Jaz and Lalay [repeat]| Translation
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[Pre-Roll Radio Ambulante Fest]
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Almost exactly four years ago, we told you the story of Jaz and Lalay, two Costa Rican women who, due to a bureaucratic error, were the first same-sex couple to marry legally in that country.
We produced that episode in a very specific, . . . unique context: —national elections polarized mainly by the approval of same-sex marriage. A context that, of course, directly affected the protagonists of this story.
A lot happens in four years, and a lot has happened in their case since then. Our editor Luis Fernando Vargas sat down to talk with them again. The update is at the end of the episode.
Here’s the story…
(SOUNDBITE OF A CELEBRATION)
[People Chanting]: Lesbians against war! Lesbians against capital! Lesbians against racism, against neo-liberal racism!
[Daniel]: That was January 9th, 2018, in San José, Costa Rica. And what you’re hearing is a group of more than 100 members of the LGBTI community chanting: “Lesbians against war. Lesbians against capital. Lesbians against racism.”
But it wasn’t a protest, it was actually celebration. They were at the Fuente de la Hispanidad, a place that’s symbolic because it is where everyone gathers to celebrate when the national soccer team wins or after an election.
And they’re there because earlier that day, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said that Costa Rica must recognize changes of name and sex on official documents for trans individuals.
[Luis Fernando]: But that’s not all. They also asked them to guarantee same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. Including marriage.
[Daniel]: This is Luis Fernando.
The State of Costa Rica had asked the Court how they should handle the LGBTI community’s demands. And since the country has always followed the Court’s recommendations, there was cause for celebration.
[Luis Fernando]: It had been a decades-long struggle. And that Tuesday, it felt like a victory.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CELEBRATION)
[People Chanting]: Church is trash! You are a dictatorship! Church is trash! You are a dictatorship!
[Luis Fernando]: I made it to the gathering a little late. Some people had already left, but there was still a joyful feeling in the air: hugs, cheers, drums, flags…I took a picture of the people celebrating and posted on social media.
It was a happy day.
That was when I saw another picture. And that is the one I want to tell you about. One of my Facebook friends, who you’ll meet a little later, had uploaded it. It’s a black-and-white selfie of two girls smiling. One looking at the camera and the other is looking off in the distance. They were right there, at the Fuente de la Hispanidad. The picture had hashtag. It read: “We aren’t going to jail anymore.”
[Daniel]: And that’s the story Luis Fernando is going to tell us: the story behind that image and those two girls. It’s the story of an act of love that became an act of protest…
[Luis Fernando]: And act of protest against the government and against Costa Rican society. A society that often chooses silence when faced with uncomfortable issues. As a tico myself, or a Costa Rican, I know.
But these two girls, well, they made them break the silence.
The women in the picture are named Jazmín Elizondo and Laura Flores-Estrada. But they go by Jaz and Lalay. This is them:
[Lalay]: You’re more a capitalist and me. I mean…
[Jaz]: [Laughs] Are you listening to this?
[Lalay]: Because I work more, but you want to charge everyone more.
[Jaz]: That’s not true. I want to give things value…
[Luis Fernando]: To identify them: Lalay is the one accusing Jaz of being more of a capitalist than her. And Jaz is the one saying that she just wants to give things value.
They’re joking about their business: El Árbol de Seda, the Silk Tree, a vegetarian restaurant in downtown San José. Laley is the chef and Jaz runs the natural juice bar and also helps take care of customers.
It’s after 10 pm and they’re closing up.
The restaurant is in an area that’s getting more and more gentrified. It’s a big, welcoming, old house with a bunch of rooms.
And Jaz and Lalay are married. But they’ve been for 3 years. Long before the Court made its proclamation.
It all started in 2014. Lalay had just started the restaurant. Jaz, who was in college, was a regular and she was interested in Lalay from the moment she met her.
This is Jaz.
[Jaz]: What caught my attention was her attitude. She always seems happy, always smiling, always pretty, always friendly. I don’t know, it’s like she had a different kind of spark in her eyes.
[Luis Fernando]: And well, Lalay, on the other hand…
[Lalay]: Oh, how terrible. At first I didn’t notice her. I don’t remember it so clearly (she’s going to hate me when she listens to this).
[Luis Fernando]: They had mutual friends and they did Jaz a favor and said to Lalay: “Hey, this girl who comes in here to eat is interested in you.” And so there she was. Lalay started to pay a little more attention to Jaz and go out with her in groups —to a movies or plays— but at first Lalay…
[Lalay]: I felt like Jaz and I didn’t have much in common. So at first I didn’t…I didn’t pay a lot of attention to her.
[Luis Fernando]: Besides, Lalay had just gotten out of a relationship with another girl and it had been a tough break-up. She was still very hurt. She didn’t feel ready for another relationship.
Jaz, on the other hand, had never had anything serious with a woman. Just a few experiments at bars or parties, but her interest in Lalay grew every time they met up.
