Shortly after becoming the American ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Wally Brewster received a bit of unsolicited and rather uncomfortable advice from the Vatican’s envoy to the Caribbean nation.
Brewster and his partner, Bob Satawake, have been together for nearly 28 years according to a New York Times article. Brewster wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms by members of the Catholic Church of the Dominican Republic. Brewster and his partner have been “out and proud” since before their time in Santo Domingo, according to the same article.
“Nuncio Jude Thaddeus Okolo, Apostolic Nuncio of Dominican Republic, advised Brewster to keep his life out of the public eye by saying, ‘If you keep your private life behind the walls of your embassy, you’ll be OK here,’” according to the same New York Times article.
They didn’t take Okolo’s advice. By living a normal life and not hiding their feelings, the couple’s relationship has sparked an intense debate that has brought new life to the nation’s decades-long gay rights movement.
Because there seems to be pretty widespread prejudice against gay people in the Dominican Republic, the couple’s relationship has outraged local leaders of the Catholic Church.
During a news conference in June 2013, the Archbishop of Santo Domingo Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez spoke out against Brewster saying that Washington would be represented by a “maricón,” a derogatory term for a gay man.
If that wasn’t enough Monsignor Pablo Cedano, a Dominican senior church leader, predicted that Brewster wouldn’t last very long in the Dominican because locals would make him miserable, according to the New York Times article.
This is an extremely strange time for the Catholic Church in the Dominican Republic to be attacking anyone, considering that just weeks after the news conference, during which Rodriguez spoke out against Brewster, the church was being investigated for allegedly paying poor underage boys for sex. Cedano wasn’t the only priest facing these claims of child abuse.
The intense criticism Brewster and Satawake experienced since their arrival to the Dominican Republic hasn’t stopped Brewster from going through with his plans to remain in the country for the foreseeable future. He sees the area as a place where there is an opportunity to make progress on human rights.
Brewster and Satawake are bringing huge changes through the gay community of the Dominican Republic. After hosting several Dominican gay rights activists at their home and discussing HIV prevention initiatives, the U.S. Embassy began providing money for gay rights groups as part of the U.S. State Department’s initiative to advance equality for gay and transgender people around the world, according to the New York Times article.
They are changing the world. This year, for the first time, openly gay people in the Dominican Republic can run for local office. Last month, the U.S. Embassy worked to start a LGBT chamber of commerce, according to the article.
Just by being himself, Brewster has sparked a national conversation about prejudice, tolerance and acceptance, and I think this is just the beginning of what the world is going to see from him.
Email Madison Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org