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Episode 32: El activista

By Duolingo on Thu 20 June 2019

When Danilo Manzano came out to his family, they didn't accept his sexuality and asked him to hide it from the world. But a key friendship would inspire Danilo to not only embrace his identity publicly, but to become an outspoken activist for LGBTQ rights in Ecuador.

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Transcript

Martina: A quick warning, today’s episode may be triggering for some listeners or inappropriate for younger audiences, as it deals with violence against the LGBTIQ community, and other mature subject matter. Listener discretion is advised.

Martina: Danilo Manzano has a memory from when he was seven years old that stayed with him for the rest of his life. It was 1994, and he was watching a soccer game on TV with his dad, two brothers and his younger sister.

Danilo: Durante el partido, al celebrar un gol, dos jugadores se besaron en la boca. Inmediatamente, mi padre se levantó, nos miró a sus tres hijos hombres y nos hizo la señal de la cruz.

Martina: That means he made a cross with his hand as if to bless them. His dad’s reaction to the two men kissing on TV was a clear message to Danilo that he thought this was wrong.

Danilo: Pero yo no veía el problema.

Martina: Danilo saw the two men kissing and thought it was the most natural thing in the world.

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories to help you improve your Spanish listening and gain new perspectives on the world. The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish and I’ll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again – and we also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Martina: Danilo was confident in who he was, and he knew he liked boys. That was never an issue for him. The real problem was that he didn’t know how to share this part of his life with the rest of the world. So he kept it a secret until one night when he was a teenager.

Danilo: Yo tenía 15 años y fui a una fiesta en casa de un amigo. Estaba con otro chico disfrutando de una buena conversación y decidimos ir a una habitación más privada.

Martina: Danilo had a crush on this boy — and he could tell the feeling was mutual.

Danilo: Entramos a la habitación y de pronto, alguien abrió la puerta.

Martina: It was the father of the boy who had thrown the party. Danilo was stunned. They all were. His friend’s dad looked both surprised and furious.

Danilo: Solo nos miró y se fue inmediatamente.

Martina: The following days were complete agony for Danilo. He had no idea what was going to happen and he was too scared to talk to anyone about it. He felt completely alone.

Danilo: Unos días después, la esposa del hombre que nos encontró esa noche, me estaba esperando afuera de la escuela. Cuando ella me vio salir, caminó hacia mí.

Martina: His friend’s mom looked angry with him. She walked right up to him and told Danilo that if he didn’t change schools she would tell everyone that he was gay: his parents, his teachers, and all of his friends at school.

Danilo: ¡Ella estaba furiosa! Me dijo que me tenía que ir o sino, su hijo mayor y sus amigos iban a buscarme y golpearme.

Martina: The woman made Danilo feel like he was a criminal, and she probably thought he was. Homosexuality was a crime in Ecuador until 1997, punishable with 4 to 8 years of jail time.

Danilo: No había mucha información sobre la homosexualidad. Casi nadie hablaba sobre el tema.

Martina: It was 2003, there were supposed to be protections for LGBTIQ people. Ecuador was one of the first countries in the world to include sexual orientation in its constitution but that law clearly hadn’t translated into real change.

Danilo: Ser gay ya no era un crimen, pero para muchas personas era una enfermedad.

Martina: Danilo knew he had to tell his parents. It would be better for them to learn the truth from him than from a stranger. So, one Sunday afternoon as he was seated around the table with his family, he decided to come out.

Danilo: Era un domingo a la hora del almuerzo. Toda mi familia estaba ahí: mi papá, mi mamá, mis dos hermanos y mi hermana.

Martina: At some point he took a deep breath and he just said it:

Danilo: “Me gustan los hombres”.

Martina: Nobody said a word.

Danilo: Mis hermanos y mi hermana no estaban sorprendidos. De alguna forma, ellos siempre lo supieron y me querían como era.

Martina: The real problem was with his parents. Danilo’s dad was so surprised he almost choked on his food.

Danilo: Mi padre se quedó en silencio por unos minutos que se sintieron interminables. Luego, se levantó de la mesa y se fue a su habitación. Él no salió durante dos días.

