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Honduran gay leader appeals to U.S. for help

Palacios on U.S. tour raising awareness of 89 anti-LGBT murders

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Jose Pepe Palacios, gay news, Washington Blade
Jose Pepe Palacios, gay news, Washington Blade

Jose Pepe Palacios is scheduled to meet with members of Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s staff. (Photo courtesy Gay Liberation Network)

Jose Pepe Palacios says his mission is to inform the U.S. government and LGBT Americans that at least 89 LGBT people in Honduras, including gay rights advocates, have been murdered since military leaders ousted his country’s elected president in a 2009 coup.

Palacios, a resident of the capital city of Tegucigalpa, began a seven-city U.S. tour in Chicago on Jan. 30. He was scheduled to arrive in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, where, among other appearances, he was to speak on Friday at noon at a public gathering at the offices of the National Council of Churches at 110 Maryland Ave., N.E., on Capitol Hill.

He told the Washington Blade that he hopes to build support in the U.S. for a coalition of LGBT and progressive groups in his country that seek to peacefully challenge anti-democratic forces they believe are responsible for many of the murders.

“The Obama administration has said they will promote human rights and LGBT rights,” Palacios said. “And Hillary Clinton said that human rights are gay rights. So one of the reasons I’m doing this is to ask for support to pressure the Honduran government to investigate these cases and also to create awareness of the number of these cases.”

Palacios was scheduled to meet this week with members of the staff of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, which is one of the sponsors of Palacios’ U.S. tour, said human rights activists in Honduras believe many if not most of the LGBT murders following the 2009 coup were motivated by political retribution. According to Thayer, a majority of the LGBT community in Honduras has been supportive of a resistance movement that has opposed the post-coup government and participates in demonstrations against government leaders.

Palacios said that among the LGBT people murdered since the coup were gay activist Walter Torchez and gay candidate for the Honduran Congress, Eric Martinez Alvia, an organizer for the Liberty and Refoundation Party, or LIBRE, which represents many of the resistance groups protesting against the current government.

Palacios is a founding member of Diversity Movement in Resistance (MDR), an LGBT advocacy organization. He is also a member of the National Steering Committee of the Honduras National Front of Popular Resistance (NRP), which has staged protest demonstrations against the government.

Thayer called the LGBT murders “a systematic campaign of targeted hate crimes and political assassination.” He said that as the country gears up for its first contested election since the coup, set to take place in November, “many fear that the violence will get even worse.”

The LGBT murders come at a time when Honduras has the distinction of having the highest murder rate of any country in the world. The U.S. State Department’s country report on Honduras says many of the murders are related to warring drug cartels and abject poverty that forces desperate people to commit armed robberies often resulting in killings.

The report acknowledges that some of the murders are due to political rivalries. Human rights observers have said corrupt police officers or law enforcement officials allied with entrenched political factions are also believed to be responsible for some of the murders, including the slayings of LGBT activists.

Palacios said that of the 89 LGBT murders since 2009, 52 of the victims were transgender women.

“The United States is focused on helping the Honduran government combat impunity, resolve murder cases, reform the Honduran police, and strengthen human rights institutions,” said Evan Owen, press officer for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

The 2009 coup, which resulted in the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya, took place amid a constitutional dispute over whether Zelaya had authority to call a non-binding referendum to determine whether public support existed to hold a constitutional convention and make significant changes in the nation’s political system.

As an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Zelaya’s move toward constitutional changes alarmed the conservative factions in the country, who feared he would put in place a Chavez-style socialist government. Supporters, including many LGBT activists, believed Zelaya was seeking to make needed reforms to lift the majority of the country’s population from conditions of poverty and despair.

The Obama administration denounced the coup and called for an immediate restoration of the country’s democratic institutions. But activists in the U.S. and Honduras have said the U.S. appeared to have been privately supportive of the coup. Palacios said it is widely known in the country that Honduran military leaders, who took Zelaya into custody, flew him to a U.S. military base in Honduras before flying him to Costa Rica, where he remained in exile for several years.

Further suspicions of U.S. motives surfaced a few months later, when the U.S. gave its backing to elections called and arranged by coup leaders under supervision of international observers. The country’s current president, Porfirio Lobo of the conservative National Party, won that election.

Owen of the State Department declined to comment on allegations by activists that the U.S. support for the current government was giving tacit support for violence against gays and others by corrupt elements, including police, associated with the government.

“We strongly support the rule of law and respect for the constitutional separation of powers as well as a fair and transparent democratic process,” Owen said of the U.S. policy toward Honduras. He said the U.S., among other things, is providing assistance to the Honduran government to “strengthen its investigative capacity” to combat possible human rights abuses.

With that as a backdrop, the left-leaning LIBRE Party last year nominated through a primary election Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, as its candidate for president in the November 2013 election. In a development that has thrilled LGBT activists, including Palacios, the LGBT supportive Castro (who’s not related to Cuba’s Fidel Castro) has emerged as the leading candidate in a Gallup Poll conducted in January.

