Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Gay aid group back from Guatemala


Rainbow World Fund participants take a break during last month's humanitarian aid trip to Guatemala. Photo: Courtesy Jeff Cotter
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The chatter of the Sunday afternoon Castro crowd and the whir of traffic outside its 18th Street office can be heard clearly, but as Rainbow World Fund's Jeff Cotter and Paul Stankiewicz talk about the group's recent aid trip to Guatemala, it's easy to forget where you are.

Surrounded by mementos from around the world, the pair talked about the colorful clothes of indigenous Mayans and narrow prayer caves blackened by the soot of 500 years worth of candles. They also talk about the struggles of the country's people, including those who are LGBT.

For 10 days in late July, Cotter, founder and president of the LGBT and friends-based humanitarian aid group, and Stankiewicz, project coordinator, accompanied 13 people (including three who were straight) to Guatemala to distribute more than 1,800 pounds of donated medical, school, and art supplies. They also used the annual trip to discuss LGBT issues. Cotter said the organization has contributed more than $400,000 in aid to the country in the last two years alone. The group is beginning to collect donations for upcoming trips.

Serving as guides for the group were two American nuns, who have lived in Central America off and on for years. One of them was Sister Jeannine Gramick, the nun who has been speaking out in defiance of the Vatican's 1999 order silencing her because of her ministry that works with LGBT people.

Guatemala is known for its tropical beauty and indigenous culture, but it's also a poor country that recently endured a decades-long civil war. Many believe dozens of people recently killed were murdered in connection with the upcoming national elections.

"A lot of people reprioritize their lives when they come back," Cotter said, referring to the impact the aid trips have on participants.

"It's absolutely changed my life," Karen Dickinson, of Hayward, said of the three trips she's taken to Guatemala with Rainbow World Fund. "It really brings home what's important in life when you come back to the states and you're dealing with ... the little irritations in life, and you sit back and remember these women you've met who have to hike two hours up a mountain with pots on their heads to get water."

Besides distributing aid, Rainbow World Fund also used the trip as an opportunity to educate Guatemalans about the LGBT community. Cotter said there's a connection between what LGBT people have gone through and what many indigenous Mayans in the country have gone through. He said, for example, both groups have had rights taken away, and their marriages have been invalidated.

One of the groups Rainbow World Fun visited was OASIS, which assists LGBT people in Guatemala. Many LGBT people face being exiled from their communities, as well as violence from police, Cotter said.

One of the first questions group members are asked is "Why aren't you married?" Many people in the country don't know what it means to be LGBT. Rainbow World Fund participants discuss the issue openly.

"There's actually a respect because of that openness," Cotter said.

Rainbow World Fund is now seeking donations of digital equipment to record the stories of elder Mayan shaman.

Rainbow World Fun will be at the Hairrison Street Fair in San Francisco's South of Market District Sunday, September 2.

For more information, or to make a donation or wish, visit

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