So she came up with a plan: She told her that she wanted to help out in her restaurant’s kitchen. To learn, and well, get to know her more and soon, maybe, fall in love. But at first Lalay thought…
[Lalay]: [Laughs.] “What a chore. I’m going to have to stop what I’m doing and show her things.” And it really seemed like more work that I was interested in.
[Luis Fernando]: However, Lalay ended up accepting and Jaz turned out to be an excellent helper: fast, reliable, efficient. It’s hard to find people like that. So Lalay started opening up a little. This is Jaz.
[Jaz]: We started talking about political issues, opinions about abortion, the church, books, movies, whatever, you know? And we were each interested in the other’s opinion. And I liked her a lot because she very intelligent. And she’s good at what she does. She’s passionate about what she does…
[Luis Fernando]: They went on dates alone and were getting to know each other better. Later, they had their first kiss and everything moved really quickly. It was an intense connection.
Jaz and Lalay’s relationship is an example of how, strangely, two people who come from very different places can find themselves in one other. Those cases in which one looks at the other and sees their own reflection.
Lalay comes from a comfortable family. While Jaz did not. She grew up in a rather modest family. But both families were very conservative. Maybe Lalay’s was a little more so, since they were with Opus Dei.
When Lalay was 11 years old she was obsessed with one of her classmates. She would call her every day, insistently, until her friend’s mother forbade them from speaking. And then the point came that…
[Lalay]: The rumor that I was a lesbian spread through the whole school. So when was 11 I didn’t have any friends.
[Luis Fernando]: And her mom…
[Lalay]: Always had something negative to say about lesbians. I mean, she…She told me to never ever be friends with lesbians because they were the worst kinds of people.
[Luis Fernando]: Her teenage years were a very difficult time. She grew up being alone, isolated from everyone. She forced herself to go out with men, looking for some approval from her mother, but she didn’t really connect with them.
Until, by the time she was 20, she was honest with herself.
[Lalay]: And so it was like “No, no, I am a lesbian. That…that’s it. I mean, I’ve liked women this whole time.”
[Luis Fernando]: Lalay has Spanish citizenship, so at 22, she took advantage of that and went to live in Spain for some time. She wanted to distance herself from her mother’s homophobia and for the first time really be free to experiment.
[Lalay]: It was the perfect place. It was like a good time to finally accept myself. But I wasn’t lucky, I didn’t have any… It was…I, uh, I was a rookie. How…how was I going to go out with a girl? I didn’t have the slightest idea, honestly.
[Luis Fernando]: While she was living in Spain, she told her siblings, who were very liberal, and they supported her completely. It was a huge relief.
But Lalay didn’t spend a lot of time in Europe. Just a few months. She went back to Costa Rica in 2009, fleeing the economic crisis.
A little after having returned she got a message from one of her siblings.
[Lalay]: “Chini, mom knows.” and I was like: “Ok.” It was a Tuesday, I remember. I had…That day I had an appointment with my psychologist and I said: “Ok, I’m going to kill myself. I’m going to kill myself. I mean, now my mom knows.”
[Luis Fernando]: Her mom had read her emails and read some correspondences with a gay friend in Spain, in which she spoke explicitly about being a lesbian.
That day she spoke with her psychologist. She helped calm her down a little, but when she got home she didn’t get a warm welcome from her mom. She told her…
[Lalay]: Just thinking about it made her sick and she never wanted to see me hold hands with a woman. And she never wanted hear that someone had seen me with a girl and that I disgusted her and no, no, it was terrible, terrible. She wouldn’t talk to me for days and she made me feel miserable.
[Luis Fernando]: Lalay lived with her mom, and well, to say it was a very tense situation is putting it lightly. She needed to get out of there. Fast.
Like Lalay, Jaz told me that she was very solitary when she was young. She could never fit in. And she had almost no friends.
Her mom had separated from her dad when she was very young and she had remarried. And as a teenager she started asking herself questions.
[Jaz]: Like what if I like girls? Really? Yeah, I was curious. But it was also unthinkable. My step-dad spoke to me one time, for instance, and told me that it was clearly bad.
[Luis Fernando]: She doesn’t really know why her step-dad told her that. She thinks that maybe he saw some behavior in her that seemed —quote—”weird.” And it didn’t seem all that strange to Jaz because it was almost obvious that she…
[Jaz]: Had a stronger connections with women than men…Guys were just to mess around and have fun.
[Luis Fernando]: And while for Lalay, disapproval of her sexual orientation just came from her family, for Jaz it came from inside herself. Jaz grew up very Catholic and felt a lot of guilt.
She used to talk about the issue with a friend who was also gay, but, like her, it generated a lot of conflict for him. Her friend told her:
[Jaz]: It was a demon. That…that we had to get away from it, that God could cure us, that God could save us, this and that. In the end obviously neither of us could change the way we felt.
[Luis Fernando]: Especially when Jaz met Lalay.
[Jaz]: I’ve liked a lot of girls. I’ve also liked guys. But I was in love with Lalay. I mean, nothing like that had ever happened to me before.
[Luis Fernando]: At the time, she thought it was best to be honest with her family. For college, Jaz went to live on her own in downtown San José. So she went to Pérez Zeledón, the small town where she was born, and she was able to tell her mom.
