September 25, 1999
Mexican gays hold pilgrimage to honor Virgin

                  MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -- Carrying color balloons and giving flowers to
                  onlookers, a group of about 60 homosexuals, lesbians, transvestites and
                  transsexuals marched through Mexico's capital on Saturday to honor the
                  country's Roman Catholic patron saint.

                  Under a white banner emblazoned with the image of the Virgin of
                  Guadalupe, the pilgrims chanted religious songs, recited prayers and waved
                  signs reading, "Guadalupe: If You Love Us, God Is Love," as they marched
                  toward the Basilica of Guadalupe.

                  "We are here to give a testimony of faith and to ask the Virgin to renew the
                  values of tolerance," said Jorge "Reverend" Sosa of the Church of the
                  Metropolitan Community, one of the march's organisers. The pilgrimage,
                  which also included celibates and heterosexuals, was part of an international
                  day demanding a halt to discrimination against sexual minorities, organizers

                  But the demonstration, the first of its kind in Mexico, did not have the
                  blessing of the local Roman Catholic Church, which said homosexuals and
                  other minority groups were being manipulated. The Virgin of Guadalupe is
                  the most sacred symbol in this deeply religious country of 98 million people,
                  90 percent of whom are Catholic.

                  Pilgrims in the gay procession, however, seemed unfazed by the church's

                  "I don't understand why somebody who is not straight can't manifest her faith
                  in the Virgin," said 34-year-old Guadalupe Rostro, a maintenance worker
                  who was carrying the banner and who described herself as a lesbian.

                  "There are a lot of prejudices in Mexico. Some people think that all we do is
                  go to orgies, but we have values," Rostro said.

                  Jorge Camacho, a 45-year-old gay artist who was holding a purple dahlia,
                  said the church should keep out of the bedroom.

                  "What you do in bed is one thing, and what you do at church is another. I
                  don't see a problem," Camacho said. "But the fact is that we live in a very
                  macho culture."

                  After a nearly two-hour-long procession, the pilgrims mixed with other
                  Catholics at the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which was built next
                  to the site where the faithful believe the Virgin appeared to an Indian peasant
                  in 1531 in what is now Mexico City.

                  The Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe is visited annually by millions of
                  Catholics from Mexico and around the world.

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.