'Who are we to judge' An Interview with the First Lady

The first lady of Panama, Lorena Castillo de Varela was interviewed by La Prensa in the wake of her participation in the 2017 Panama Pride Parade. Lorena Castillo de Varela will be the flag bearer in this year’s Pride Parade that will take place July 1st on the Cinta Costera in Panama City. 

Advocating for tolerance and respect in her interview along with the legalization of the union between people of the same sex in Panama, The first lady Lorena Castillo de Varela explained her participation aims to show respect for human rights.

As an example of this respect she spoke to Pope Francis, who received the Prime Minister of Norway and his gay partner in the Vatican, she said as he did “we can not judge" anyone.

Questions and replies from Lorena Castillo de Varela's interview with La Prensa 

How much does the Panamanian discriminate?
Very much. Throughout. In my first meetings with groups including sex workers, homosexuals and members of the transsexual Association, one of the first things I heard was “why are you an HIV UNAIDS ambassador if you are a Catholic?” "What do you know about this? "You will discrimiate against us" "You will not be our voice" I was very agressive. Well,  give me the change to show who I am, I said. I feel discrimated against now. (...) Now, we are best friends. I listened to your stories, about suffering from a life of a woman caught in the body of a man. Many people think you can get rid of this, this is psychological. No, no this scientific, it is genetic. 

What do Panamanians discriminate against more: sex, religion, race, nationality?
All of the above, in my experience. People are discriminated against for their religion, appearance, skin color. But we have everything in our blood: Indian, African. We have a beautiful mix of races in Panama. And of course the subject of homosexuality, divides society in Panama. We all have friends, we have a relative, we all know someone. Who are we to judge?

How do you work on a zero discrimination campaign with this scenario?
Leading by example. Tell the stories of people who have been discriminated against, what they have lived through, how they feel.

What stones have you found on this path?
I'm Catholic, and that's all Panama knows. I am devoted to the Virgin, and that does not make me more or less than anyone. It's just me, it's my personal part, but they used that to attack me. And I feel discriminated against. And for my own Church, eye, not only are people of other religions. I have had to talk to people who are agnostic with whom we have more in common, in respect and human beings, that I could not have with a very religious person who prays the rosary every day. The key word is respect.

A breakthrough to reach society.
I have three sons, and everyone is respectful in my house… to everyone, from person who cooks in my house, who is like part of my family, to the person who checks out the groceries out at the supermarket. I have raised my sons this way. I believe that by example is the best way to teach and for them to grow. You can not leave this in the hands of a school or anyone else. You have to take responsibility as a parent and understand that we need another world out there with better human beings. There are people who are too aggressive. Lately, you can not say anything in networks, people are as imprisoned. They yell at you, they insult you, they defame you.

The principle of equality includes the right to marriage between two persons of the same sex. Where do you want to see the country in this respect?
I have to tell you that as human beings we all have rights. This goes beyond religions (...) We are all Panamanians under one banner. I know of a case, a neighbor had a partner that suffered from cancer. The partner was the one who attended to her needs, cleaned her, the one who took her to chemo, the one who was there for her. When she died the family took everything. These people had more than 30 years living together. Do you think that's right?
Let us begin to get in touch with ourselves as a country, within our family and our circle, and not live in this idealistic bubble that does not exist. It's not real. Let us wake up and be honest. Let's stop the hypocrisy.

What would you say to the Supreme Court of Justice, which examines legal remedies that point to marriage between two persons of the same sex?
Let them hear all the cases. If they listen to all the parties, in the end, they can make the best decision based on the human being. Some people say, and it seems so absurd, 'they are pedophiles'. If you're gay you're a pedophile. They say if you are a priest, you are a pedophile too. No matter what you are, you're a pedophile. pedophilia has nothing to do with religion or sexual orientation. He who is wicked is wicked. Let's stop being hypocrites.