[Jaz]: At first it was like she wasn’t reacting. That was…weird. Since my mom often responds with denial. After what happened —now that she had understood what I had said and managed to react—, she told me: “Don’t tell me any more about this, I hope you recover at some point and this passes like all of the other phases you’ve had.”
[Luis Fernando]: Her mom told her younger sister. And she called to say…
[Jaz]: How could I do that to mom and… I mean, she treated me really, really badly.
[Luis Fernando]: And from that moment on, going to Pérez Zeledón, to visit her family, became very different than it was before.
[Jaz]: We’ll say, it hurts too much. When I go there I don’t feel…I don’t feel at home, honestly.
[Luis Fernando]: It was because of that suffering, the suffering of being rejected for who they were, that Jaz and Lalay realized that they weren’t alone.
This is Lalay:
[Lalay]: Well, I felt for the first time in my life that I could be sincere with someone. Someone who wasn’t going to judge me, who wasn’t…who accepted me as I was. And, uh, that had never happened to me. I had never been completely honest with anyone.
[Luis Fernando]: And from then on, they were inseparable.
Lalay was living with her mom when they started dating and well, as you can imagine, her mom was not at all happy. Jaz felt rejection every time she went into that house. Until one day, Lalay’s mom said:
[Jaz]:“No, she can’t come back.” And we said: “Well, we want to be together. If you don’t like it, we’re leaving.” And that’s what we did, as a matter of fact.
[Luis Fernando]: They had been together for 6 months when they moved to the place where they met: El Árbol de Seda, the restaurant. There were still a few empty rooms, and that was where they decided to make a small home, with their dogs and cats, a bed, books, candles, decorations…
It felt like the start of a new life. With hundreds of possibilities. They were free.
A few days later they went to the diversity march, which is held every June to celebrate pride in the LGTBI community. They ended up eating with several people they had met at the march. And during the conversation a curious tid-bit about Jaz came up:
[Jaz]: Since I was 12 years old there had been a mistake on my ID. It says “male.” So, after I got my first ID as a minor, all of my paper records say “male.”
[Luis Fernando]: But Jaz didn’t care. In order to correct the sex on those documents, you have to fill out a request with the Civil Registry and, in some cases, provide a doctor’s note corroborating your real sex. It was really annoying and Jaz had never had any problems anywhere.
The regulations with the Civil Registry say that when an officer becomes aware of an error they should begin the administrative process to correct it. But the person who gave Jaz her adult ID didn’t, even though it’s obvious that she’s not a man.
So, while they were eating, people heard this story and got really excited. Really excited.
[Lalay]: They said: “But you…you could get married!” And I was like: “Yeah, that’s what I said but she insists that we can’t.”
[Luis Fernando]: Lalay had already proposed that before that conversation, but Jaz wasn’t convinced they could do it.
But they talked about it as a group. Technically —or rather, legally—they were a man and a women. If they found a notary who was willing to help them, they could give it a shot. They both reflected on it. They knew what they wanted: a life together. So… why not?
[Lalay]: And in the end we decided, yes, we’re going to do it. We’re going to do it!
[Luis Fernando]: They decided to wait a month, to really think about it, because…
[Lalay]: The idea wasn’t to do it in secret either, because we could have kept it a secret and carried on like any other heterosexual couple. But no, it had to be public. People had to know.
[Luis Fernando]: They were challenging the notion of family what was being held in place by the law in Costa Rica and part of the society.
[Jaz]: Yes, we knew what we were in for. There was going to be some commotion, right? We knew it was…a political act. And on top of that we knew we were demanding something…
[Luis Fernando]: Demanding equality. To have the same rights as heterosexual couples. Nothing more, nothing less.
But Lalay’s older brother who is a lawyer and had been a member of the legislature, was one of the first to warn her that they had to be very careful.
[Lalay]: It was like: “Ok really think about it, ok?” He told us we would be up against a ton of conservative people. That…it scared us, we backpedaled, that… that month. It’s like: “No, no, honestly I don’t want to do it anymore.”
[Luis Fernando]: Because the Penal Code says there could be a sentence of between 6 months and 3 years for getting married knowing that there exists a legal impediment. And the Costa Rican Family Code is very clear: two people of the same sex cannot get married.
They were in a complex situation, in which everything was uncertain. Because they knew that the State of Costa Rica would try to reconcile what was on paper with her body.
But well, the conditions were so unusual, so extraordinary that after thinking it over carefully, finally…
[Jaz]: We said: “The truth is we have a chance, why not do it? Maybe it’ll work.”
[Luis Fernando]: They started looking for a notary. All of them rejected them outright, but a friend of theirs gave them this man’s contact information:
[Marco Castillo]: My name is Marco Castillo Rojas. I’m a lawyer and a notary. And I have been an LGTBI rights activist for about 30, 31 years.
[Luis Fernando]: Marco is rather well-known in the activism scene because he has founded and led several organizations.
But Jaz and Lalay didn’t know who he was. They aren’t involved in those groups. So they called him and told him that they wanted to get legally married.
