Two men in their early 20s were dancing perreo, which roughly translates into “doggy style” in English, in one corner of the downstairs dance floor as Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” played. Couples — same- and opposite-sex and men and women — danced to bachata and salsa on both floors. Lady Gaga, Celia Cruz, Shakira, Marc Anthony, Britney Spears and Chicas Roland are among the other singers to whom the well-dressed crowd danced throughout the night.
Dance Floor could have been a gay club in Lima, Santo Domingo, Havana or in any other Latin American city. Yet it is in San Pedro Sula, which is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Statistics indicate San Pedro Sula had 171.2 murders per 100,000 people in 2015, which made it the most dangerous city in the world that is not in a war zone. The murder rate of Caracas, Venezuela, was higher than San Pedro Sula’s last year, but the city that generates more than 60 percent of Honduras’ gross domestic product still had 111.03 homicides per 100,000 people.
The FBI indicates that D.C., for comparison, had 16.6 murders per 100,000 people in 2014.
Maras (street gangs) and drug traffickers are largely responsible for the violence that is concentrated in San Pedro Sula’s poor neighborhoods. Cattrachas, a Honduran advocacy group, notes members of the country’s military and Policia Militar (Military Police) routinely commit human rights abuses.
San Pedro Sula residents — taxi drivers and others — insist the violence occurs throughout the city. Signs of the toll that it has taken are on clear display throughout San Pedro Sula.
An armed guard wearing a bulletproof vest stands in front of the entrance to San Pedro Sula’s cathedral. Signs inside the building tell parishioners and visitors they are under video surveillance out of “respect of this holy place and for everyone’s security.”
A sign at Dance Floor’s entrance says weapons and minors are not allowed inside the club. A security guard pats down each patron before he or she is allowed to enter.
Aside from endless reports of murders on Honduran television and in the country’s newspapers, the only time I personally experienced anything that may resemble San Pedro Sula’s unsavory side was when I saw a young man with a large machine gun get out of a pick-up truck after an unconscious woman who had been pulled out of the back seat of a car was placed inside of it. This incident happened shortly after 10 p.m. on Feb. 7 as a van that was driving a handful of other people and me to a hotel from the airport.
Avianca cancelled our flight from El Salvador to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa earlier in the day because the flight crew could not fly from Guatemala City because of a helicopter that crashed onto the airport’s runway. The incident that we saw on the road left us somewhat confused and shaken, but we safely arrived at our hotel a short time later.
The two local LGBT rights advocates who I interviewed in San Pedro Sula on Friday have a far more personal connection to the violence that has ravaged their city.
Freddy Funez worked closely with Comunidad Gay Sampedrana President René Martínez, who was strangled to death near his home in San Pedro Sula’s Chamalecón neighborhood in June 2016.
Another activist on Friday said during an interview at her office in San Pedro Sula’s Barrio Guamilito that she has had two attempts on her life in the last year. The activist also spoke about police who routinely try to extort money from trans women who engage in sex work because there are no other employment opportunities available to them.
Many San Pedro Sula residents — LGBT or otherwise — feel as though they have no other choice than to flee their city and migrate to the U.S. These people are not rapists, drug dealers or criminals. They are human beings who simply want a chance to live and work with dignity and without the constant fear of violence.
Dance Floor seemed as though it was an oasis of sorts for those who were there on a Saturday night.
It was a temporarily escape of sorts from the harsh realities of San Pedro Sula for those who are able to afford the L100 ($4.24) cover charge. It also provided a glimpse of normality in a city that too often lacks it.