A MEXICAN township in a state infamous for its drug gang shootouts and macho cowboy culture has elected the country’s first openly gay mayor.
Mayor-elect Benjamin Medrano, 47, won the election on 7 July and will take office in September in Fresnillo, in a rough-and-tumble part of Zacatecas.
In an interview this week, he said he did not believe he was in any danger from the drug war between the Zetas and Gulf drug cartels as they fight for control of his township, population 230,000, which sits on some of the main trafficking routes in northern Mexico.
He said: “I’m not at risk, because I don’t have any relationship with any of the groups.
“Of course, I have the same fear anybody in Fresnillo has. The violence has diminished, but it is still the worst nightmare we have.”
In recent years, a drug turf war has raged around Fresnillo, and bodies have been found hacked to bits, others with their throats slit, some decapitated, some stuffed in wells or shallow graves.
His election is even more surprising given the largely rural state’s reputation for cowboy hats and boots and macho swagger. Mr Medrano admitted: “I am going to be mayor of a township where there are 258 villages full of tough country people, who don’t necessarily have much information on what’s happening elsewhere, and have even less of an automatic sympathy with their gay mayor.
“But it’s not like I’m going to paint city hall pink, either..”
While some top Mexican politicians and mayors have been rumoured to be gay, none has ever come out – much less before being elected.
“He is the first,” said Alejandro Brito, director of Letra S, one of Mexico’s main gay rights groups. “There have been city officials and city council members, but openly gay mayors? No.”
He noted some gay politicians have won seats in congress, but not by winning any district race; rather, they won their seats through a proportional-representation scheme in which political parties designate them.
Mr Brito said the election victory was a significant step in the fight for gay rights, but said it was too early to declare victory.
Mr Medrano said he was the target of a malicious phone-calling campaign in which political rivals “tried to smear me, as if being gay were a crime.”
“This shows that our human rights system is providing some protection,” Mr Brito said. “Because, even though there is no public majority in favour of electing gay politicians, he [Medrano] knows that the legal framework will protect him.”
“It is now more risky for a political rival to be openly homophobic, than it is to be a homosexual candidate,” Mr Brito said.
Mr Medrano campaigned on a strong public-safety platform, advocating co-operation with police, and vetting and background checks on the notoriously corrupt local police force.
He had other factors working in his favour. Firstly, he is a singer who has owned a gay bar for 18 years. Mexicans are accepting of gay musicians in general.
“Given that I’m a singer, people know that aspect of me,” he said.
The other factor was his approach to gay issues. He has attended gay marches but does not campaign for gay rights.
A Roman Catholic, he said: “I wish the church had a different view, but I cannot go against doctrine … I respect my church, and I don’t want to dig any deeper beyond what’s permitted and what is appropriate.
“I’m not in favour of gay marriage … in short, we’re not prepared. Not yet, anyway, because we have strong roots in our religion, and in our customs.”