[Lalay]: Marco says to us: “But you can’t get married. Two women can’t get married!” And I said: “Wait, listen, stop the car.” And I said: “She has an ID that says she’s male.”
[Marco]: And I had no misgivings about marrying them because, hey, the papers rule, right?
[Jaz]: He said to us: “But that is prohibited by law, you know that. But if all the papers are in order, well, I have to. Let’s do it.”
[Marco]: I was marrying a man and a woman. A notary has no reason to —I don’t know how to say it— undress someone do see what their sex is. I’ve married I don’t know how many couples —100 or more— and hey, I’ve never taken it upon myself to…check anyone’s genitals.
[Lalay]: And so the guy said: “Yes, it’s fine. Look, in that case yes: there’s no problem, I…I will marry you. That’ll be 100 mil colones…” and I don’t what else, right? And that was it.
[Luis Fernando]: They had the wedding at the restaurant. It was a Saturday in July of 2015, at night. They invited about 25 people.
[Jaz]: I didn’t invite anyone in my family, because obviously none of them would want to come…
[Luis Fernando]: Lalay, on the other hand, kept regular contact with her mom, despite the tensions between them. And she was there. Right on time. Supporting her.
Lalay prepared the food and Jaz did the decorations. It was simple. Intimate.
When they finished up the paperwork with the notary, Jaz and Lalay told the guest that…
[Lalay]: They had to keep it a secret for at least a month, because that’s how long it would take for the marriage to be registered. And to please not say anything, because it… for the time being it could be a crime. And Marco showed us the articles we were breaking and everything.
[Luis Fernando]: That supposed month of silence turned into 3 months. But not because of the error about Jaz’ sex but rather because of Lalay’s nationality. Because process of registering a marriage with a foreigner is a little more complex.
Lalay went to the Registry almost every day to keep track of how the process was going. Until on October 27th, 2015 the marriage was finally processed. There they were: man and wife. On the computer screen.
Lalay was really excited and wanted to tell Jaz, but she was at school.
[Lalay]: And she didn’t…she didn’t answer her phone. She didn’t answer me and it was like: “Jaz, we’re married and there’s no way for you to find out!”
[Luis Fernando]: Lalay went looking for her. That day it was raining heavily.
[Lalay]: I got there with 5 extra liters of water, right? And I remember: I showed up there with my book bag and I told her. And it was like… You’re not going to believe this, we’re married now!
[Luis Fernando]: The first thing that occurred to them was to tell Marco. They wrote him a message.
[Lalay]: And I said to him: “What do we do now? What…what’s next?” And he told me… —all he said was—: “Now just enjoy your honeymoon.”
[Daniel]: And their honeymoon was going to include the whole country.
We’ll be back after the break.
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[Daniel]: Before the break, Jaz and Lalay had appeared registered in the Civil Registry as man and wife. It was the first marriage between a same sex couple in Costa Rica. It was historic. But fewer than 25 knew about it.
[Luis Fernando]: A lot of the time, life puts you in places and situations you can’t foresee. But with Jaz and Lalay, it wasn’t just that. Life had put them in a unique position, in which that act of getting married, of challenging the State that was treating them unequally, was almost an obligation to their community. Or at least that’s how it felt. Because that act of protest —symbolic but transgressive— had the chance to transcend like nothing else.
So, all of a sudden, a pair of young women that have their whole lives ahead of them, who have never even been in a political organization, became the most radical activists in the nation.
Can you prepare for something like that? For such a drastic change in your life?
Jaz and Lalay went to pick up their marriage certificate immediately. Lalay highlighted the part where it said they were married.
[Lalay]: I took a picture of it and posted it on…I posted it on Facebook. And I took it down. And I posted it again. And I took it down again. And then I posted it and left it and I was like “Uffff”.
[Luis Fernando]: Some people started asking if it was true, but Lalay was vague about the details. A few days later, a friend of theirs told them that Fernando Francia, a journalist from the network TeleSur, had asked her if the document was legitimate,and he told her he was very interested in covering the story. They got in contact and scheduled an interview.
The story was published November 4th, 2015, early in the morning.
[Anchor]: In other news: In Costa Rica, a marriage between two women took place weeks ago. The particular situation in this Central American country is revitalizing the debate over equal unions in the country. Here is Fernando Francia with more of the story.
[Fernando Francia]: Laura and Jazmín argue that if they can do it through a legal subterfuge, everyone should be able to.
[Jaz]: Because it’s absurd that we have this possibility and other woman like us, in the same situation as us, don’t have those rights…
[Luis Fernando]: And a few hours later.
[Lalay]: Everyone called…. Everyone, everyone. I mean all of the channels called: all of them called!
[Jaz]: At one point there were 4 or 5 people with cameras asking questions all at once. And we were there just answering. I mean, without knowing what we were answering.
[Lalay]: It was really overwhelming. In fact it was like: “We don’t want to talk to any more media.”
“The Registry says they’re going to annul the marriage, how do you feel about that?” And I was like: “Enough, I’m done! Get out all of you, I don’t want to say anything anymore. Now! Get out, get out!” And Jaz was like: “No, calm down we have to answer!”
