June 16, 2015 at 10:50 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Three Central American trans advocates denied U.S. visas

Panama, civil society forum, Mixair Nolasco, Network of Transgender People of Panama, gay news, Washington Blade

Mixair Nolasco is one of three transgender rights advocates from Central America who were unable to obtain visas that would have allowed them to travel to D.C. this week for the Organization of American States’ General Assembly. (Photo courtesy of Marcelo Ernesto Ferreyra)

LGBT rights advocates have criticized the U.S. over the denial of visas to three transgender women who were invited to attend the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Washington this week.

Aldo Fernández Turitich of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, known by the Spanish acronym REDLACTRANS, told the Washington Blade during a June 12 interview at the Northwest D.C. offices of the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights that three of his colleagues were unable to receive visas from American officials in Guatemala, El Salvador and Panamá. He identified them as Stacy Vásquez Velásquez, Ambar Alvarado Alfaro and Mixair Nolasco.

Vásquez, Alvarado and Nolasco told the Blade on Monday during separate telephone and Skype interviews from their respective countries’ capital cities that they brought their passports, the formal invitation they received from the OAS to travel to Washington and other official documents to the U.S. embassies in order to apply for the necessary visas.

Vásquez said her visa interview at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City took place on June 2.

She said the woman with whom she spoke repeatedly asked her about unresolved “problems with the police” that she said she had in her native El Salvador before moving to Guatemala a decade ago where she is now a legal resident. The advocate maintains Salvadoran police arrested her “arbitrarily” in a market while she and a friend were walking through it.

“She was detained and then released,” Marcelo Ernesto Ferreyra of Heartland Alliance told the Blade. “She now lives in Guatemala, and there have been no problems in that respect.”

Fernández said that embassy officials denied Vásquez’s visa application based on this issue.

Alvarado told the Blade that she was asked similar questions during her initial interview at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador on June 8.

Ferreyra said Alvarado’s neighbor called the police after speaking with her about some “private issues.” He said officers “stopped her as they usually do with trans people and then released her, without bringing any criminal charges against her.”

Alvarado told the Blade the embassy called her on June 9 and told her she had to come back the next day for a second interview.

She said they asked her a series of questions about her interactions with the police. Alvarado said a female embassy staffer with whom she spoke used male pronouns to refer to her because the documents she brought with her had “the name that her parents gave her.”

“I told her that I am a transgender person and she told me okay, I understand,” said Alvarado.

Nolasco said as she spoke to the Blade from the offices of Grupo Génesis Panamá, a Panamanian LGBT advocacy group, that she brought the OAS invitation with her to the U.S. Embassy in Panama City in order to apply for a visa. The advocate said the woman who interviewed her on June 4 didn’t want to “see any letter.”

Nolasco said the same embassy staffer asked her three times what the OAS is.

“Perhaps she is a person who lacks respect,” asked Nolasco. “It seems to me that a person from a consulate who does not know what the OAS is was playing dumb.”

Nolasco told the Blade that embassy officials told her that they denied her visa application because she didn’t have “sufficient ties” to Panamá, even though she is a Panamanian citizen.

Nolasco said she “felt” the woman who interviewed her was anti-trans because of “her conduct,” but she didn’t explicitly use transphobic language. Vásquez — who still does not know whether her visa has been approved — told the Blade she feels “the actions” of the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador “in and of themselves were not directly transphobic.”

“The spaces inside the OAS are of the utmost importance for us,” she said.

REDLACTRANS and the Incidence LGBTTTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Transvestite and Intersex) Coalition in the Americas on June 11 issued a press release in which they criticized U.S. officials for denying visas to Nolasco, Alvarado and Vásquez.

“We express our profound rejection of the discrimination exercised by the U.S. consulates in Panamá, Guatemala and El Salvador to block and/or deny visas and prevent the participation of credentialed trans people as special invited guests to the 45th OAS General Assembly that is taking place in the city of Washington,” said the groups.

The two-day OAS General Assembly is slated to end on Tuesday.

Fernández told the Blade that this year’s OAS General Assembly is the first time that “activists, human rights defenders are not able to take part.” Vásquez said she was able to travel to Paraguay for last year’s OAS General Assembly because she did not need a visa to enter the country.

“We are talking about three people that come from three countries where human rights violations are grave,” Fernández told the Blade. “It was extremely important that these people were able to be here because it is an opportunity to be able to highlight (issues) with their government officials in order to promote laws and public policies with respect to the human rights of the trans population.”

Tracy Robinson, a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which the OAS created in 1959, told the Blade in a statement that her group’s LGBT Rapporteurship is “also aware of the situation.” She acknowledged the commission has little information on the reasons the U.S. or any other government has for denying a specific visa application.

The commission last November expressed concern over the inability of trans people to travel to D.C. in order to attend public hearings it held on human rights-related issues in the Americas.

“What matters is that states, while exercising their legitimate power to determine entry to their states by visa, have very close regard to the key importance of travel to the work of trans human rights defenders and broadening the respect for the human rights of trans persons,” Robinson told the Blade. “Secondly, since past discrimination may make many trans persons, on the face of it, seem to be less worthy or qualified for visas, it is vital that such applications be carefully reviewed to avoid the risk of indirect discrimination.”

Randy Berry, the special U.S. envoy to promote global LGBT rights, told the Blade on Monday during a conference call that he too is “aware of the situation.” He did not specifically discuss the cases of the three trans women, but he said he is confident that anti-trans discrimination was not a factor in the denial of their visas.

“I’m quite satisfied that there is not an issue of discrimination on the issue of gender identity,” Berry told the Blade. “As a policy point we work very, very hard against it.”

“Each individual has to qualify on their own personal basis,” he added. “There are elements that are associated with how a person qualifies that is individual and not related to their identity.”

Nolasco rejected Berry’s comments.

“Those comments are not realistic,” she said.

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

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