September 9, 2015 at 11:50 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
El Salvador lawmakers approve enhanced hate crime penalties

El Salvador, Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, gay news, Washington Blade

Alex Peña, director of the Association of Transgender Men in El Salvador, was allegedly attacked by four police officers in June while returning home from a Pride celebration in the country’s capital of San Salvador. Lawmakers in the Central American country have approved two proposed amendments that would strengthen criminal penalties for hate crimes. (Photo courtesy of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad)

Lawmakers in El Salvador have approved two proposals that would enhance penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

El Mundo, a Salvadoran newspaper, reported that 75 members of the National Assembly on Sept. 3 approved the proposed reforms to the Central American country’s legal code.

Sin Etiquetas, a website that reports on the LGBT-specific issues in Latin America, reported that those who are convicted of killing someone because of their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, political affiliation or gender would face a sentence of between 30-60 years in prison under Article 129. The proposal would also classify a hate crime in which the victim dies as an aggravated homicide.

Sin Etiquetas reported those convicted of threatening a person because of their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation or gender would face between 3-6 years in prison under Article 155.

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, a Salvadoran advocacy group known by the Spanish acronym ESMULES, noted to the Washington Blade the passage of the proposed amendments is the first time that lawmakers in the Central American country have approved something that “expressly” extends protections to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This is a historic step forward without precedent,” said Ayala.

Anti-LGBT violence remains pervasive throughout El Salvador, which has one of Latin America’s highest murder rates.

Francela Méndez Rodríguez of Colectivo Alejandría, a Salvadoran trans advocacy group, was murdered in May while visiting a friend’s home outside the country’s capital of El Salvador.

Four police officers allegedly attacked Alex Peña, director of the Association of Transsexual Men of El Salvador, in June after a confrontation with a bus driver as he was returning home from a Pride celebration in San Salvador. Ayala told the Blade during a previous interview in D.C. that she suspects police officers broke into ESMULES’ office after she and other advocates publicly denounced the attack.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2013 held a hearing on anti-trans violence in El Salvador.

Ayala told the Blade she is optimistic that the proposed amendments will receive final approval from lawmakers later this month.

“This aggravating factor for hate crimes will serve to effectively slow to some extent the excessive violence against LGBT people that exists in El Salvador,” she said.

Andrea Ayala, Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad, El Salvador, gay news, Washington Blade

Andrea Ayala, executive director of Espacio de Mujeres Lesbianas por la Diversidad (ESMULES), a Salvadoran LGBT advocacy group. (Photo courtesy of ESMULES)

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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