[Luis Fernando]: La Extra is a national newspaper and the journalist was referring to statements released by the director of the Civil Registry, Luis Bolaños, when the news exploded. This is Bolaños:
[Luis Bolaños]: Tomorrow we will begin the process to…to correct birth records with regards to this person’s sex.
[Luis Fernando]: In addition, Bolaños said that the error was the result of a digitization problem in 2003 and that the institution’s quality control measures had failed.
Members of el Frente por los Derechos Igualitarios [the Front for Equal Rights] came to the restaurant that night.
[Jaz]: And they really scared us. They told us: “Guys, you should have told us sooner. You should’ve had a political strategy. Uh, you could even suffer legal consequences. There are ways…” But we said: “Well, this is one way, but it’s not…it’s a possibility, it’s not going to happen.”
[Luis Fernando]: And the truth is they didn’t have a strategy…
[Jaz]: We didn’t even have a lawyer. I mean, that’s how foolish we were, you understand? We didn’t plan for all of that.
[Lalay]: We didn’t sleep well that night. And then we thought: “What have we done? What did we do? We messed up. We shouldn’t have done this.”
[Luis Fernando]: And well, the worst case scenario is what happened…
[Jaz]: It happened. Everything they warned us about happened.
[Luis Fernando]: The Civil Registry took them to court. And not just them, but Marco too, the lawyer who married them, and the two witnesses at the wedding.
Ok, we’re going to have to get into legal territory a little bit, but we’re going to try to do it the simplest way possible.
As we’ve already said, marriage for same-sex couples is prohibited by the current Family Code and marrying illegally is a punishable offense. In other words, there was a chance they could go to prison.
And well, legally speaking, the officials from the Civil Registry…
[Gustavo Román]: When they are aware of a crime they have an overriding obligation to report it.
[Luis Fernando]: This is Gustavo Román, a political advisor for the Supreme Court for Elections, the entity in charge of the Civil Registry. I asked to speak with Luis Bolaños but the press room put me in touch with Román.
It appears that the officials became aware of the crime when the media released the images of the 2 women who had managed to marry, and not when they received the papers.
And in the midst of the scandal, the media announced that…
[Journalist]: The entity also opened an administrative investigation in order to determine what individual or individuals at the Civil Registry accepted the documents pertaining to this marriage, since they assure us that this union should not have been approved.
[Luis Fernando]: That investigation, according to the Registry, is still ongoing.
But the Civil Registry did something specific, something that Jaz and Lalay protested. And that was correcting Jaz’ sex without asking her for proof that she is a woman or giving her notice.
Within the registry, correcting Jaz’ sex was treated as an “URGENT” process. On the document the word is written in all caps. Jaz and Lalay asked for a justification of the reason, they told them it was because the case had been in the media.
The process was fast. Eight days after the news got out, Jaz’ legal sex appeared as “female.”
[Lalay]: Unprecedented efficiency.
[Luis Fernando]: Unprecedented, Lalay says, because the news on this case shed light on another. Yerimé’s.
Yerimé is a man who had the same kind of error as Jaz: his ID said he was a woman rather than a man and he had been requesting a change for years.
This audio comes from an interview he gave in 2015.
[Journalist]: Yerimé, you have even had tests that have been uncomfortable to verify that you really are a man.
[Yerimé]: Yes, of course. Just going to the forensic clinic and taking my clothes off in front of a female pathologist…for me that was very hard.
[Luis Fernando]: And even with that doctor’s report, the Registry had refused to make the correction. In the same story the Registry says they don’t know why that was denied. And of course, because of that error, Yerimé couldn’t get married or register children. The same thing would have happened to Jaz if she had fallen in love with a man.
So: Why was did making the correction happen so quickly for Jaz and it was so complicated with Yerimé.
Jaz and Lalay have their theory:
[Lalay]: We had tricked the Registry. We’d scored a goal.
[Jaz]: Obviously, they felt ridiculed because they aren’t meticulous with people’s information, they don’t realize how many papers there are there and they don’t think it’s important…
[Luis Fernando]: So, on paper, Jaz is a woman again. But the Registry can’t annul the marriage. Legally, only a sitting Judge charged with family affairs can do that. That’s why Jaz and Lalay are still married.
For his part, the scandal helped Yerimé: after more than 10 years, he managed to have the sex on his ID corrected.
And beyond the problems with the Civil Registry, the news about Jaz and Lalay’s marriage brought forth the homophobia that exists in Costa Rican society. They were reading a lot, a lot of comments like these.
[Woman]: We Christians don’t have hate, it’s disgust. I’m sorry but it makes me want to vomit all over you two.
[Man]: It should be annulled because it was a mistake. Legally it’s should be null and void. I hope this error doesn’t open the door to incurring God’s wrath.
[Woman]: This is the worst! This ridiculous lawyer is grabbing unto lies to achieve his supposed goals. This is fraud! Fraud! Fraud!
[Man]: Ladies and gentlemen: this is how the human race goes extinct.
