Gay life in Ecuador: Interview with Mario, gay local boy from Quito
The gay scene in Quito is a lot of fun with a handful of gay bars and discos. But compared to other cities across Latin America like Buenos Aires and Montevideo, we noticed the crowd was largely quite young in comparison. No bear culture here for example…where do all the over 40s hang out?
Ecuador has this weird extreme mix of the very conservative older generation versus the more forward thinking, confident and liberal minded millennials.
It makes sense when you look at the dramatic change in LGBT legislation over the last 20 years. Until 1997, gay life in Ecuador was tough: it was an extremely conservative country, on par with places like Sri Lanka, India or Indonesia where just being caught in a gay bar could get you in trouble with the police.
In 1997, the constitution was changed introducing some of the most progressive gay friendly legislation in the world. For example, full anti-discrimination laws on grounds of sexual orientation were introduced. In the UK, we had to wait until 2003 when the equivalent law was passed and in the USA, there is still no federal law outlawing discrimination nationwide.
It didn't stop there, the age of consent for both straight and LGBT was equalised (to 14 years old), long before most other countries in the world did the same. In the UK, for example, it wasn't equalised until 2003.
In addition, steps towards equal marriage have since been implemented and from 2015, any same sex couple in Ecuador can legally register their “civil union” and receive the same rights/benefits as straight couples. Steps taken to call it “marriage”, however, are still in progress following a draconian law in 2009, which limited the word “marriage” to man/woman only.
As a result, the older generation remains largely conservative, frowning on homosexuality: after all, this was what they knew growing up. In stark contrast, the post-1997 millennial generation sees things from a completely different perspective following the extreme changes in laws that took place that year.
We met one very sweet millennial in Quito called Mario, who told us about his gay life in Ecuador and more about the gay scene of Quito.
#1 Hola Mario, introduce yourself:
Hi boys, my name is Mario Mendieta, I'm a 23 years old law student, born, raised in Quito.
My family is from the city of Loja in South Ecuador, famous for its coffee. I also LOVE music, especially Ariana Grande.
#2 Are you openly gay?
Yes I am. I've always known I was gay and came out to my family and friends when I was 20 years old. My family was a bit shocked at first and my sister even fainted – we Ecuadorians are known to be quite dramatic at times! My mother started to cry because she was worried I would get AIDS, do drugs and dress up in women's clothes. I assured her that me being gay only meant I love being with another man, nothing else, which helped her realise there's no problem.
After the initial shock, everyone in my family was ok with it and admitted they'd always known. It definitely strengthened our relationship.
#3 How is it to be gay in Ecuador?
At first, it was hard for me because I had to be careful not to be too out there, especially around the older generations. For example, my father asked me not to tell his co-workers. This prevailing attitude made it hard to be openly gay so I had very few gay friends growing up and was always closer with girls.
You do see a slight generational gap in the gay scene across Ecuador. There are generally more younger people in the gay bars and discos in Quito, with more of the older generation preferring to go to more discrete places like gay saunas.
#4 Have you ever experienced any homophobia?
I was bullied at school because I was always the shy guy who only used to hang around with girls, never played sports and always did music and theatre. As a result, I suffered from anorexia and bulimia in my teenage years, which really dampened my confidence.
I eventually picked myself up, accepted who I was and even signed up to a modelling company before starting my law studies. This really boosted my confidence and I got to work with Addidas, Totto and also appeared on the Oie Teleamazonas children's TV show.
#5 Which are your favourite gay bars and clubs in Quito?
Bars and clubs in Quito change a lot all the time, but at the moment Kika is my favourite discoteca because it plays really cool music and always attracts the best crowd. Our largest gay club in Quito is “El Hueco”, which has been around the longest.
Another popular gay club in Quito on Friday evenings is called Disco Bitch, where all the teenagers and twentysomethings go.
I obviously recommend this (ahem!) excellent gay guide to Quito.
#6 What's the best way for gay travellers to meet locals like you?
Mobile apps like Grindr and Manhunt are a good starting point.
I also recommend heading to gay bars like Kika and El Hueco. We absolutely love foreigners in Ecuador so you will definitely feel welcomed.
#7 Are there any big gay events or parties in Ecuador?
The biggest gay party in Ecuador is the annual Kika white party on the beach near the coastal town of Salinas.
We have a gay pride in Quito every June, which is also followed by a massive party at Kika. The Quito Pride has taken place every year without fail since 1998, when the law was changed to make homosexuality legal in Ecuador.
Over the last decade, we've seen more and more gay prides also taking place in the other major cities across Ecuador, especially in Guayaquil.
#8 Which destination in Ecuador do you think is the most gay friendly?
Quito and Guayaquil are the two major cities in the country with the largest gay scenes. In terms of an overall gay friendly destination, I'd say Montañita. This is a village by the coast, popular with surfers, famous for its bohemian vibe and very liberal attitude. It's like our own Las Vegas: anything goes!
When I visited Montañita with my ex-boyfriend, we felt extremely comfortable walking down the streets holding hands and being docile with each other in public. It also has a lot of foreigners here, especially from Argentina, Chile, USA and Europe.
#9 Where would you go for a romantic date or weekend?
My favourite romantic weekend destination is the SachaJi Wellness Ecolodge Retreat near Ibarra. It has a beautiful setting, 3,000m (9,850 ft) in the mountains, overlooking 2 volcanoes: Imbabura and Cotacachi, as well Lago San Pablo, the largest lake in Ecuador. They have an in-house restaurant with everything made from their garden and every meal is delicious!
For a romantic date in Quito, I recommend visiting our famous 200 metres (656ft) “El Panecillo” Madonna Virgin statue. It's located 3,000 metres (9,850 ft) high in the Andes and proudly overlooks my city. Then I recommend heading to the equator line at Mitad del Mundo followed by a romantic meal at the nearby El Crater restaurant, famous for its view across the Pulalahua volcano crater.
#10 What’s your favourite Ecuadorian food?
I love fritadas. This is fried pork (chancho) with mote (corn), fried plantain (banana) and sliced avocados.
I also love chaulafán, which is the Ecuadorian version of Chinese fried rice. We have a large Chinese community living in here in Ecuador and “chifas” is the name of our Chinese restaurants where you can get some delicious chaulafáns.
#11 Any local gay slang LGBT travellers need to know?
There are a few words we use in our gay family here in Quito:
- cachiloca: refers to a very masculine looking guy who is extremely feminine the moment he opens his mouth
- hola ñaña: is like “hey gurrl” – “ñaña” is originally a Kichwa indigenous word meaning “sister”
- que fuerte: literally meaning “how camp!”
- gordito/gordita: an ironic affectionate word for a fatty
- mojigatos: a hypocrite
- querida: honey
- oyefff: means “hey” – in Quito we add an elongated ffff sound to the end of words that end in a vowel. It’s such a defining characteristic of our Quiteño accent that others from around Ecuador jokingly refer to Quito as “Quitoffff”.
#12 Finally, we heard from various sources that Ecuadorian men are one of the most well-endowed in the world. What advice can you give gay travellers for coping with these 7 inch monsters?
Hahahahahaha…WELCOME TO ECUADOR BOYS!! That's all 🙂
If you want to connect with Mario, you can find him on Instagram.
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