: Cluster Contacts and “Safe Space”

As mentioned in the initial section on SpeQtrum, one of the group’s goals for the 2009-2010 fiscal year was to establish a network of trained cluster contacts. Because many volunteers feel isolated in their sites, it helps to have at least one person in your cluster with whom you can talk in those difficult moments, particularly if you happen to have no saldo (i.e. minutes on your cell phone) to chat with your best buddy on the other side of the country. Please refer to the LGBT Peer Support Group’s website for further information about your nearest Cluster Contact.

To improve the level of trust LGBT volunteers feel with Peace Corps/Ecuador staff, the SpeQtrum conducted “Safe Space” workshops in January of 2010. In the “Safe Space” workshops, members of the support group will present on common concerns of LGBT volunteers in Ecuador such as homophobia, trust vs. mistrust, and being in the closet. All members who participated in the workshop will receive a bright “Safe Space” sticker that is to be prominently displayed in their office as an indication that they can be counted on as supportive allies. Should you ever be in Quito and need to talk with a supportive ally, just look for the “Safe Space” sticker!

Peace Corps Library: LGBT Literature Section

In addition to the online and personal resources provided by SpeQtrum, the Peace Corps Library in the Volunteer Lounge in Quito has a fine selection of LGBT themed literature. Next time you make it to Quito, be sure to check out a book for a rainy day.  For those who are finishing your service, you may consider leaving any new books to the LGBT section of the Peace Corps Library.

LGBT RPCV Listserv and Website

If you really enjoy social networking and regular updates on the progress of gay rights around the world (particularly in countries with PC contingents now or in the past), consider joining the LGBT RPCV Listserve. It has a mixed group of posters: applicants, nominees, current PCVs and RPCVs, and loyal friends. To subscribe go to

The same group that operates the LGBT RPCV Listserv also maintains a newsletter-website (  On the website, you can find articles from the field of LGBT PCVs and RPCVs categorized by country of service and topic. Articles vary in theme. Some are technical, others are political, and still others are human interest/support focused.

****A special thanks to all current and former members of SpeQtrum (formerly the LGBT Peer Support Group) who contributed quotes and suggestions for this resource.****

You can contact Brad Mattan one of the principal writers at

Back Home: How Peace Corps/Ecuador Changed Me

-Brad Mattan, RPCV, 2008-10

It was time to make apple cider. As a kid and teenager, this annual event signaled the beginning of fall, my favorite time of year. Around the time we made apple cider, the world seemed ripe for change. Cool air would swoop in from somewhere beyond home. The leaves would change colors and eventually fall to the ground in colorful flurries. At about the same time, I would start to observe the edges of the ubiquitous corn fields recede day by day until they were completely harvested. These slow and subtle transitions were among the yearly reminders that change would always come; that no matter how long or harsh the summer seemed, life would get better. That hope-filled reminder always started with the apples.

This year, the apples signified big changes for me. It was a nice late-summer day and I was cutting out the bad spots in this year’s apple harvest in order to make apple cider with my grandparents. I enjoyed conversing with my grandparents, both of whom are philosophers of life in their own sense. Because I had just returned from Peace Corps/Ecuador, we had a lot of catching up to do! In the slow and measured conversational style common to the rural Midwest, we talked about everything from my cousin’s wedding ceremony to Islam. Often, the conversation would lull as the three of us focused intently on cutting the worms out of our apples. After one lull, my grandmother tentatively started out, “Well, Bradley, we haven’t gotten a chance to talk about this yet, but we were wondering if you’d like to talk about your being homosexual?”

The question, though awkward, was not unexpected. It was months in coming and in that moment, I was glad that she had brought it up and not I. A few months before, I had sent out one of my long updates about my time in Ecuador. In those updates, I would write about my work, the food, Ecuadorean culture, and my friends. Even after nearly two years, I found enough to write a several page update every few months. Most people would read them, if they got around to it, and then let me know how they were doing. My grandparents were among my most avid readers. However, my last update threw them a bit of a curve ball. I came out.

I did more than just come out. Strike one. I wrote about my Ecuadorean boyfriend and how he got me a kitten. Strike two. Then, I wrote about how I organized with other LGBT volunteers in Peace Corps Ecuador to promote a supportive environment for LGBT PCVs in that country. Three strikes and I was officially and 100% OUT.

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, that would have been unimaginable. Though I had been out during my last 2.5 years of college, I still had not come out to my extended family beyond a few cousins and a couple of aunts. There were a number of reasons. All of them could be reduced to desire not to take on more than I could handle at the time. I wasn’t ready.

So what happened in Peace Corps that made me do something so bold? After all, most PCVs spend their entire two years in the closet. How did that result in me coming out to my entire family?

During my time in Ecuador, I was exposed to a number of new challenges. The experience of being wholly responsible for my living situation and work load was entirely new to me. Sure, in college, I lived four hours from home. However, I lived with at least one roommate and never had to worry about preparing anything to eat. That’s what the dining hall was for! My job was pretty much laid out for me. I dedicated myself to my studies, activities and social life.