There are those who define the family as being made up of a man and a woman. For the first lady, what is a family?
My dad left when I was 13. He appeared later when I was much older, but my family was my mom and my grandmother. There are many different scenarios here in Panama of what is the “perfect family”. The perfect dad and the perfect mom is not real. All families have their problems, and the most important thing is respect. A single mom perfectly reared a child, alone. Like, a man raises a son, alone. (…)

While people say 'Why be an activist for gay rights, why not change the laws ...'. Gentlemen, I do not have that power.

You will be the standard bearer of the Gay Pride March. What does that mean to you?
I'm so glad I can do it.

How did this happen?
Many people in the communities have approached me, told me their stories, I’ve tried to help many off the street, from prostitution, and have taken them to get their HIV tests done. Many who are HIV positive struggle to get medicines here. I also have a relationship with many of these people, personally. I know them and I know their struggles. They have opened their doors to me, the secrets of their lives. I know you. As a communicator. How can I not be a voice for them? I'm going to go home and say I'm not going to talk about this issue because politically, or by religion, is not correct. I do not care what they say about me. I'm not going to run to anything, I do not care. I'm here to be the voice of the one who does not have it. You have to be brave. You have to face it. You have to fight for what you believe.

Who is with you in this crusade?
The truth: God. I have to say, seriously, God. And I put my religion, it seems paradoxical, but what is the first commandment says: To love God above all things and the neighbor as yourself. It does not tell you, the “chinito”, no; Or the brunette, either. Or the homosexual, no. It does not make you choose.

How are you preparing for that day?
I do not have logistics. I am spontaneous. Something incredible is happening to me. Every day I find out more cases; Of more families in which their children are speaking to them; In which they are talking about this subject. Because this topic was taboo. And I feel that it is already in the environment. This issue has already been discussed. This is a topic to talk about. Panama can not be left behind. Regardless of what is done legally. As human beings, we have to grow and open ourselves.

There is a campaign that circulates through social networks that show different testimonies. The most amazing case is that of a mother who says, 'My son committed suicide because I did not accept it.'
She is going to walk with me. You need to put people in these shoes, get under people’s skin…Not just sit here and say: that's not going to happen to me. You do not know. We are still young, we are grandchildren, granddaughters. We are opening a path where there is zero discrimination and a path of peace for all alike. I have asked that mother to walk with me, because people have to hear these stories, and there are those who simply cover their ears and do not want to listen. But it's reality, and we can not allow anyone else to get killed for bullying.

Why do you think it is important for same-sex couples to legalize their status?
The legal issue is like when a woman marries a man. I will not use the word marry, let's talk about the legal part. You join a person legally. If you are going to divorce, there are laws that have to follow both. There's a part that's up to you, the part that's not. Who keeps the children? With the house? Recalling this couple I know, in which she dies of cancer, and the family throws the couple completely into the street. That is not right. That person was the one that took care of her, the one that was there and like that case, there are a lot of them. HIV patients or just ordinary people living a quiet life. They have their partner and they want to share a life in legal order.

Two men or two women in the street, holding hands or kissing. That in Panama is a scandal. What message do you say to those who are terrified?
Yes, but it is very normal a married man can meet with so-and-so and be kissing and holding hands with another who is not his wife. And that's perfectly fine, right? That is where the hypocrisy of the world enters. Ah! But it is wrong that two people of the same sex have a relationship. If you are going to respect that gentleman or lady who has an extramarital life, also respects this.

You are a fervent Catholic, a practitioner, and the Catholic Church opposes marriage between two persons of the same sex. What dilemma does this create for you as a believer, as a First Lady, and as a human being?
I follow Pope Francisco a lot. And if you realized that the pope received the prime minister of Norway with his partner. With the consort, they are a homosexual couple. They were received at the Vatican. And one of the pope's messages is that we can not judge. That we are nobody to get involved in anyone's life. That a good Catholic is not to judge or to make anyone feel bad. We are to give love, to create peace, to create unity, among all human beings. (…) For me, the important thing is that the day I die, they open the door to heaven and tell me: you know what, you did not judge anyone. You did not make anyone feel inferior. You did not discriminate against anyone. You gave love and respect to every human being who came to you.