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Ph.D anthropology student explores gender in Latin America

By AbMace
On January 23, 2014

UConn anthropology Ph.D candidate Ronnie Shepard learned to search within the marginalized groups in society as he researched gender roles in contemporary Latin America. Studying Ecuador specifically, Shepard sought out men of all races and social classes to explore the question: What defines "a man" in this region of the world?
Latin American is known for its "machismo" culture, a perspective that places a significance on men to be heterosexual, act masculine and provide for their families. Combining his knowledge from studies in Latin American studies, international studies, business, national security administration, human rights and women's studies - Shepard has devoted his anthropology dissertation research to discovering how Ecuadorian men feel about these predetermined gender roles and expectations, particularly when it comes to sexuality. As homosexuality is generally taboo in Latin America, Ecuador took a progressive stance on the matter when it ratified its constitution in 2008.
Shepard said Ecuador's change in its constitution gave all citizens more freedom to act according to their own sexualities.
"Lives are changing due to these changes in society," Shepard said. "All citizens have the right to decide their own sexuality."
Shepard said the Church has had a longstanding role in minimizing the homosexual presence in Ecuador, a traditionally theocratic state. He said Ecuadorian families would pay the Church to perform an "ex-gay reparative procedure" on their children who they believed were homosexual. The Church would couple prayer services with beatings and starvation to "convert" the child into a hetereosexual individual. In some instances, Shepard said, the Church would show homosexual pornography to the individual to see if he or she would become aroused by it.
Ecuador, however, is moving closer toward equality for sexualities. Such procedures were deemed illegal in Jan. 2012, yet Shepard said he has heard that these ex-gay activities may still occur in secret.
Aside from studying Ecuador's general acceptance towards homosexuality, Shepard has focused on same-sex international adoption policies of those in Andean countries (Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia) versus those in the United States. Shepard and his colleague, Shir Lerman, will speak at a Feb. 21 conference called Queering Paradimes Five in Ecuador. Their speech, "Queer Families in the Margins: A Call for U.S.-Andean Adoptions," will support international adoption rights for same-sex Andean couples.
While it is legal for a same-sex couple to adopt a child in the United States, it is prohibited in Andean nations. Currently in order for Andean homosexuals to adopt, they must adopt a child independent of their partner. Shepard said homosexuals typically adopt "special needs" children, such as older children or children with siblings who need to be adopted, instead of infants or "health children." Special needs children are less likely to be adopted by heterosexual couples, and thus adoption agencies are more likely to bend the rules to grant adoption rights to homosexuals for these children.
Shepard's findings regarding male gender identity in Ecuador, "Ex-Gay Exposé: Considering Gender, Sexuality and Globalization within Ecuador's Ex-Gay Movement," will be published in an edited volume in Ecuador next month. He said the name of the publication is yet to be released.
Before Shepard could publish his research, he observed Ecuadorian men in public places - even frequenting brothels, dance clubs and spa houses - and conducted private interviews with several others. Yet homosexuality is a sensitive subject, and Shepard said it was difficult at first for interviewees to open up.
 "I was an outsider from another country wanting to know information from other people's lives that they may not even tell their families," Shepard said. "But I would try to meet as many people as possible from different races and social classes to get as many different opinions as possible."

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