I thought before I came to Quito that I would have to step back in the closet. My biggest fear was not travelling to a new country and learning a new culture, but it was the unknown of how the people would accept and perceive me. One week after arriving, I realized that you cannot have the experience of a lifetime if you are not true to who you are.
That’s where my story about being gay abroad begins, and it all started with having the two best friends and fellow co-workers I could ever ask for. When I first met Ibis and Rebecca, we had instant chemistry; that sorta flow where you just laugh and laugh. For all intents and purposes, it was friendship love at first sight. About two weeks in, Ibis invited Rebecca and me to attend a forum called, Levánte Contra la Homophobia (Rise Against Homophobia).
Three weeks later, we had gained lifetime friends, who on the daily, bravely fight to progress LGBTQ+ civil rights in Ecuador.
And just like that, my friends settled my biggest fear and I was back in my community. The only difference is that we speak different language – and as a culture – we are in different social, economic and political places in terms of LGBTQ+ rights.
Four weeks later, and I read the news of Orlando. Never in my life have I read news that brought tears to my eyes. My family, my community had undergone the most horrific mass shooting in U.S. history and I couldn’t be home to show my support … or so I thought.
Days after the shooting, local LGBTQ+ activists in Quito organized a vigil to show international support. Being there with my friends allowed me to feel like I could show those affected by Orlando how much I loved them and how much I wanted to just give hugs. One by one, the names of those who lost their lives were read aloud and we remembered them.
Six weeks later, I attended another LGBTQ+ forum titled, Yo Soy, Como Tú (I Am Just Like You). Topics ranged from transfeminism to the Ecuadorian It Get’s Better Project. The event was eye opening and it was humbling to learn about how LGBTQ+ activists in Ecuador are making progress towards social inclusion.
And presently, I just finished attending the Gay Pride March in Quito. It’s a lot different from the Prides of San Diego, LA and Chicago … the ones I have attended. Here there are no giant floats and corporate sponsors; instead, there are countless grassroots activists groups and thousands of local Quiteños who march to the beat of their own drum for equality. Being in a more activist-driven pride was one of the best moments in my life. And after the march ended, my friends and I danced to the early hours of dawn.
I’m too green and not wise enough to give advice, but if I could make a humble recommendation for fellow LGBTQ+ student and allies who study abroad, I would encourage you to be fearless. Of course learn the culture, feel your surroundings and stay safe – but do not be afraid to find our tribe. It is important that we stick together and learn from each other. I am so thankful for all the global LGBTQ+/ally activists and the friends that I have gained in Quito. They have allowed me to be proud of who I am, and not have to step back in the closet – even if it is halfway across the world in Ecuador.
Teddy Bruni is a senior studying English Literature as pre-law with a minor in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies. He is taking part in an intensive 9-week internship in the mayor’s office in Quito, Ecuador.