Martina: Danilo’s mother at first seemed confused. She looked like she wanted to help and Danilo wanted so badly to be able to talk to her, but her husband’s reaction set the tone for the family.

Danilo: Mi mamá decidió hacer lo mismo que mi padre, así que tampoco aceptó mi orientación sexual. En mi casa, la situación era tensa. Yo no sabía qué iba a pasar después.

Martina: Two days went by without Danilo’s parents speaking to him. Finally, his mom called him to their room: Danilo’s dad was ready to talk to him.

Danilo: Lentamente, entré a su habitación. Tenía mucho miedo. Mi papá estaba en la cama y me miraba. “Dime que es mentira”, me dijo. Con toda mi energía, una vez más, le dije que me gustaban los hombres. Entonces, mi padre me respondió: “Acabas de morir como hijo para mí”.

Martina: “You’re dead to me as a son,” he told him.

Martina: Danilo’s parents went on to forbid him from talking about his sexual orientation with anyone else. Then, they moved him to a new school and told him he was only allowed to leave the house to go to class.

Danilo: Era como un prisionero en mi propia casa. Dejé de hacer trabajo social. Me separé de mis amigos. Mi padre casi no me hablaba. Yo era prácticamente invisible.

Martina: But while he lived at home, Danilo’s parents didn’t give up on trying to change their son. They believed he could stop being gay.

Danilo: Hicieron de todo para cambiarme: me llevaron al psicólogo y se pasaron a una iglesia evangélica. Con todo esto, ellos esperaban un milagro. ¡Hasta buscaron a una bruja para sacar al demonio que creían que tenía dentro de mí!

Martina: Of course, all of their attempts to “cure” their son failed, and this is what really broke the relationship between Danilo and his parents. It was as if he wasn’t part of the family anymore. When Danilo graduated from school, he didn’t have enough money to move out, but that gave him an excuse to get a job in a place where he felt more at home.

Danilo: Empecé a trabajar en un bar en Quito. El bar estaba en una zona muy activa, con muchos cafés y discotecas. Allí empecé a conocer a personas de la comunidad LGBTIQ. Así, conocí a Paola.

Martina: We’ll get right back to the story in just a moment, but first we want to tell you about a great way to support this podcast and continue practicing your Spanish. If you haven’t already tried Duolingo, you can download it today and learn over 30 languages completely free. For even more convenience, like offline lessons and an add-free learning experience, upgrade to Duolingo Plus. You can start your 7 day free trial of Duolingo Plus by going to duolingo.com/getplus. Your subscription supports free content that you already know and love, like this podcast. Thanks, and now let’s get back to the story.

Martina: Danilo and Paola ran in the same circles, and it wasn’t long before they were introduced. They became friends immediately. Danilo remembers her being stunningly beautiful.

Danilo: ¡Paola era guapísima! A donde iba los hombres corrían detrás de ella Y, cuando se vestía de hombre, las mujeres hacían lo mismo. Era muy alta, tenía la piel morena, un cabello muy hermoso y unos ojos profundos.

Martina: Paola was transgender and she was just beginning to transition.

Danilo: En la noche se vestía de mujer y, en el día, por seguridad, se vestía como hombre y usaba su nombre de nacimiento.

Martina: Danilo and Paola had similar difficulties in coming out to their families. Her parents also rejected her once she came out to them.

Danilo: Paola sabía que era una mujer y quería vivir como tal. Para su familia, esto era muy escandaloso. Por esa razón, la echaron de su casa. Paola vivía en la calle y era una trabajadora sexual.

Martina: Trans people suffer extreme discrimination in general, but especially when it comes to finding a job. That’s why many trans people turn to the survival economy and struggle to find stable housing.

Danilo: Era poco común ver a Paola en el día. Cuando la veías, estaba sola, en un cibercafé. Fue ahí donde un día ella me dijo que su familia tenía mucho dinero.

Martina: Danilo was shocked to learn this. Paola had been living and working on the street to survive, which drove her to abuse drugs and alcohol… and all the while her family had the means to support her.