In Ecuador, none of that was there anymore. I had to make sure I was well-fed while coordinating my work in an often unpredictable working environment (I worked in schools and with volunteer groups). I often had to take the initiative to find meaningful work within my community as a workshop presenter extraordinaire. Of course, this involved taking risks and meeting lots of new people. It also involved developing a sense of humor about myself, especially when my participants – or my Spanish abilities – didn’t show up to the workshop. That’s a tall order that certainly didn’t leave room for wondering what others would think about me.

Though living and working abroad gave me the confidence to be different, it was the people of Ecuador that taught me the more important lesson of being more understanding toward people who hold more conservative opinions that many of us find to be maddening. Having been a gay teenager in the rural Midwest and later a student at a conservative Catholic university, I had become somewhat bitter and jaded regarding small towns and people with conservative ideas and attitudes. I wanted nothing to do with them, that is, until I was assigned to my community in Southern Ecuador.

My community in Ecuador was a parish center of about 4,000 individuals on the outer edge of Cuenca. The life of the parish center was still very centered on its agrarian past. Though they could be characterized as “socially conservative,” I noticed no hateful agenda to deprive LGBT folks of rights nor callous disregard for the poor. They were people who loved their families, their fields, and la virgen. Many were poor. They may have said many misinformed things about people both near and far, they had no intention of hurting anyone by their comments. So long as I was respectful, they were usually open to hearing my opinions whenever I disagreed.

For example, my host family occasionally relied on negative stereotypes about Afro-Ecuadoreans. However, when they met my Afro-Ecuadorean (boy) “friend,” they found him to be a decent guy. They even invited him over to eat guinea pig a couple of times! Another time, my wonderful host mother said to me, “can you believe that ‘los homosexuales’ can adopt children in Uruguay?” I unthinkingly responded, “¡chévere!” Judging by her confused look, my response was not what she expected. So, I elaborated by explaining how I thought that LGBT folks were an oppressed minority. I even mentioned that I have a cousin who identifies as bisexual. I was happy that they were getting their rights in Uruguay. Though I know my host mother may not have understood or agreed with me 100%, I do think that I challenged some unquestioned ideas she had. You have to start somewhere.

So this brings me back to that nice late summer day making apple cider with my grandparents. When my grandmother asked me about my “being homosexual,” I kept my cool and agreed to the conversation. When my grandmother continued, “you know, I do think that it’s a choice,” I did not become angry and defensive as I would have two years ago. I remembered my host mother and many other good people I met in Ecuador who hold similar ideas and have yet to be challenged in their assumptions. So, I calmly explained that I never had much of a choice in the kind of people I find attractive though I do have a choice between fearfully hiding behind a mask and embracing myself as God made me. I choose the latter. The conversation continued amicably as we carved out our apples. I was as pleased as I was surprised. As with my Ecuadorean host mother, I don’t expect that my grandparents will understand me 100%. After all, it took me years to come to terms with my sexual identity. Change takes time and patience; whether it’s an Ecuadorian parish of 4,000 or a single human heart, the principle is the same.

Looking back on that day with my grandparents, I’m very grateful for the opportunity that Peace Corps provided me to effect real change not only in my community members but also in myself. My service taught me many skills necessary to live on my own, take initiative in my work and to truly engage others in volunteering. It also helped me to make peace with my past and with myself. No longer do I need to live in fear of being outed or being otherwise “different.” Nor do I harbor anger and bitterness toward those who hold typically conservative ideas regarding sexual identity. After all, the rural areas in which I was raised and where I served are home to many such individuals about whom I care deeply. Those who hold such ideas are not inherently hateful. Many simply have never been shown another way of looking at sexuality. Sometimes, all that’s really needed to transform their hearts and minds is patience and an honest conversation – and lots of apples!

Brad Mattan can be contacted at

PCV GLBT Interest Group Forming in Ecuador

-Claudia Calhoon, PCV

On December 15, 2006, a group of volunteers met in Quito to re-organize a GLBT Interest Group to serve volunteers in Ecuador. Efrain Soria from Equidad, a human rights and HIV organization that works with gay men in Quito, spoke to the group about issues facing gay and lesbian populations and described the work of the organization. The majority of the volunteers are from the Rural Public Health and Youth and Families programs. We hope to identify training and resources materials for providing education on homophobia, particularly with the aim of improving HIV prevention for GLBT populations and men who have sex with men. We are planning to have a presence at Orgullo Gay (Gay Pride) in Quito in June and want to network with the other GLBT organizations working in Guayaquil and Machala. Our new group will not be all work. We plan so social events, including a rafting trip we have in mind for sometime in 2007.

The Ecuador Group’s Mission Statement:

The GLBT Interest group is a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and straight Peace Corps Volunteers working in Ecuador to support programming in education on sexuality, homophobia, HIV, and discrimination. Our objectives are:

  • To provide a supportive network for volunteers who are GLBT in which they can discuss the challenges of living and serving in Ecuador.
  • To provide an outlet and resource to all volunteers who are interested in addressing homophobia and raising the visibility of GLBT communities in Ecuador. Supporting the creation of safe and secure environments for youth who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is a key part of encouraging health behaviours and is fundamental to combating the spread of HIV.
  • To serve as a resource to Peace Corps Ecuador staff and volunteers in training with sensitivity to GLBT issues.

You can reach Claudia Calhoon to offer support or find out more about the LGBT Group