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An enigma wrapped in a mystery inside a gay bar…

17 February 2008

Not everything in Mexico City is earth-shaking drama, but it is a place where nothing is ever exactly as straight-forward as it seems.

Something is definitely going on, but I’m not sure what…

In 2001, the Lobohombo fire — which killed 22 mostly teenagers and young adult — was blamed on faulty wiring and exits being locked from the Zona Rosa nightclub.


Delegacíon Cuauhtémoc officials rightfully mounted inspections of all nightclubs and several were closed for violating various health and safety codes. Several gay clubs in Zona Rosa were singled out over the next year– and owner David Rangél and the gay press was claiming the closures of those clubs for seemingly minor violations had more to do with homophobia than genuine public safety concerns. Delegacíon Jefa, Virginia Jamarillo made comments in the press that seemed to back up Rangél’s allegations, and accusations that the PRD leadership was less progressive than it presented itself made for lively debate among the intelligencia.  It was an odd situation — the anti-Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador groups (Jamarillo being an AMLO ally within the Party) seized on accusations of corruption within the Delegacion (Rangel also claimed inspectors were demanding kick-backs) for their own reasons.  Right-wingers, not normally sympathetic to the plight of gay bar patrons and owners, suddenly found themselves bleating about human rights

I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the dust-up until the gay bar owners mounted a protest, piggy-backing on protests by the ejitarios of San Salvador Atenco to keep their land from being expropriated for airport expansion. The resulting manifestíon included festive men… and farm animals plodding to a disco beat. The San Salvador folks all showed up with their farm animals and carts to block the Zocalo… Rangél trucked in a sound system on a flatbed truck (which is certainly a better way to block traffic than a yoke of oxen), and a bevy of male strippers. I can’t say this was the inspiration for the naked farmer protests, but it was the first protest I witnessed in Mexico City that included farmers and (not quite) naked protesters (warning: link shows naked people… doh!).

Complicating matters, Mexico City gays were torn by rumors (and obvious) pedophiliaround Rangél’s bars… foreigners especially were claiming they were targeted (something I picked up from coffee house gossip, and nothing I can confirm), though I discounted the rumors, believing some of the most complaining foreigners were either pedophiles — not the classic kiddy-porn type, but the kind who can’t get it through their thick skulls that a 17-year old is a minor in Mexican law, and are so naive to believe that a teenager finds some bald, overweight gringo sexually attractive) or that their Mexican contacts were pretty much limited to the Mexicans they met in the same bars and coffee-houses frequented by other gringos.

Given that gay rights were becoming a political issue in Mexico City at the time, arrests at Rangél’s businesses — especially “Cabritito”) mostly for minors in possession of alchohol, various drug offenses and the like) — took on a political dimension in both the “mainstream” and gay press. On the other hand, the bars were (and are) a vital part of making the Zona Rosa the defacto “gay ghetto” of Mexico City. Crackdowns on gay bars were seen as a crackdown on gays in general.

Mexico’s largest gay publication, Ser Gay, broke with Rangél (a major advertiser). With the District Legislature seriously considering recognizing same-sex civil unions, Ser Gay went out of its way to present gays and lesbians as “normal” people — not as barflies. Rangél was a backer of a competing gay entertainment magazine, Homopolis, which at least had the virtue of opening up venues for more minority writers (though it was crappy writing, and I think people picked up their free copies for the advertising — and to see the always popular list of advertisers who’d stiffed the ad salesmen!). The Rangél-controlled venues and Ser Gay have been at each other’s throats ever since.

For the “mainstream press”, or at least the more conservative elements (like Televisa and la Prensa), the gay bars are a tempting target… the conservatives always want to paint the Federal District as out of control, decadent and failing to live up to traditional Mexican values (sound familiar?) and — heck — sex sells. Sex and drugs sells even better. Sex, drugs and “youth at risk” is a winna! But even the “progressive” PRD includes the old socialists who only recognize economic class differences when it comes to diversity and equality. And, the PRD’s success in Mexico City has been mainly a result of its focus on middle-class and working class “quality of life” issues … which includes cleaning out minor irritants like petty drug dealers and annoyingly loud bars.

Under the circumstances, “fair and balanced coverage” is going to come from the left-wing press. Specifically, Jornada. Seven people, including David Rangél were arrested during the latest — and probably final — police raid at Cabritito. According to Jornada , the bar was permanently closed for failure to provide adequate security… and… oh yeah,… the 37 cocaine “grapas” (packages) the coppers found when the marched in.

Jornada quotes Francisco José Díaz Casillas, the bureaucrat who is in charge of “Citizen Participation in the Prevention of Crime” with saying that 161 establishments have been shut down… not all of them bars. Perhaps it’s reading between the lines to note that Díaz specifies that “table dance” establishments were also closed for having inadequate security. He seems to be saying that gay bars were not specifically the focus of these raids, though I don’t think the other establishments had a raid like this.

Ser Gay Scouting News” — a blog that seems to be a gossip/nightclub report (or reporter… or reporters) — reports being in the bar when over a dozen officers came in at 1 in the morning to checkrIDs and arrest people for various infractions. According to Ser Gay Scouting News, there was a previous police ID check at another bar, which resulted in no arrests, and followed last week’s closing of a third Rangél establishment, for promoting prostitution (prostitution itself is legal — you just can’t promote it), drug offenses and serving alcohol to minors.

“Scouting News” — if he or she isn’t one already — makes a great “nota roja” writer — among those arrested was one of David Rangél’s business partners:

It seems an ill-wind that blows no good has blown through Corporativo Cabaretito, with Sergio Mendoza alias Belínda remanded to the Barrientos jailhouse, following his capture at a VIPS outlet [a Mexican version of Denny’s] in possession of an auto he’d robbed from a client at the bar.

An ill-wind indeed! I expect the conservative press will be all over this, with photos and ominous music on the TV reports, there will be a learned essay in Jornada about the economic inequality among patrons at gay bars, and Ser Gay Scouting News will be worth reading for the next few weeks.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. charles harker permalink
    17 February 2008 11:49 pm

    I recall the closing of the popular Zona Rosa bar, “El Taller” some years back. I believe the jefa delegacional en Cuauhtémoc at the time was Dolores Padierna Luna. (wife of Renee Bejarano – a key figure in the Video Scandals of the AMLO administration.)


  1. 12 dead in bar raid… be careful what you wish for « The Mex Files

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