Danilo: Paola me dijo que su familia era de un alto estatus social. Por esa razón, ella era una mayor desgracia para ellos. Después de terminar su historia, se fue con la sonrisa triste, típica de Paola.

Martina: As Paola walked away, Danilo was left wondering how many other people who identify as LGBTIQ are in the same situation. He admired her determination to stay true to herself, but found it hard to accept the price she had to pay for that.

Danilo: A menudo, Paola desaparecía. En algunas ocasiones, estaba pálida, cansada y muy delgada. En cambio, en otras, tenía más energía, estaba más contenta y con unos kilos de más.

Martina: After months of not seeing her, Danilo ran into Paola dressed in men’s clothing.

Danilo: Nos dimos un abrazo fuerte. Paola llevaba un pantalón, zapatos deportivos, una camiseta y una chaqueta. Me dijo que se había reconciliado con su familia.

Martina: But reconciling with her family hadn’t come easy. Paola said she had moved to Uruguay, where one of her sisters lived — and that her family wouldn’t accept her unless she dressed like a man.

Danilo: Paola hizo una promesa. Nunca más podía decir que se sentía como una mujer o actuar como una. Esta era la condición de su familia para aceptarla de nuevo.

Martina: Paola’s family was basically asking her to hide her gender identity. Only then would they allow her back into the family.

Danilo: Después de eso, nos dijimos adiós.

Martina: The next time Danilo saw his friend was a few days later, on the news.

Danilo: Yo estaba en casa cenando y viendo las noticias en la tele. La noticia decía: “Trans asesinado en Guayaquil”.

Martina: Guayaquil is a city in the south, on the Pacific coast of Ecuador. The body had no ID and, according to journalists, the police had no idea who the killer was. Danilo had a sick feeling that this was Paola.

Danilo: Unos días después, unos amigos me confirmaron que sí era Paola. También me dijeron que su familia no había reclamado el cuerpo. El cadáver iba a ser donado a una escuela de medicina.

Martina: Paola’s murder wasn’t the first time a trans person had been killed in Ecuador. But this time, something broke open in Danilo. In Latin America, the average lifespan for someone in the transgender community is 35 years.

Danilo: Paola solo tenía 24 años. Yo estaba muy triste. Pensaba: “Ella estaba muerta antes de morir. Su familia y la sociedad la mataron cuando intentaron invisibilizarla; cuando le quitaron sus derechos, cuando la empujaron a los márgenes”.

Martina: Invisibilizarla is to make her invisible. That’s what Danilo saw Paola’s family do to her, and now he reflected on his own situation. His family was pushing him to the margins of society as well. Just for being different. Danilo felt a burning urgency to do something, he needed to act.

Danilo: La muerte de Paola desorientó cada célula de mi cuerpo. Ni el dinero, ni el status habían podido salvar a Paola. Estábamos todos y todas tan solos y solas. ¡Teníamos que hacer algo! Así que yo decidí actuar.

Martina: Danilo began by looking for LGBTIQ organizations where he could work with activists trying to improve conditions for his community in Ecuador.

Danilo: El objetivo de nuestra comunidad era obtener visibilidad en la sociedad. Queríamos los derechos que no teníamos. Como, acceso a la salud, educación, y trabajo. Ahora mi vida tenía un propósito.

Martina: This new purpose helped Danilo finally gain the courage to leave his parents’ home for good.

Danilo: Decidí dedicarme por completo a mi nueva misión.

Martina: Danilo threw himself completely into the LGBTIQ rights movement, which kept advancing legally, even when things were slow to change in real life. The same year that Paola was killed, same-sex couples gained the right to civil unions.

Danilo: Sin embargo, aún no teníamos derecho al matrimonio.

Martina: Then, in 2013, Danilo’s career as an activist reached a new level.

Danilo: Me llamaron para testificar en la corte en un caso muy importante en Ecuador.