Her husband, who can’t run for president under the constitution’s term limit provision, is running for a seat in the Congress.

In what LGBT advocates consider a historic development, a transgender woman and an openly gay man ran in last year’s primary for congressional seats as LIBRE candidates. Both lost their races, but Palacios called their candidacies and the LIBRE party’s support for LGBT equality a major advance for his country.

With the candidates from the two longstanding “establishment” parties — the right-wing National Party and the center-right Liberal Party — trailing Castro in the polls, Palacios said he fears conservative forces will manufacture a “crisis” in an attempt to postpone or cancel the election. None of the other candidates have expressed support for LGBT rights, Palacios said.

“That’s why we are asking a number of organizations from the international community to go in delegations in November to observe the electoral process and make sure it’s a just process.”

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The White House

Senate confirms Biden’s 200th judicial nominee

Diverse group includes 11 LGBTQ judges

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Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden at the White House on Jan. 5, 2023. (Screenshot via White House YouTube channel)

With the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of his 200th judicial nominee on Wednesday, President Joe Biden surpassed the number who were appointed to the federal bench by his last two predecessors at this point in their presidencies.

Among them are 11 LGBTQ judges, the same record-setting number who were nominated and confirmed under former President Barack Obama over the course of his two terms in office.

In a statement celebrating the milestone, Biden highlighted the diverse identities, backgrounds, and professional experiences of the men and women he has appointed over the past four years.

They “come from every walk of life, and collectively, they form the most diverse group of judicial appointees ever put forward by a president,” he said, noting that “64 percent are women and 62 percent are people of color.”

“Before their appointment to the bench, they worked in every field of law,” Biden said, “from labor lawyers fighting for working people to civil rights lawyers fighting to protect the right to vote.”

The president added, “Judges matter. These men and women have the power to uphold basic rights or to roll them back. They hear cases that decide whether women have the freedom to make their own reproductive healthcare decisions; whether Americans have the freedom to cast their ballots; whether workers have the freedom to unionize and make a living wage for their families; and whether children have the freedom to breathe clean air and drink clean water.”

The LGBTQ judges who were confirmed under Biden include Beth Robinson, the first LGBTQ woman to serve on a federal court of appeals, Nicole Berner, the 4th Circuit’s first LGBTQ judge, Charlotte Sweeney, the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal district court west of the Mississippi River, and Melissa DuBose, the first Black and the first LGBTQ judge to serve on a federal court in Rhode Island.

Echoing the president’s comments during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted Biden’s appointment of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Black woman, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We’ve confirmed more Hispanic judges circuit courts than any previous administration,” she said. “We’ve confirmed more Black women to circuit courts than all previous presidents combined.”

Jean-Pierre added that while these milestones are “great news,” there is still “much more work to be done.”

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South America

La Pesada Subversiva battles anti-LGBTQ digital violence in Bolivia

Santa Cruz-based collective is trans, feminist, and sexually diverse

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Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

In Bolivia, the collective La Pesada Subversiva faced an onslaught of digital violence they could have never imagined after showcasing their LGBTQ artwork. Thanks to Hivos’ Digital Defenders Partnership, they received critical support and training to protect themselves, and now have tools to fight against online aggression.

La Pesada Subversiva (The Subversive Troublemakers), a trans, feminist, and sexually diverse collective in Bolivia, has emerged as a form of resistance to patriarchy and gender-based violence. Founded in 2018 in Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s most conservative regions, the collective uses various art forms — audiovisual, writing, street happenings, and social media content — to express their views in demonstrations, protests, and the virtual realm.

Cristian Egüez (he/him), one of the founders, explains, “In this region, far-right and ultra-religious narratives are prevalent, pushed by very conservative authorities. In such a tough context, collectives are needed with the courage to confront them and maintain a critical approach to the violence that occurs.” 

Pride Month and ensuing violence

The Altillo Benni Museum, the largest in the city, commemorated Pride Month for the first time on June 1, 2022. They opened an LGBTQ art exhibition called “Revolución Orgullo” or “Pride Revolution” led by La Pesada Subversiva. The collective’s groundbreaking LGBTQ art exhibition faced vehement opposition.

“We adorned the museum facade with trans and LGBTIQ+ flags,” Egüez recounts, “but it lasted less than a day because a group of neighbors came to protest violently and aggressively.” 

Despite this, the exhibition attracted over 400 visitors, demonstrating growing public support for their cause. 

Confronting online harassment

To the collective’s surprise, the museum’s director defended the exhibition, stating that no artwork would be removed, and the exhibition would remain until the end of the month. But then an unimaginable wave of digital violence hit them. Egüez recalls the aftermath: “The event left us emotionally devastated. Throughout that year, every day, we had to endure threats and harassment online.” 

Alejandra Menacho (she/her), another founder of La Pesada Subversiva, shares her experience, saying, “They threatened to rape me, to teach me how to be a woman. It overwhelmed us; it started to really hurt because we felt … everything we said or did was being surveilled.” The collective faced constant harassment on social media, with anti-rights groups monitoring their activities and scaring them with false threats.

