|Vigil in front of Honduran Parliament|
By Alejandro F. Ludeña
While the communities around the world celebrate Gay Pride Day on June 28, the date is infamous in Honduras.
Forty years after the Stonewall riots, when a group of homosexuals stood up to police to fight a raid on a New York City bar, a milestone for the gay movement, that day Honduras saw the Americas’ first coup d’état of the 21st century. In the aftermath, a slew of human rights violations occurred, many of them violence against Honduras’ gay community.
Homophobia in Honduras, sadly, is rampant. Attacks against homosexuals were worrying way before the coup.
In May 2009, one month before the coup that unseated President Manuel Zelaya, who governed from 2006 to 2009, US rights organization Human Rights Watch warned that Honduran police systematically abused homosexual Hondurans.
The report recommended that Zelaya’s then government investigate the wave of violence against homosexual and transgendered Hondurans and reports of police brutality, extortion and other abuses and find those responsible.
But after Zelaya was ousted, the crimes grew in number exponentially. According to data from Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based on local Honduran sexual defense groups, at least 38 people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities were killed since the coup. Most victims were transgendered prostitutes on the streets of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the country’s largest cities.
The reason violence is escalating against the LGBT community is not clear due to a lack of police investigation and social indifference to the crimes this group is facing.
“We knew what a coup meant and how that would harm us. That’s why we protested against [the coup],” said Iván Banegas, coordinator of the group Colectivo Violeta, an LGBT rights group.He said that after the coup, another problem was that the community gained visibility.
“After the coup, the army and police came down especially hard on the transsexuals, many of whom live on prostitution and were in the streets in the middle of the curfews,” he said.One of the most emblematic cases was that of Walter Trochez, last Dec. 13. He was gunned down while in the center of the capital. Nine days earlier, he had been kidnapped and tortured, but his captors had set him free. A human rights activist, Trochez was one of the most prominent voices against homophobic crimes after the coup.
For Sally Valladares, a lawyer at the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights, most of the crimes were politically motivated.
“The police had come down on those who defended human rights, including those of the LGBT community,” she said.The Honduran government has recognized the LGBT community’s vulnerability and has promised a greater effort to stop these crimes and discrimination. Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda said then that “homophobia is a reprehensible act from every point of view when it is an individual doing it, but even worse when it is because of an action or lack thereof by a state servant.”
International pressure for investigation
According to Banegas, the government of President Porfirio Lobo has approached leaders in the LGBT community to work on how to adapt the criminal code so hate crimes based on sexual preference are explicitly punished.
Donny Reyes, coordinator of the Arcoiris Association — or “Rainbow Association” — an LGBT rights group, is more skeptical.
“As of today, there is nothing concrete in place to fight the discrimination that we suffer,” he told Latinamerica Press.Crimes against homosexuals and journalists have caught the attention of the United States. Eleven journalists were murdered between March 2010 and May 2011. The US embassy has repeatedly called on Honduran authorities and has even sent FBI agents at Lobo’s request to help with the investigations into the murders of members of the country’s most vulnerable groups.
Some lawmakers, like Christian-Democrat Orle Solís, president of the Human Rights Commission in the Parliament, consider this type of measures a sign that the state is willing to fight hate crimes. But Reyes dismissed them as superficial and that the FBI investigations rarely go anywhere.
“When the FBI leaves, we’ll be the same or worse,” he said.Valladares, for his part, believes that the government is not really committed to solving these crimes and is just reacting to international pressure. “The respect and protection of the LGBT community is not in the agenda of this government,” she said.
It is unclear whether other political groups, like the newly founded Broad Front, the electoral arm of the National Popular Resistance Front, a movement formed by opponents to the coup, will be able to combat a deeply-seed homophobia in Honduran society.
“Even within the Resistance, where we are and want to be, we’ll have to work very hard to defeat homophobia,” said Reyes.The fight for tolerance will not affect only members of the LGBT community. In a society based on the lack of respect for differences and authoritarianism of the politically powerful, the battle for respect of sexual diversity is the tip of the iceberg to fighting intolerance.
“It’s a fight against all forms of discrimination,” said Banegas. “We don’t only want change for our collective, but for all Hondurans.”