Thursday, 22 April 2010

Fear and repression: LGB+T life in Honduras.

Source: LGF News

By Tanya O'Carroll

Walking through the dusty, claustrophobic streets of downtown Tegucigalpa (Honduras) it is impossible not to notice the graffiti that scars almost every building. Hurriedly spray-painted sentences such as ´get out coup makers´ and ´stop the repression´ really are the scars of this city - a city which 9 months ago witnessed the drama of Central America´s first military coup in two decades play out in the corridors of its streets.

The story of the coup last June 28th, in which democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was escorted from his house and country in his pyjamas at gunpoint is perhaps a weary one in the International press.
Since the almost unilateral recognition of the country's new president Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, it has been assumed that order and peace have been restored to the country. But what kind of order and peace?
Hundreds of members of the Honduran Resistence to the coup have been and continue to be targets of brutal repression. The persecution has been most obviously and painfully pronounced in the brutality directed at the country´s LGBT community.

APUVIMEH, which works for a better life for people living with and affected by HIV/Aids in Honduras, is a small organization that faced a mountain of difficult work before the coup; focused on campaigning for the availability and distribution of anti-retroviral drugs, education programmes and the running of a temporal hostel for people living with HIV/AIDS who come to the city to receive treatment.

The organization's headquarters is also a space for 60 LGBT young people who attend a variety of youth empowerment and social activities every day of the week.

However, since the coup, APUVIMEH, like other LGBT organizations in Honduras, has come to confront a terrifying new challenge; the targeted and brutal persecution of its staff and members.

In the past 8 months, 23 members of the Tegucigalpa LGBT community have been murdered. APUVIMEH itself, with a small dedicated staff of what was five last June has experienced the brutality first hand; one of its core staff members, 24 year old Walter Trochez, was murdered in a brutal attack on the 13th December 2009 for his involvement in the national resistance movement. Six other members have left the country fleeing state violence.

Ricardo Antonio Figueroa, Director of Projects at APUVIMEH, explains why members of the LGBT community have been forced to leave, just two days before his own departure from Honduras; "The office of human rights who has reviewed my case told me that I have to make the decision, to continue living in Honduras how it is now or, if I want emotional stability, to live outside the country because here it is certain I will live with the psychological and emotional damage which drives the repression."

It is this climate of fear which has most markedly impacted upon the LGBT community. 16 year old Amanda, a young transsexual from APUVIMEH´s youth group reiterates what it is has been like to live in Honduras since June.

Amanda says: "since the military coup there have been a lot of deaths. The people behind the coup killed our friend Walter for being part of the resistance and for being homosexual. I don't want to be another victim. I go out in the street and I am afraid."

The persecution against the LGBT community is more than just political. It reflects a worrying change in the attitude and policy of the Honduran government from that of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Fundamentalist religious groups have a large degree of influence within the elite interests that were behind the coup; the same groups who openly denounce homosexuality as a sickness.

"They are legalizing discrimination of gays", argues Ricardo Antonio Figueroa. This is the same President, who as previous head of the National Congress changed an article in the constitution to unequivocally condemn the legitimacy of same-sex marriages where previously the wording had been ambiguous. He is also the same President who ran his electoral campaign based on the slogan ´Zero Tolerance´.

The position of the new government towards the LGBT community has not just set back the struggle for recognizing LGBT rights, but it has sent a broader message to an already homophobic country. With yet another young transsexual being shot to death on the streets of Tegucigalpa only weeks ago (25th March), the wider fear that violence targeted against the gay community will go unpunished hangs heavy in the air for organizations such as APUVIMEH.

Despite the ongoing challenges of working as an LGBT organization, APUVIMEH continues to fight for a better life for the gay community in Honduras. They have recently established a leadership programme among the youth to give young people the knowledge and skills to actively defend their rights.

On Monday 5th April many of the youth members of the organization joined the wider resistance in a protest against the government, refusing to let their voices be suppressed.

"I believe we have a positive future in this country" argues Amanda "We will continue to demand change and the fulfillment of our rights to end the discrimination that we face in Honduras".

It is a hope that perhaps seems a long way off, but it is precisely young people like Amanda, provided they are given the resources and support, that will be able to achieve change for a new generation of Hondurans.

APUVIMEH is looking for International solidarity, volunteers, donations (particularly with regard to equipment for a telecentre for the youth empowerment group). To show your support contact
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