“Be Visible, Be Strong, and Be Proud”: Diplomat Karl Mercer’s Motto
“I am an openly gay diplomat,” says Karl Marcer, vice-consul at the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, with pride. Karl is aware that visibility is the main tool to reinforce that the LGBTQI+ community exists and that its members have the same rights as everyone else. For this reason, “being visible, being strong, and being proud” is the perfect motto that defines this young diplomat and activist.
Tall, blond, and blue-eyed, Karl cannot go unnoticed and even more so when in June 2021 his image went viral as he greeted Bolivians in Aymara to celebrate the Andean, Amazonian, and Chaco New Year. To close out Pride Month celebrations at the U.S. Embassy, Karl opened up in an interview about his experiences.
Karl was born and raised in a very conservative rural area in the state of Virginia. “To get out of the closet at the age of 17, I had to have a lot of courage, as well as pride,” he recalls with a smile. But it was a decision he never regretted. “For me, living in the dark is much more difficult than living out of the closet. My family and friends accepted me without any problems,” he remembers.
“I was bullied at school. Sometimes people can hurt you a lot with words, but I think that a free and authentic life is worth more than the hurtful comments of certain people. There is nothing to be ashamed of or to feel bad about being different,” he reflects.
Karl knows very well that visibility exposes you to harassment. For this reason, he encourages adolescents and young people who suffer bullying at school, in their communities, or in their families to be strong and to never stop being proud of who they are.
He is a fan of country music and comics, especially Marvel’s X-Men. “It was a world where human beings felt hatred and fear in the face of mutants, because mutants had supernatural powers. For me, that was my story. A gay guy in a conservative community,” he notes.
Karl was married to a man, but his marriage did not last. He has a daughter, whom he brought to Bolivia so that she can learn about the culture that has captivated him. “I support gay marriage because it is an option for two people of the same sex who love each other. In addition, it eases many legal issues. On the other hand, having a child is magical and gay and lesbian couples also have the right to experience that joy,” he says.
Bolivia is the third country in Karl’s diplomatic career. He arrived in La Paz in the middle of the pandemic and used his free time during confinement to learn Aymara. “I’m not an expert and I don’t speak it perfectly, but it’s a language that I love because it’s full of culture and history,” he says.
Seeing the multicolored flag that flew from the flagpole of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz throughout the month of June, Karl reflects on how the historic Stonewall riots in New York, when the gay community rebelled against police abuse more than half a century ago, have borne fruit and changed the lives of millions of people around the world, including his.