A gay woman has taken control of the biggest city in Colombia, and she’s isn’t bothering to hide in the closet from the country’s conservative, mostly Catholic voters, either.
Claudia López kissed her partner amid a roaring crowd last weekend as she became the first woman to be elected mayor of Bogotá, a position considered second in importance only to the presidency, in a country known for its culture of machismo. She is now the first openly gay woman to be elected to that office throughout Latin America.
The 49-year-old won Sunday’s election with 35.21% of the votes, just beating out Liberal candidate Carlos Fernando Galán, who received 32.5% of the votes.
“I’m aware that I’ve received the fruit of the labor and fights of many generations, of many women,” López said in her victory speech. “They led the way for us to get here.”
López was raised by her mother in the working-class neighborhoods of Colombia’s sprawling capital, with five younger siblings. She worked as a housekeeper while getting her Masters in Public Administration and Urban Policy from Columbia University in New York and later earned a PhD in Political Science from Northwestern University.
Lopez first entered politics in 1989, during the mass student movement that followed the assassination of Colombian President Luis Carlos Galán. One of the most significant groups she was involved in became known as the ‘Seventh Ballot’ movement, credited for successfully forming a ‘Constituent National Assembly’ in 1990 to reform Colombia’s constitution.
Her victory was a reminder of those origins, as it was Galán’s son who López narrowly defeated in the race for Mayor.
“To the day in which a humble woman, who is the daughter of a teacher and diverse wins – for the first time – the second most important office elected by the people in the country,” López said during her victory speech.
Video captured by CNN affiliate Cablenoticias showed the moment Lopez won, kissing her partner Senator Angélica Lozano Sunday night, and sharing an emotional embrace with her mother. Both López and Lozano are affiliated with the center-left Green Alliance Party.
The news was also celebrated outside of Bogotá. Edward Gibson, López’s dissertation adviser at Northwestern University, called the victory “culturally transformative” in the university’s magazine.
“Claudia’s approach is celebratory and exciting,” Gibson said. “As a gay woman she will be culturally transformative and motivating to a lot of people who have felt left out of mainstream politics,”
“She projects an image of difference, the first female [to be elected Mayor], gay – I think that sends a very powerful signal that Bogotá is different,” said Julio Davila, a Professor of Urban Policy and International Development at University College London, who has done extensive research on urban development in Latin America.
Claudia Lopez ran on a platform of improving public education, supporting infrastructure, and fighting corruption in Colombia’s largest city. She has long been known for anti-graft activism: As a journalist and campaigner she worked to uncover a scandal involving the political influence of paramilitary groups, and campaigned in support of a 2018 referendum that ultimately failed but would have enforced more stringent anti-corruption measures.
“Colombia is the only country in which the same political families from the 20th Century are still governing in the 21st Century,” Lopez told CNN en Español, in an interview the day after she won.
She has also spoken up about her focus on equality. In her victory speech after winning the election, she spoke about her hopes to defeat racism, classism, and homophobia in the society.
“Colombia is a country that has advanced in many things but still it’s got a lot of machismo, it’s a very conservative country,” she told CNN en Español.