[Luis Fernando]: I asked Lalay if they got those kinds of hateful messages directly…
[Lalay]: No they never wrote to me directly. Really the comments were always under stories about us.
[Luis Fernando]: And would you go read them or…?
[Lalay]: Ah, yeah, sometimes. Out of sheer masochism.
[Luis Fernando]: But very soon the attacks became personal. And they left the Internet.
[Jaz]: They started throwing eggs, they left us Christian messages…
[Lalay]: Once they shouted at me while I was going to my car that what I needed was a man to make me woman. Then it was like one after another, so we were afraid.
[Luis Fernando]: And there was an incident that escalated to another level. It wasn’t directly against them, but rather a journalist that reported on the case and openly supported them. He was hit in the face going into his house. And they insulted him using homophobic language.
The journalist is a friend of mine. And if I felt impacted and angry, I imagine their reaction.
[Lalay]: We left here from Árbol because we were really afraid they would attack us. We started having a kind of security protocol there: always leaving with someone, being accompanied so that it were never just the two of us in the restaurant.
[Luis Fernando]: They decided to stay at a friend’s house for a few months. People also tried to intimidate that friend, calling her to say she was a lesbian and shouting homophobic insults at her.
A few days after the news blew up, Roberto Zamora, a lawyer who specializes in international law and who monitors human rights, contacted Jaz y Lalay.
He’d seen them on TV, giving statements.
[Roberto Zamora]: I don’t know, I got the impression that they were not entirely informed on everything that could happen, we’ll say the transcendence, the magnitude, the enormity and importance of what they were doing.
[Luis Fernando]: So he offered to represent them pro bono. They met and after speaking for a short while, Jaz and Lalay accepted.
[Roberto]: I was always very clear. I told them: “Look, you broke the law. I mean, I agree and support you and everything, but right now there is a law and that is what makes something illegal.”
[Luis Fernando]: But he assured them that the problem had a solution.
The first thing they did was go to the Constitutional Chamber, which is the highest judicial entity in Costa Rica. There they filed a complaint against the Civil Registry.
[Roberto]: We indicated that the fact that the news was covered by the media was not a legal justification to treat Jaz differently. In other words, to declare the process of changing her sex “urgent.”
[Luis Fernando]: They weren’t disputing the fact that they had changed Jaz’ sex, but the bullish way they did it. Because, according to them, that violated her right to not be treated differently because of her sexual orientation.
On top of that, in January 2016, they argued before the Chamber that it was unconstitutional that same-sex marriages were prohibited.
They argued that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had already said that the definition of family includes same-sex couples and that nowhere in the Costa Rican Constitution does it say that family is limited to the union between a man and a woman.
So, by Costa Rican law, the penal process was put on hold until the Constitutional Chamber resolved the case.
Time passed and nothing happened. It was total silence from the Chamber and uncertainty for them. Until January 9th, 2018: the same moment this story started.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CELEBRATION)
[People Chanting]: Lesbians against war! Lesbians against capital! Lesbians against racism, against neo-liberal racism!…
[Luis Fernando]: That day the Court said that Costa Rica should approve marriage equality. And obviously they went to celebrate.
[Lalay]: It was an excitement that couldn’t fit inside of me. I couldn’t stop talking about it. We went and it was like: “We’re not going to prison!”
[Luis Fernando]: Because the Constitutional Chamber had always committed to carrying out what the Inter-American Court of Human Rights said. And in Jaz and Lalay’s case, that would mean that they, the lawyer who married them and the witnesses would be free from the penal process they found themselves in.
Roberto, their lawyer, explains it like this:
[Roberto]: If it’s understood that the prohibition is being eliminated, then there’s no sense in sanctioning them. Because they would have lied about something that in the end wasn’t illegal anymore.
[Luis Fernando]: But…
[Lalay]: Sometimes I’m a little scared because it feels too good to be true. And I am a little scared of all of the people who are filled with hate who protest against it. That gives me my…my reservations.
[Luis Fernando]: Everything you have heard so far has been conversations that I had with Jaz and Lalay in January of this year, 2018, a few days after the Court gave it’s answer. In the lead-up to the presidential elections…
[Fabricio Alvarado]: If we have to leave the Court, if we have to leave the OEA [the Organization of American States] in order for our sovereignty to be respected, in order for our way of life to be respected, because listen to me carefully: after this, what comes next is the imposition of abortion. You can be sure of that. After this it’s the Court saying: “You have to approve abortion in all its forms in Costa Rica.” I assure you that’s what’s next. So if we have to leave the OEA, we have to leave the OEA.
[Luis Fernando]: This is Fabricio Alvarado. He is a journalist who didn’t finish his studies, and a preacher and evangelical singer. At the time, Fabricio Alvarado was the only deputy of the Legislative Assembly representing the evangelical party Restauración Nacional. He was also a presidential candidate and in December, 2017, polls had him in last place with a little over 2% support.
This audio comes from a video he put out on social media a few hours after the Inter-American Court gave its ruling. He said that if the country needed to get out of the international rights system in order to avoid marriage equality, he would do it.
