By Jennifer Ann Thomas
April 15 (Openly) - The first lesbian elected to Peru's Congress has pledged to put up a "strong battle" for LGBT+ rights in the Andean nation as two social conservatives go head-to-head for a presidential run-off vote in June.
Susel Paredes, who will become the country's only openly LGBT+ lawmaker, was elected on Sunday following two previous unsuccessful congressional runs - achieving the most votes of any female candidate.
But she was cautious about the chances of broader LGBT+ gains following the outcome of Sunday's presidential election, which pits socialist candidate Pedro Castillo against right-wing Keiko Fujimori in a second-round decider.
"We're in the middle of a crossfire between right-wing and left-wing fundamentalists," said Paredes, 57, a lawyer who specialises in women's and LGBT+ rights and belongs to the centrist Morado Party.
"But we're going to fight a very strong battle. Strategic litigation will be crucial."
Same-sex couples are not allowed to marry in conservative Peru, in contrast to other nations in South America, including Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia, which have legalized gay marriage in recent years.
Transgender people cannot change their legal gender and there are no restrictions on so-called LGBT+ conversion therapies, which aim to alter a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Besides tackling those issues, Paredes said the country should have a quota system to guarantee jobs for trans people and called for tougher penalties for hate crimes related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Sunday's surprise first-round winner Castillo, a primary school teacher and union leader, has expressed opposition to legalising gay marriage, while Fujimori has said she is against same-sex unions and adoption.
Fujimori is the daughter of imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori, who was convicted of human rights crimes and corruption in 2009.
"If either of them is elected, it will be a problem for us LGBT+ people. Progress will have to be made with judicialization to guarantee rights in Peru's Supreme Court," said Paredes, who is fighting in the courts to have her overseas marriage recognized in Peru.
She married her partner, also a lawyer, four years ago in the United States.
"We already won the first court case and now we're going to fight in the second court. That's why I believe in litigation beyond the walls of the Congress," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone on Wednesday.
"I always say that I hope my marriage will last longer than my lawsuit against the Peruvian state," she said. "My life is about the fight for our rights."
(Reporting by Jennifer Ann Thomas; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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