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During my time in San Juan La Laguna, the range of gender and sexuality expression that I observed was minimal. I saw heterosexual couples dressed in modest traditional clothing walk down the street with no indication that they were together. There was no hand holding, no public displays of affection, and often they walked in silence. The first time I noticed this, I returned to my homestay with the thought that this was an isolated incident, or maybe it just isn’t culturally appropriate to show affection in public. I observed my family’s interactions, and with the exception of my homestay mom and her husband, I was completely unable to figure out who was married to whom. Before the trip, I knew that Guatemala was a conservative country but I didn’t realize to what extent. This part of Guatemalan culture was the topic of conversation during orientation when we talked about oppression, machismo, and gender roles in rural Guatemala. But the extremity of the traditional views on relationships, sexuality, and gender was still shocking.

Standing on the street in the capital city of a conservative country in Central America, I saw a beautiful shift towards liberal mindsets about sexuality and gender. Rainbow balloons and streamers flowed from decorated trucks filled with people. Music in both Spanish and English blasted through the stacked speakers, shaking the ground. Crowds of hundreds of people surged after the buses, flirting, taking pictures, singing and dancing along to the music. Buses plastered in ads handed out condoms on lollipop sticks as vendors wove through the crowds, selling beers and sodas. Huge multicolored flags of rainbow, blue, pink, purple, and white celebrating different genders and sexualities were hoisted high, waved above the crowd.

People had larger flags draped over their shoulders like capes and held smaller flags in their hands. ¿Perdon, donde compro esto? Excuse me, where did you buy this? I asked a woman in the parade, gesturing to the flag in her hand. Before she could answer, a man nearby handed me one and began to pull her away from where I was standing and back into the joyful chaos of the parade. ¡Gracias! I shouted after them, unsure if they could hear me over the chants and the music. I stood on the sidewalk, cheering and waving my little flag, smiling and jumping along to the beat of songs that I couldn’t understand. The music came and went in waves, that of the previous truck just becoming inaudible before the next came with its own. Groups of people were wearing T-shirts with the logos of the pro-LGBTQ+. Drag queens in ballgowns and makeup were followed by trucks full of half-naked men, women, and everything in between. They were followed in turn by transgender women carrying baskets and wearing traditional clothing. A black bus drove by the group, with no music and no crowd, plastered in missing person posters. All of the missing persons shown were members of the community.

The coexistence between social conservatives and the LGBTQ+ community in Guatemala perplexes me.

I am the only openly LGBTQ+ member of the group. It made me hopeful when I saw this beautiful celebration of freedom in such a conservative country, maybe one day we will be celebrated everywhere.

I had never seen a large gathering of my community, and being around people who might’ve had similar experiences to me made me feel understood and confident. I have never been to a pride parade in the United States, but soon I hope to find the same understanding and acceptance, see the same joy on peoples’ faces, and feel that same elation that I felt on the streets of Guatemala City.