Fabricio didn’t have a government plan with concrete proposals or a team. So he focused on defending what, according to him, are traditional Costa Rican family values, and opposing what he called the “gender ideology.”
[Fabricio Alvarado]: Marriage is between a man and a woman. That is what we have upheld and will uphold and that is what the people are also defending. When we talk about the “gender ideology,” those are the elements that have been introduced, especially in education, that aim to establish that one is not born a man or a woman but rather that one can be whatever they imagine they are or how they feel. Teaching our children this goes against the values and principles that most Costa Ricans have.
[Luis Fernando]: In his government plan, Fabricio said that freedom can only be exercised under a Christian ethic, and that homosexual unions went against nature. On top of that, he promised to make an institute to reform homosexuals who wanted that.
The election was a month later.
[Journalist]: The country has decided. Fabricio Alvarado of Restauración Nacional and Carlos Alvarado of el PAC will go to the second round to elect a new president of Costa Rica next April 1st.
[Luis Fernando]: And yes, contrary to what the polls had shown, Fabricio was in first place. With nearly 25% of the vote. It wasn’t enough to be declared president, but it was enough to go to the second round.
Even so, his party got the second largest number of seats in Parliament. Something that no other evangelical group had ever accomplished.
His opponent, Carlos Alvarado, represented the pro-government party Acción Ciudadana, which won fewer seats than the evangelical party.
People were unhappy with the government. The largest corruption scandal in the country —which involved the Presidency, the Judicial Authority, the Legislative Assembly and the State banks— was uncovered months earlier. On top of that, crime and violence were increasing, the fiscal deficit was out of control and poverty stayed at constant levels.
And between the political corruption in Carlos’ party and Fabricio’s minimal preparation to be president, something became central to the public debate: the rights of LGTBI people.
This is Carlos Alvarado…
[Carlos Alvarado]: The relations between individuals and the State should be governed by the principle of equality. And from that point of view I support equal civil marriage.
[Luis Fernando]: The country was split. Fabricio against Carlos: a right-wing conservative religious fanatic against a centrist candidate with progressive ideas about human rights.
I spoke with Jaz and Lalay again to see how they felt. They told me they were afraid Fabricio would be elected. Especially because of…
[Jaz]: The State’s repression against us personally and against diverse people in general.
[Lalay]: Because, hey, the bullies are emboldened when the most powerful leader in the country —the person representing the country— gives them tacit permission to discriminate, right?
[Luis Fernando]: One of the most credible polls, done my an institute at the University of Costa Rica, placed both candidates at a technical tie. The undecided population would pick the winner.
And after 2 months of social tension, on April 1st, people went to the polls again to elect their president.
That same night, the president of the Supreme Court for Elections gave the first report. They had counted 90% of the votes.
[Luis Antonio Sobrado]: Valid votes for political parties. Acción Ciudadana: 1,205,864 votes, for 60.66% of the total. Restauración Nacional: 782,009 which is 39.33%.
[Luis Fernando]: Carlos Alvarado was the president elect. It was a decisive victory…The place where the voters gathered to hear the results burst with excitement…
(SOUNDBITE OF A CELEBRATION)
[People]: We did it! We did it! We did it! We did it! We did it! We did it!
[Luis Fernando]: Lalay and Jaz told me what that moment was like for them.
[Lalay]: It happened so fast, so it was very uh…It’s was hard to believe it really, I…I…
[Jaz]: Honestly I hoped it would go like that. In fact, I told Lalay that, maybe it was a fantasy, I don’t know, but I hoped we would win 70, 30. So…
[Lalay]: I think that it really was going to be close, very, very close.
[Jaz]: We went to la Hispanidad to celebrate, so they started playing…
(SOUNDBITE FUENTE DE LA HISPANIDAD)
[Jaz]: And man, I cried because it struck a chord, it was too much…
[Lalay]: It was a group of girls and guys with drums and, oh, it was wonderful.
[Luis Fernando]: There were thousands of people celebrating at la Hispanidad. And among the flags there were signs that read: “Love won.”
Jaz and Lalay felt the same. Love won. A lot of people called after the election to tell them:
[Jaz]: I don’t know why but I felt like congratulating you. [Laughs]
[Lalay]: And also to tell us…they thought of us. That we were the first people they thought of when he won, and they’ve written us a lot. And now several customers have come to say: “now you won’t have to leave!” [Giggle]
[Jaz]: And they hug us.
[Lalay]: Yes, yes, this has really brought back my faith in people because, I don’t know it’s… it’s impressive: Costa Rica is historic because it always saves itself from the extremes.
[Luis Fernando]: And now…
[Lalay]: We’re waiting for it all to end. For good now. I mean, for the Fourth Chamber to issie the ruling and for it to be over now. Because Carlo can’t oppose what the Inter-American Court says and he’s already made that clear in the debates. We’re waiting for that to culminate.
[Jaz]: I feel like Costa Rica has already given its verdict on what it wants to be, and what we want to be is a Costa Rica of a State of Rights. A Costa Rica that respects the freedom of individual people.
[Luis Fernando]: After this whole story, after these years of anguish interspersed with joy, I had one more question.
