LGBT kiss-in greets Pope Francis in visit to Panama

A gay couple takes part in a LGBT kiss-in to make visible sexual and gender diversity during Pope Fracis' visit to Panama for the World Youth Day.

LGBT+ activists have staged a kiss-in in front of a church in Panama to demands equal rights as Pope Francis visits the country in occasion of World Youth Day.

A few dozen people took part in the “besaton,”—from the Spanish word for kissing, beso, and marathon—on Friday (January 25) in front of the church Del Carmen, a historic symbol of protests in Panama City since it became a gathering point for opposition against dictator Manuel Noriega in the 1980s.

“Let’s kiss and celebrate love,” read one of the flyers promoting the peaceful protest, which created controversy in the staunchly Catholic country even before it took place.

Panamanian TV presenter Gisela Tuñón wrote on Twitter on January 23: “LGBTI community… You know I LOVE YOU and I always support you, when you are right.” The TV host went on to criticise the kiss-in as “unnecessary” and added: “Respect requests respect.”

A couple kisses during a "Besaton" kiss-in in Panama City.

Two women kiss during the “Besaton” kiss-in to demand equal rights for LGBT people in Panama. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty)

But LGBT+ activists voiced their right to stage a kiss-in, or demonstrate love for their partner, wherever they pleased.

“They say it’s disrespectful that we kiss in front of a church, but I ask them a question: Why is it not disrespectful when heterosexuals do it? Is it that I am an aberration? We exist!” Samirah Armengol, who took part in the kiss-in, told AFP.

Protesters stage LGBT kiss-in to demand equal rights

Protesters attending the kiss-in were wrapped in and waving rainbow flags, holding signs bearing writings such as “Homophobia is a sin,” “State, divorce from the Church,” and “We are visible.”

One of the LGBT activists told AFP the community was demanding visibility as the Pope’s visit brought the spotlight to Panama, where same-sex couples face discrimination compared to heterosexual ones.

“Together as a community, we are saying: We are here,” Levis Calderon was quoted as saying.

Members of the LGBT community and activists staged a kiss-in and demonstrate in front of Carmen church in Panama City.

Protesters attending the kiss-in were wrapped in and waved rainbow flags. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty)

Another demonstrator said she identified as straight, but joined the kiss-in to support her friends.

“Our call to him [Pope Francis] is that something very different is happening here to what he preaches,” Hilka Zapata told AFP, wearing a rainbow wig and holding a sign reading “Love is Love.”

Pope Francis has given mixed signals on acceptance of LGBT+ people in the Catholic Church. In 2013, he was famously quoted as saying: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Members of the LGBT community and activists take part in a "Besaton" (kiss marathon), to make visible sexual and gender diversity during Pope Fracis' visit to Panama.

LGBT activists in Panama staged a kiss-in in front of a church to raise awareness of sexual orientation and gender identity during the Pope’s visit. (Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty)

A survivor of sexual abuse by a prominent Chilean priest, Juan Carlos Cruz, said in April that the Pope told him: “Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care.”

But Pope Francis has also recently claimed that family is the one formed by “a man and a woman,” that gay children should be taken to see a psychiatrist, and that gay priests have “no place” in the Catholic Church.