“Politicians can’t be neutral to tolerance and hatred,” Tracy Robinson told the Washington Blade after she spoke at a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean LGBT rights advocates in the Peruvian capital. “They actually have to create an enabling and a supportive environment in which persons can undertake rights work on behalf of LGBTI persons.”
Created by the Washington-based Organization of American States in 1959, the commission seeks to promote human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere. It works closely with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that the OAS established in 1959.
The commission’s Unit on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons formed in 2011.
Robinson, a Jamaican lawyer, has been a member of the OAS General Assembly since 2012. Her colleagues elected her chair of the commission in March.
Commission considering 50 LGBT petitions
Robinson told the Blade there are roughly 50 petitions before the commission from OAS member states in the Western Hemisphere that are at various stages of consideration. A number of LGBT rights advocates from the Bahamas, Honduras, Ecuador and other countries approached her after she spoke at the meeting to discuss cases they hope the commission will consider.
“They will help to develop standards, they will help to provide some clarity on what the norms are, what the expectations of states are and what the responsibility states have to remedy and repair violations,” Robinson told the Blade.
Robinson described the 2012 ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in favor of lesbian Chilean Judge Karen Atala who lost custody of her three daughters to her ex-husband seven years earlier because of her sexual orientation “as a landmark case I think for the Americas” and for the world.
The Mexican Supreme Court cited the Atala case in its 2013 decision that said a law banning same-sex marriage in the state of Oaxaca is unconstitutional.
A gay Mexican couple seeking the right to legally marry in their country in May filed a formal complaint with the commission. Three gay Chilean couples who are seeking to exchange vows in the South American country last November filed a lawsuit with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
“The court took a bold step in establishing an even more expansive human rights claims on behalf of LGBTI persons than was immediately before the court in [the Atala] case,” Robinson told the Blade. “More of those cases will help to clarify the situation, clarify the standards and help both activists and states to understand what is now needed to respond to the violations which we do see everyday.”
Anti-LGBT violence persists in spite of legal advances
Same-sex couples are able to legally marry in 19 states and D.C., Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico City, French Guiana, the French islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin and Saint Barthélemy and the Caribbean Netherlands that includes the islands of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius.
Lawmakers in the Mexican state of Coahuila last week overwhelmingly approved a same-sex marriage bill.
A handful of same-sex couples in Colombia have exchanged vows since July 2013, but the country’s anti-gay inspector general has challenged these unions in court.
The Ecuadorian government is currently in the process of implementing a law that will allow same-sex couples to legally register their civil unions. Peruvian and Chilean lawmakers are also considering the issue.
Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in 2012 signed what many advocates describe as the world’s most progressive transgender rights law that allows trans Argentinians to legally change their gender on official documents without surgery and an affidavit from a doctor or another medical provider. Cuba in 2008 began offering free sex-reassignment surgeries under the country’s national health care system, but LGBT rights advocates who oppose the Cuban government have previously pointed out to the Blade that less than 30 trans people have undergone the procedure on the island.
Peruvian Congressman Carlos Bruce, sponsor of a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in the South American country, in May came out as gay. Angélica Lozano, a former councilwoman in the Colombian capital of Bogotá, earlier this year became the first openly LGBT person elected to the Colombian Congress.
Anti-LGBT persecution and violence remain pervasive throughout the Western Hemisphere in spite these advances.
Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana.
United Belize Advocacy Movement, a Belizean HIV/AIDS group, in 2010 challenged the Central American country’s law that criminalizes homosexuality. Javed Jaghai, a Jamaican gay rights advocate, last month withdrew his lawsuit against the island’s anti-sodomy law because of concerns over his personal safety and that of his family.
A report from Global Rights, a Washington-based human rights organization, that Robinson and other commissioners discussed during a hearing last November said trans Brazilians accounted for slightly more than half of the 300 reported LGBT murder victims in the South American country in 2012. The group noted figures from the Brazilian Secretariat of Human Rights that estimate 52 percent of them were of color.
Nelson Arambú, an advocate from Honduras, told the Blade during an interview in New York earlier this summer that 176 LGBT Hondurans have been reported killed between a 2009 coup that toppled the Central American country’s president and May. These include Walter Tróchez, a prominent LGBT rights activist, and Erick Martínez, a gay journalist and activist.
Colombian LGBT rights advocates continue to express their outrage over the suicide of a gay teenager, Sergio Urrego, last month. Reports indicate that administrators of the high school the 16-year-old attended allegedly subjected him to anti-gay discrimination after a teacher saw a picture of Urrego kissing his boyfriend on his cell phone.
Robinson acknowledged to the Blade the state of LGBT rights in countries throughout the Americas and in the Caribbean is “really varied.” She said insecurity and anti-LGBT violence are “dominant” issues throughout the hemisphere.
“The initial work of the commission has focused on violence issues and my hope is that we’ll begin to see some results,” Robinson told the Blade. “Now the commission itself doesn’t create the change, but the hope is that we can support the work that defenders are doing, but also strengthening state accountability in relation to violence.”
Robinson conceded the commission has “very limited resources on the table” to conduct its work in support of LGBT rights. She nevertheless said she remains optimistic these issues will gain further traction in the region in the coming years.
“I think we’ll have more clarity on states’ responsibilities where there’s violence and particularly states’ responsibility where the violence is perpetrated both by state actors and by private individuals,” Robinson told the Blade. “My hope is that in the long run we will see a reduction in the levels of violence, we will see a reduction in the impunity which is now widespread for violence against LGBTI persons.”