Seeking protection from the Digital Defenders Partnership

As the onslaught escalated, the collective sought refuge and support. They applied for a grant from the DDP to get digital protection and security. With DDP’s assistance, they underwent comprehensive training in digital security measures, enabling them to protect their online presence effectively. The members learned to protect themselves and their accounts, not to publish certain things, and to be cautious about disclosing their whereabouts. DDP’s training gave them a comprehensive understanding of digital security tools and provided clear guidelines for dealing with future incidents and how to report them. 

In addition to these digital security skills, they learned physical self-defense techniques, blending martial arts with a feminist approach. 

“This has strengthened us immensely. Now we understand digital security holistically and are always safeguarding our networks,” Menacho emphasizes. 

Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

The ongoing struggle of online resilience

Despite the challenges, La Pesada Subversiva remains steadfast in their mission. 

“Digital security must be integrated across the board; it’s not something you attend a workshop for and forget. It must be practiced continually,” Egüez asserts. 

For Menacho, even though she has experienced a lot of frustration and anger, learning to combine these digital tools with psychology and art has helped her express themselves and achieve emotional balance. 

“Because we are rebellious, we want to do these things. Also, because we don’t want these injustices to continue in Santa Cruz. That’s why we keep coming back and reinventing ourselves,” Menacho said. 

La Pesada Subversiva’s journey exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalized communities in the face of adversity. Through collective empowerment and solidarity, they navigate the complexities of digital violence, emerging stronger and more united in their pursuit of equality and justice. 

The Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP), managed by Hivos, is an emergency grant mechanism for digital activists under threat launched by the Freedom Online Coalition in 2012. It provides a holistic response to digital threats and creates resilient and sustainable networks of support to human rights defenders.

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District of Columbia

60,000 expected for annual D.C. Black Pride this weekend

Celebration includes educational workshops, social events, more

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A scene from last year’s Black Pride celebration. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The 33rd annual D.C. Black Pride festival and celebration is scheduled to take place May 23-27 during Memorial Day weekend with at least 60,000 people from the D.C. metro area and across the country and some from abroad expected to attend.

Like in recent years, most of the events are scheduled to take place at the Westin Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel at 999 9th St., N.W.

Although the official DC Black Pride Opening Reception is scheduled to take place Friday, May 24, at the Westin Hotel with live entertainment, an online schedule of events shows that earlier events, including a Mr. & Miss DC Black Pride Pageant and the 8th annual DC Black Pride Unity Ball, were scheduled to take place Thursday, May 23 at the Westin.

Also similar to recent past years, a Rainbow Row: Organization & Vendor Expo will open at the hotel at 5 p.m. on May 25 and remain open most of the time throughout the weekend events. The Rainbow Row includes booths and tables set up by local and national LGBTQ organizations and LGBTQ-supportive allied organizations and businesses.

According to the official schedule, the Opening Reception will include performances by Paris Sashay, Keith Angels, Bang Garcon, Black Assets, Marcy Smiles, and Sherri Amoure and will be hosted by the “DMV’s own Anthony Oake” and the “legendary DJ Sedrick will be spinning all night.”

The schedule shows that 11 individual workshop sessions will take place at the hotel throughout the day on Saturday, May 25. Among the workshop titles are Drag Chronicles: From Artform to Activism; Self-Care and Self-Compassion; Sexpectations: Navigating Sexual & Romantic Compatibility While Dating; Advocating for Black LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care; Queering Theology: Black Pride in the Pews; What is the L?! All Things Lesbian; and Primary Sources: Elders Sharing Our Histories.

Two official outdoor events include Pride by the River Super Sunday scheduled for Sunday, May 26, from 12-8 p.m. at D.C.’s Anacostia Park at 1500 Anacostia Dr., S.E. presented by the local group Project Brings; and the annual Pride In The Park set for Monday, May 27, at D.C.’s Fort Dupont Park, 1500 Anacostia Dr., S.E., presented by the local community services group Us Helping Us.

Some of the other numerous events, aside from several evening parties at popular D.C. nightclubs, include a Wellness Pavilion, a Poetry Slam, a Writer’s Forum, and a Faith Service.

A statement released by the D.C.-based Center for Black Equity, which organizes the D.C. Black Pride events, notes that the first D.C. Black Pride was held May 25, 1991, and organized by local Black gay activists Welmore Cook, Theodore Kirkland and Ernest Hopkins, became the “catalyst for what is now regarded as the Black Pride Movement.”

It notes that, among other things, the first D.C. Black Pride event and Black Pride events in subsequent years raised funds for HIV/AIDS organizations that provided services to the African-American community in D.C. and the surrounding area.

The statement adds, “Since its birth, more than 50 other Black Pride celebrations now take place throughout the world, many using DC Black Pride as its model.”

And like in past years, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued an official mayoral proclamation declaring May 20-27, 2024, DC Black Pride Week.

The full schedule for DC Black Pride 2024 events can be accessed at dcblackpride.org/schedule.htm.

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