U.S. State Department funding for ‘drag theater’ at Cuenca education center draws media attention

Oct 25, 2022 | 8 comments

The U.S. State Department is defending a $20,600 grant to a Cuenca educational center, some of which supports live performances, including “drag theater shows,” saying it provides LGBTQ people an outlet “to express themselves freely and safely” in Ecuador.

An adult English class at the Abraham Lincoln Cultural Center.

Several U.S. news outlets reported the grant on Sept. 23 to the Centro Ecuatoriano Norteamericano Abraham Lincoln Center on Calle Presidente Borrero. One of the center’s missions is to “promote diversity and inclusion” in the region. The U.S. government has provided grants to the center for more than 60 years, a State Department Spokesman said.

He added that the Center is an educational institution that has taught English to tens-of-thousands of Ecuadorians over the years as well as offering classes in the U.S. history and culture.

The grant program being questioned, began Sept. 30 and runs until Aug. 31, 2023, will include “3 workshops,” “12 drag theater performances,” and a “2-minute documentary,” according to  the USASpending.gov website.

The State Department spokesperson said the grant is part of “a wide range of strategic programs in Ecuador that incorporate concepts from diversity, inclusion, and representation to equity and accessibility.”

“In September 2022, the U.S. Department of State awarded a grant to the Centro Cultural Ecuatoriano Norteamericano Abraham Lincoln, for a program that uses the arts to raise awareness about diversity and inclusion,” he said. “The program’s goal is to promote tolerance, and the arts provide new opportunities for LGBTQI+ Ecuadorians to express themselves freely and safely.”

“Facilitators and artists in Cuenca will collaborate with a local theater company in implementing workshops, creating customized plays, and producing a documentary video; the program will conclude in June 2023,” the spokesperson continued. “LGBTQI+ people across the globe deserve to live in societies free from targeted violence and discrimination.”

“Recent data suggest an alarming and deadly rise in violence against LGBTQI+ persons in Ecuador,” they added. “The program will advance key U.S. values of diversity and the inclusion of LGBTQI+ communities as well as promote the acceptance of communities that are disproportionately affected by violence.”

In 2016, the State Department awarded a $50,000 grant to Abraham Lincoln to promote the College Horizons program, which teaches English to young people of color. The year before, it awarded the school $234,000 to build a new auditorium.

A former instructor at the Center described the interest in the drag performances as “part of the ongoing hysteria and whackiness of U.S. politics.” He added: “This is a small part of what the Center is about but we don’t apologize for promoting inclusiveness and and fighting discrimination. Ecuador experiences high rates of violence against women, gay people and other minorities.”


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