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Friday, 1 April 2011

In Haiti, LGBT ignored post-earthquake

A man exits a restaurant after he looked for h...Image via Wikipedia
Source: International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

Violence and discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people has increased since the January 2010 earthquake, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and SEROvie said in a briefing paper issued today. The paper, The Impact of the Earthquake, and Relief and Recovery Programs on Haitian LGBT People (PDF), documents anti-LGBT human rights violations that have occurred since the earthquake.

“UN Agencies, private organizations, and governments must recognize the horrible impact of the Haiti disaster on LGBT people,” said Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s Executive Director. “While the needs of some marginalized groups are at least acknowledged, LGBT people are completely ignored.”

Perhaps most shocking, conservative religious leaders in Haiti even blame LGBT for the earthquake, leading to increased stigma and violence.

“In the days and weeks after the earthquake, we were shouted at in the streets…you gay people, take your sin and go, you are responsible for this tragedy’” said Reginal Dupont, Program Manager at SEROvie. “Many masisi were attacked, verbally and physically.”


This irrational blaming of LGBT people for natural disasters is a global phenomenon, with conservative evangelicals like Pat Robertson having blamed homosexuality for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as well as other natural disasters.

The findings detailed in IGLRHC/SEROvie briefing paper are based on more than 50 interviews conducted by IGLHRC and SEROvie in Haiti in April and September of 2010 with LGBT people and representatives of relief organizations, the United Nations and diplomatic missions in April 2010.

The much-needed security, health and community services provided by organizations such as SEROvie - rare enough before the quake - have been devastated and this has compounded the vulnerability of people whose lives were already characterized by secrecy, isolation, discrimination, and violence.

According to Reginald DuPont, SEROvie’s Program Manager, “Our center was a place for LGBT people to relax, obtain services, and find acceptance. The earthquake destroyed our offices, took the lives of fourteen young men, and deprived the community of a safe haven.”

IGLHRC and SEROvie acknowledge the devastation suffered by all Haitians but it is important to note that LGBT Haitians suffered a range of human rights violations, including those related to their right to security, in particular ways. “LGBT people rely on friends, family and trusted neighbors for security,” said Johnson, “The earthquake disrupted regular patterns of movement, scattered friends, families, and neighbors, and damaged or destroyed the doors, windows, and walls that had previously provided some measure of safety.”

As the briefing paper notes, the basic rights of LGBT Haitians were violated in other ways. Interviews with Haitians and international aid workers show how, for example, the well-intentioned policy of distributing emergency food rations to female heads-of-households had the unintended side-effect of excluding many gay men and transgender people living in families without an adult female. Many lesbian women living without male relatives or friends, although otherwise able to obtain food aid, were discouraged by chaotic and dangerous distribution lines.

This increased vulnerability of LGBT people in disasters and emergency response situations is not unique to Haiti, and IGLHRC and SEROvie draw on similar experiences from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in the US and the 2010 Chilean earthquake in the briefing paper’s conclusions and recommendations.

“While earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes and other natural phenomena will continue to occur, there is nothing natural or inevitable about the ways in which LGBT people are denied equal access to housing, food and security that could mitigate the impact of such disasters,” said Johnson.

IGLHRC and SEROvie urge the government of Haiti and other governments facing such disasters, as well as donors and aid agencies, to base relief and reconstruction efforts on the respect and promotion of all human rights, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, and to include LGBT organizations in relief and recovery efforts.
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