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Fears rise over LGBT discrimination in conservative Paraguay

Mariana Sepulveda has been stabbed on the street, detained by police and expelled from her high school - all for being transgender in Paraguay, one of the most sexually conservative countries in Latin America.

"I've felt hate for not being heterosexual," said Miss Sepulveda, 32, who now works for an advocacy group. "Raising a family, having a partner, adopting children seems out of reach because there are no legal conditions for us in Paraguay."

A lack of legal protections and prevalent macho attitudes have long stoked discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in the poor, mostly Roman Catholic country.

Advocacy groups fear the stigma and attacks on the LGBQT community could get worse now that the education minister has banned classes about sexual diversity in schools and even volunteered to help burn all books related to the subject.

The ban was implemented in October after the United Nations Children's Fund issued a guidebook for teachers on avoiding discrimination between girls and boys and achieving gender equality.

"We're not going to promote gender ideology," education minister Enrique Riera told local media earlier this year.

"We're going to base ourselves on what is expressed in the constitution, which says that marriage is between a man and a woman."

Gay rights groups say the ban goes against Paraguay's constitution because it is discriminatory and ignores the recommendations by UNICEF and other international organizations.

"We're living a sad time of religious fundamentalism, intolerance and hate that places this country as the most homophobic one of the region," Somos Gay, a Paraguayan gay rights group, said in a statement.

It added that "this situation has an impact on human lives. Hate crimes, bullying and violence are the disastrous consequences of this encouragement of homophobia."

Attitudes about LGBQT rights in Paraguay stand in sharp contrast to other countries in the region.

Neighbouring Argentina lets people change their legal and physical gender identity without having to undergo judicial, psychiatric and medical procedures and has appointed its first transgender police chief.

U ruguay's first transgender senator assumed her seat in October.

Chile's centre -left government is pushing an array of proposed laws to bolster gender rights, such as allowing transgender people to change their legal identities without a judge's approval and reserving 1% of state jobs for transgender applicants.

But conservative institutions such as the Catholic Church retain a strong influence in Paraguay.

"There's the indifference of the state toward sexual minorities to avoid confronting the church," said Ramon Corvalan, a Paraguayan anthropologist. "The lay state thing is just a statement in the constitution. The church is still strong here."

He said that "homophobia in Paraguay has a cultural origin based in male chauvinism" that dates back to wars that shaped the country.

Nearly two of every three Paraguayans died in a disastrous war against Argentina and Brazil in 1865-70. The victorious 1932-35 Chaco War with Bolivia was also devastating. Both left a heavy imbalance between the male and female populations.

"There was an availability of many women for the men who had survived the wars in an effort to repopulate the country," Mr Corvalan said.

AP

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