Carlos Bruce, Gay Peruvian Politician, Breaks Fresh Ground In Conservative Latin American Nation

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From left to right, Construction Minister Carlos Bruce, Vice-President Raul Diez Canseco, Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, and Prime Minister Luis Solari smile during the inauguration of a public water project in a shantytown in Lima, Peru, Friday March 28, 2003. During the ceremony, Toledo said former President Alberto Fujimori, "will have to come back to Peru sooner or later to answer to the crimes he committed". Peruvian investigators have accused Fujimori of stealing state funds and aut | ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Peruvian politician has announced he is gay -- a first in one of Latin America's most conservative countries.

He is Carlos Bruce, a 57-year-old member of congress and former minister and also one of the main drivers of debate on civil unions for same-sex couples in Peru.

"Yes, I am gay and proud to belong to a group of people who are so valuable to Peru," Bruce said in an interview over the weekend with the newspaper El Comercio.

His announcement drew a mix of praise, criticism and insults on social media.

Peru's gay and lesbian community has been more assertive in recent years in defending its rights, but it faces an uphill battle in a deeply conservative society where homosexuality is frowned upon.

At least 17 homosexuals were killed between January 2013 and March 2014 in Peru and the crimes went unpunished, said a recent report by Red Peruana TLGB, an association of gays, lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals.

The study notes the horrific case of 19-year-old Joel Molero, who was killed in November 2013 in northeastern Peru. Molero was strangled, had his genitals, feet and hands cut off, and his body was burned, the report said.

"Once again, this case shows the extreme level of violence that is practiced, from strangulation to mutilations, to beatings, killings by blunt force and firearms, suggesting they are crimes motivated by the sexual orientation of the victims," said Maribel Reyes, the secretary general of Red Peruana TLGB.

The Catholic Church in Peru and its leader, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, a member of the ultra-conservative group Opus Dei, says civil unions "destroy the institution of marriage."

- 'A legend' -

A bill to allow same-sex civil unions is to go before congress by the end of the month.

But 61 percent of Peruvians are opposed to the idea, although 33 percent say they support gays and lesbians owning property together, according to a poll released by Ipsos in April.

Bruce, who has received several death threats, insisted that only three countries in Latin America have not approved civil unions for gay couples: Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.

"It is a problem to be gay in a society as conservative as that of Peru. State security has had to double the number of agents assigned to me because they feel I am in danger," he said.

Flanked by his two sons Alex and Paul, who support their father and criticize what they call Peru's intolerance, Bruce said in the newspaper interview that "many people believe it is impossible to be a good father or serve your country if you are gay."

Bruce was a cabinet minister twice during the 2001-2006 presidency of Alejandro Toledo.

"Even my adversaries acknowledge that my work was efficient," he said.

"My future as a politician would be much brighter if I could choose to be heterosexual," Bruce said.

"Now, because of what I have said, I will never be president," he joked.

His coming out was hailed in political and intellectual circles. Lima's mayor Susana Villaran congratulated Bruce for being true to himself and for his "defense of the right to be different."

Television journalist Beto Ortiz wrote on Twitter: "A congressman kisses his sons to say 'I am gay' on the cover of El Comercio. Carlos Bruce, as of today, you are a legend."

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