LGBT rights in El Salvador: a reflection

Posted on July 28, 2014

[Editors’ note: The following article is a reflection from the Rev. Tommy Dillon, rector at St. Aidan’s, San Francisco. He shares his recent participation, along with two others from St. Aidan’s, in the Global School course on LGBT Rights and Inclusive Ministry in El Salvador.]

As part of Cristosal’s Global School course on LGBT rights, I and 11 other pilgrims from the U.S. had the opportunity to investigate the unique role of the Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador (IAES) in the country’s recent LGBT movement. We were joined by members of the IAES Sexual Diversity Ministry, living saints who continue to endure threats to their lives as they work for equality and justice in a country besieged by violence. 

During the course, all of us saw the similarities and differences between the Salvadoran and U.S. LGBT communities. In the U.S., for example, popular culture has been largely responsible for changing people’s perspective on LGBT rights, while in El Salvador the Episcopal Church is taking the lead. By listening to the stories of our Salvadoran brothers and sisters, we also gained firsthand knowledge of a society often dominated by homophobia, heterosexism, and machismo. In the end, participants gained better insight into an LGBT community in a different context, breaking down the social and cultural barriers that separate us as a global community striving for worldwide equality and united as disciples of Jesus Christ. 

Much of this was achieved thanks to the Global School, a program Cristosal offers as an alternative to traditional mission trips, which I have had the opportunity to lead on three different occasions. Through training, dialogue, and the development of ideas the school strengthened the pilgrims’ global partnerships in El Salvador and our actions together for change for the rights of LGBT people in the country.

As we encountered so many living saints throughout the week, I experienced often both joy and sadness at the same time. The joy, for example, of presiding at a liturgy and providing love and support for the trans women incarcerated in a rural prison, and the sadness of hearing about the violence and discrimination they endure both in jail and in the towns and cities (for more on our trip to the prison, please read Bishop Gene Robinson’s reflection in the Daily Beast). The joy of meeting Bessi, who fights for the rights of her gay brother in both the Salvadoran church and government, and the sadness to hear of the 500 death threats she received after writing a pro-LGBT article for the national newspaper. The joy of meeting the members of the Sexual Diversity Ministry who have been welcomed into the life of the Episcopal Church of El Salvador, bringing new life and energy to this small, but justice-oriented church. And the sadness of their daily struggles with family, friends, and former church members who still exclude them.

As I return to my work here at St. Aidan’s, San Francisco, we will share the stories of our trip with members of St. Aidan's, our neighborhood, and in the Diocese of California. We will offer daily prayers for those we encountered and organize our community here in the San Francisco Bay Area to share the good news of Cristosal’s work. This trip has re-energized our Bay Area Salvadoran Coalition after three years of being “on break.” We also will invite a broader group of people to participate in future Global School courses (which cover human rights themes from women’s rights to migration and human trafficking). I strongly believe in this new model for mission as one that creates true exchange and shared lived experiences between US citizens and Salvadorans living in one reality.

The saints we encountered proclaimed a sweeping, universal vision of God shining through human life and I have been changed for the better to know and love them! May the peace and love of God and all the saints surround the people of El Salvador and the work of the LGBT community and their allies and may the work of Cristosal continue to flourish.

For more on the course and our experience, please read the following articles in the Huffington Post written by Richard Weinberg and from the Episcopal News Service written by Lynette Wilson.

photo above: Pilgrims from the Episcopal Church in the United States and El Salvador meet and share stories with members of the oldest LGBT rights organization in El Salvador at their center.


Members of the Sexual Diversity Ministry of the Episcopal Cathedral in San Salvador meet every Saturday afternoon for teaching, sharing, and fellowship. The Episcopal Church of El Salvador is one of the only churches in the country that specifically welcomes LGBT persons in the life of the church.


Clergy and laity from the Episcopal Church have a dialogue with the Episcopal clergy of El Salvador around LGBT Ministry. In this photo the group watches a documentary about the LGBT ministries of Glide Memorial Church and St Aidan’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco.


Bishop Gene Robinson (Ret. New Hampshire) and Bishop Martin Barahona (El Salvador) join the Rev. Tommy Dillon for a photo after an LGBT Ministries Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in San Salvador.


Pilgrims from the Episcopal Church who participated in Cristosal’s first ever LGBT Global School in El Salvador. Half of the pilgrims came from St. Aidan’s and the Washington National Cathedral.