March 20, 2015 at 10:11 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
OAS holds hearings on LGBT rights in the Americas

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Irvin Umaña of Comunidad Casabierta in Costa Rica, Aldo Dávila of the Asociación Gente Positiva in Guatemala and Yonatan Matheus of the LGBTI Network of Venezuela speak after a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in D.C. on March 17, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Organization of American States’ human rights commission this week held several hearings in D.C. that focused on LGBT rights in the Americas.

Aldo Dávila of Asociación Gente Positiva in Guatemala and Irvin Umaña of Comunidad Casabierta in Costa Rica on Tuesday during an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing highlighted the forced migration of LGBT people in Central America. The two men also discussed the persecution these migrants face because of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

“When we leave our countries, we are not seeking the American dream,” Umaña told members of the commission. “We are not seeking professional success. We are looking to save our lives.”

Umaña and Dávila during the hearing played a recorded interview with Alex, a gay man from Honduras who fled to Costa Rica.

Alex said he left his homeland after numerous attempts on his life.

The gay Honduran said he had to beg people for money and food on the streets of the Costa Rican capital of San José in order to survive when he arrived in the country. Alex now has a job and access to housing.

“We are not seeking glory,” said Alex. “We are only seeking well-being and that we are given an opportunity to succeed.”

Umaña and Dávila during the hearing presented a series of recommendations to the commission. These include Central American countries ensuring the protection of LGBT rights advocates and tackling “the impunity of crimes against life that are committed” in El Salvador and Honduras.

“We are able to confirm that these states practice homophobia,” said Dávila, referring to anti-LGBT rights abuses in the two aforementioned countries and Guatemala where he lives.

Anti-LGBT violence in Venezuela schools ‘alarming’

Quiteria Franco and Yonatan Matheus of the LGBTI Network of Venezuela on Tuesday during a separate hearing spoke about what they described as the deteriorating LGBT rights in the South American country.

Quiteria noted homophobic rhetoric from Venezuelan politicians and other high-ranking officials reached “alarming levels” between 2009-2013. She further highlighted the lack of legal recognition of same-sex couples, anti-LGBT hate crimes and continued persecution of advocates.

Matheus during the hearing noted some of the 46 people who were reported killed as a result of anti-LGBT hate crimes in Venezuela between 2009 and August 2013 were beheaded, burned or thrown into holes. He also highlighted the case of a gay high school student in the state of Aragua who received third-degree burns over 30 percent of his body in October 2012 when he was doused with gasoline and set on fire.

“The rate of violence for being LGBT in schools is alarming,” said Commissioner Rosa María Ortíz.

Matheus and Franco presented a series of recommendations to the Venezuelan government. These include guaranteeing the anti-discrimination provisions within the country’s constitution apply to LGBT Venezuelans, passage of laws that extend marriage and other rights to LGBT people and the creation of a special rapporteur to monitor the implementation of these actions.

Representatives of the Venezuelan government who took part in the hearing were quick to dismiss the advocates’ criticisms. They nevertheless pledged to address anti-LGBT discrimination in the South American country.

“We will do everything possible to make this happen,” said María Alejandra Díaz Marín, who represents the Venezuelan government on human rights-related issues.

Díaz during the hearing repeatedly held a copy of the Venezuelan Constitution as she spoke.

“There is an opportunity to sensitize the population,” she said.

Trinidadian advocates discuss gay rights efforts

LGBT rights advocates from the South American country of Paraguay on Tuesday also took part in a hearing on anti-transgender violence in their landlocked nation. Representatives of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People on Monday spoke during a separate hearing on the rights of trans women in the region.

Colin Robinson of CAISO, a Trinidadian LGBT advocacy group, and other advocates from Trinidad and Tobago on Friday discussed their efforts to add sexual orientation and HIV status to their nation’s anti-discrimination law.

Trinidad and Tobago is among the Caribbean and South American countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

Representatives of the Trinidadian government did not attend Friday’s hearing.

“We’re deeply disappointed that representatives of the state are not here,” said Robinson.

Commissioner Tracy Robinson expressed a similar sentiment.

“I deeply regret the absence of the state,” she said. “The commission welcomes the response of the state in writing or engagement with us otherwise.”

LGBT rights hearings ‘important’

Tracy Robinson on Tuesday described the hearing on LGBT migration in Central America as a “groundbreaking moment for the commission.”

“We often think of migration going all the way north,” she told Umaña and Dávila. “It’s important to recognize the obligations of all the OAS member states, not simply the countries in the north when they are the receiving countries to fully observe the human rights of these persons.”

The Washington-based OAS created the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which seeks to promote human rights throughout the Americas, in 1959. The body works closely with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The commission’s Unit on the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Persons formed in 2011.

“Politicians can’t be neutral to tolerance and hatred,” Tracy Robinson told the Washington Blade last September during a meeting of Latin American and Caribbean LGBT rights advocates in the Peruvian capital of Lima. “They actually have to create an enabling and a supportive environment in which persons can undertake rights and work on behalf of LGBTI persons.”

The hearings took place the same week the Caribbean Court of Justice heard a case that challenges immigration laws from Trinidad and Tobago and Belize that prevent gay men from entering their respective countries. New York Congressman Eliot Engel and five other members of the U.S. House of Representatives last week urged the U.S. Agency for International Development to fund LGBT advocacy efforts in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Dávila on Tuesday described the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing as “important.”

“They listen to us,” he told the Blade. “Hopefully the member states will take responsibility for migration.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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