Martina: The case had to do with a candidate in the national elections. A religious minister was running on a campaign filled with violent hate speech toward the LGBTIQ community. Specifically toward Diane Rodríguez, the first openly transgender woman to run in the legislative elections.

Danilo: Se llamaba Nelson “el Pastor” Zavala. Varias organizaciones acusaron al pastor de usar un discurso discriminatorio contra la comunidad LGBTIQ.

Martina: Hate speech is a crime in Ecuador. So they took the candidate to electoral court and Danilo, who was becoming a prominent human rights activist, was called to testify. The court asked Danilo how and why Pastor Zavala’s speech was dangerous.

Danilo: Yo dije que los medios de comunicación son un arma que puede poner a las personas a favor o en contra de la comunidad LGBTIQ.

Martina: Danilo told the court that the media can be weaponized against marginalized groups. The most oppressed are at the mercy of the masses and the Pastor was mobilizing people against the LGBTIQ community through his hate speech.

Danilo: Yo también dije que el pastor usaba los medios de comunicación para fomentar la violencia.

Martina: The electoral court found Pastor Zavala guilty of hate speech. He had to pay a fine, and his right to run for office was suspended for a year.

Danilo: Fue una victoria muy grande para nosotros. Se decidió que, si los discursos de un candidato son discriminatorios, entonces va a tener que pagar las consecuencias.

Martina: The Pastor was never elected into office. Diane Rodríguez, however, has gone on to become the first openly trans woman in the national assembly.

Danilo: Ahora, Ecuador es cada vez más tolerante, pero nada es perfecto. Todavía se ven noticias de personas trans asesinadas. Y vivir abiertamente como una persona LGBTIQ sigue siendo difícil, a pesar de las protecciones legales.

Martina: Danilo has since become a public figure fighting for equal rights and same sex marriage — a fight where he recently had a big win.

News anchor: “Acabamos de ver que el Ecuador se ha convertido en el país número 26 en aprobar el matrimonio civil igualitario…”

Martina: On June 12th, the highest court in Ecuador approved same-sex marriage, arguing that its current marriage legislation was discriminatory and unconstitutional. This paves the way for same-sex marriage to become fully legalized by the legislature.

Danilo: (during TV interview) “Finalmente, desde el día de ayer la realidad es distinta, y para quienes defendemos derechos, esto es un reconocimiento y conmemoramos llevando en el corazón, a quienes lucharon por nuestros derechos y ya no están”.

Martina: Danilo is seeing progress in his personal life as well. After he moved out, he and his family continued to see each other and he never missed their weekly Sunday family lunches.

Danilo: Es cierto, ellos no aceptaban mi orientación sexual, pero somos familia. Eso es muy importante para mí y creo que para ellos también. Nunca perdí la ilusión de ser aceptado tal y como soy.

Martina: After one of those Sunday lunches, Danilo’s father asked to talk to him in private. It was 2017, and Danilo was 30 years old. Fifteen years had passed since he had come out to his father.

Danilo: Nos sentamos en la sala. Él en un sillón y yo en otro. Ahora, él estaba temblando, se veía nervioso.

Martina: Danilo’s father apologized to him. He said he felt guilty for letting their relationship get so bad. He revealed he had been going to therapy and that now he understood the effects of his homophobia.

Danilo: Yo sentí que mi dolor desaparecía. Después de eso, rescatamos nuestra relación. Mis padres me dijeron que podía usar el primer piso de la casa para comenzar una organización LGBTIQ. Hoy, yo soy el director de esa organización.

Martina: Danilo Manzano is a human rights and LGBTIQ activist in Ecuador who runs his own organization called Diálogo Diverso. This story was produced by Lucía Villavicencio, a multimedia journalist based in Quito, Ecuador.

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The Duolingo Spanish Podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro – gracias por escuchar.

Credits

This episode includes recordings from arturobat under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Screenwriter: Lucía Villavicencio
Narrator & Protagonist: Danilo Manzano
Script Editor: Marco Avilés and Sarah Barret
Supervising Editor: Catalina May
Mixed by: Claire Mullen
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: Martín Cruz
Executive Producer/Editor: Martina Castro