Was it worth it?
[Jaz]: Oh, obviously. I mean, this changed our lives. Obviously. I even feel like we’re…like an idea, like an abstraction of Jaz and Lalay. People sometimes get confused about who’s who. It’s really funny. [Giggle]
[Luis Fernando]: And not only have their lives changed.
[Jaz]: But other people’s lives have changed. When the issue came up, when our case became public, Costa Rican families started talking, even if they said the most conservative things: they started talking about it.
And it’s not nice going around with your life on display either, but if it helps somehow, we’re going to give the accounts of our lives. For other countries and for people here too. For everyone. Because it’s nice to give people hope that all of a sudden a person or two people can change reality with a small action or a bigger action. And I don’t regret that and we’re actually going to keep doing it.
[Luis Fernando]: I want to close on one of those small actions that Jaz speaks about. Acts that transforms the lives of others. Outside of the restaurant there is a painting of the LGTBI flag, a flag that signals safety. Certainty that the community will always be accepted there with open arms, with care. A place where people don’t have to be afraid of showing who they are, where people can meet others in absolute freedom.
A place where they belong.
That was four years ago.
[Luis Fernando]: So a lot of things have happened. Right?
[Jaz]: A lot, right? I mean, yes, because . . .
[Lalay]: Because the judge was removed from office . . .
[Jaz]: Uh-huh, so let’s talk about that.
[Luis Fernando]: Things are a bit complicated. But, in short, the criminal indictment was filed in 2019, and Jaz and Lalay were officially registered as the first same-sex married couple in Costa Rica. But in 2020 they were unregistered from the Civil Registry. So yeah, officially they’re not married.
When we published the episode, the criminal process against them was on hold, waiting for the Constitutional Chamber to rule on the ban on same-sex marriage in the Family Code. The Chamber determined in August 2018 that the ban was unconstitutional. So, all set: Same-sex marriage was a reality.
A year later, in February 2019, the Criminal Court ruled that the case against Jaz and Lalay had no reason to exist, because there was no longer a legal impediment for them to marry.
[Lalay]: And say . . . well, in theory, we had won.
[Luis Fernando]: In October of the same year, Jaz and Lalay were summoned as witnesses in the trial against Marco Castillo for having married them when the Family Code did not allow it. They went, suspecting nothing.
[Lalay]: There was no longer a crime; we had had a dismissal. So we spoke with complete freedom.
[Jaz]: He knew what he was doing and he did it for the sake of activism.
[Luis Fernando]: Him, that is, Marco Castillo.
[Jaz]: So he was happy to face whatever he had to face because he was proud of what he did. In the end, we went, we said yes, we got married. No, we didn’t lie. No, it was always like that, the whole truth.
[Luis Fernando]: But Judge Francis Porras banned Marco Castillo from practicing law for 13 years. At the same time, he asked the Civil Registry to unregister the marriage of Jaz and Lalay, and he put in a precautionary measure so that nothing could be done about it.
[Lalay]: The registry has to obey to the judge because, hierarchically, he is in a higher position, despite the fact that he does not have jurisdiction as a judge.
[Luis Fernando]: Because he is a notary judge, and not a Family Court judge, who are the ones in charge of cases like this.
[Luis Fernando]: The notification that the marriage had been annulled arrived in May of 2020, just a few days before marriage equality went into effect in Costa Rica.
[Jaz]: Since 2015, we have fought for marriage equality, for ours, but beyond ours, also for the approval of civil marriage equality in Costa Rica. We were the face of that movement at some point, and same-sex marriage went into effect without our marriage. So it was a low blow.
[Lalay]: It’s been very frustrating because we don’t even know what’s going to happen.
[Jaz]: In fact, we still have the limit now that if we can’t recover the marriage, because practically two and a half years have passed and no, we haven’t managed to move forward. So this year we would get married for the third time.
[Lalay]: Same thing.
[Jaz]: Because marriage equality is officially approved.
[Lalay]: Yes, but we haven’t done it. Because of all we have built during this time, because it is not even like we are divorced; it’s as if it had never existed.
[Jaz]: Still single.
[Lalay]: A scandalous cohabitation.
[Jaz]: Exactly, and say . . .
[Daniel Alarcón]: In January of this year 2022, Judge Francis Porras was removed from office for attempting to annul the marriage of Marco Castillo and his partner, which, according to him, took place before the Family Code was changed. According to the court ruling, what Porras did was an irreparable breach of the trust placed in a judge of the Republic, because, as a judge, he made a judgment against the right to marriage between people of the same sex.
Luis Fernando Vargas is an editor at Radio Ambulante. He lives in San José, Costa Rica. This story was edited by Camila Segura, Silvia Viñas and me. The sound mix is by Andrés Azpiri. The fact-checking is by Daniel Villatoro.
Many thanks to Round House Studio, Daniela Aguilar, Felipe Zúñiga, Melania Rodríguez and Roberth Pereira.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Lisette Arévalo, Aneris Casassus, Emilia Erbetta, Fernanda Guzmán, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Rémy Lozano, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, David Trujillo and Desirée Yépez.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.