TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — U.S. Ambassador to Honduras James Nealon on Friday said anti-LGBT violence and discrimination are indicative of the “very serious challenges” the country continues to face.
“They certainly affect members of the LGBT community, but they effect everyone,” he told the Washington Blade during an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. “It’s important to address these issues and try to help everyone. That said; we understand there are special challenges the LGBT community faces.”
Nealon told the Blade the embassy supports Honduran LGBT rights advocates through a number of programs and initiatives.
Two retired homicide detectives from New York and Chicago work with the Violent Crimes Task Force through the Honduran Public Ministry that investigates what Nealon described as “especially high profile and heinous crimes” against LGBT and other human rights advocates, U.S. citizens and journalists.
Nealon said impunity remains a serious problem in the Central American country.
“A large percentage of people who commit crimes here never end up doing time for that crime,” he told the Blade. “There are a lot of reasons for that. There are problems in every link of the chain from investigation all the way through conviction, so we’re trying to help Honduras address that impunity issue.”
No ‘pushback’ from Honduran government on LGBT issues
The Catrachas Network, a Honduran advocacy group, has received a $24,000 grant through the State Department that will allow it to undertake a study coverage of LGBT-specific issues in the country’s media. This funding will also allow the organization to publish a guide for journalists who want to report on these topics.
“They’re now a direct partner of ours,” said Nealon, referring to Catrachas.
Tim Wolff, director of “The Sons of Tennessee Williams,” a film that highlights New Orleans’ gay Mardi Gras, traveled to Honduras in late May at the invitation of the embassy to meet with university students and local advocates. Gay Long Beach (Calif.) Mayor Robert Garcia has also visited the country through the State Department’s Speaker Program.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is also working with advocates on how to improve the relationship they have with the Honduran government.
Francisco Martínez of the Honduran Secretary of External Affairs and Vice Minister of Human Rights and Justice Karla Cueva on Friday both spoke at the opening of an LGBT rights conference at a Tegucigalpa hotel the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund has co-sponsored.
Representatives of the Honduran government on Thursday attended a reception with advocates from across Latin America who are attending the conference. Randy Berry, the special U.S. envoy to promote global LGBT rights, and García also took part in the event.
Luis Velásquez and José Gaspar, two Honduran LGBT rights advocates, turned their backs to Martínez and Cueva as they spoke at the conference.
Local activists who took part in a conference they organized in Tegucigalpa on Thursday complained that existing laws do little to deter anti-LGBT discrimination. Many of them remain critical of the Honduran government for not doing enough to address discrimination and violence.
“They have a conciliatory tone towards the LGBTI community and towards vulnerable groups in general,” Velásquez told the Blade after he and Gaspar protested Martínez and Cueva. “But the state’s actions are rather repressive.”
The Honduran constitution bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The country does not have a law that specifically prohibits anti-LGBT hate crimes. Nealon told the Blade that the embassy has not faced any “pushback” from the country’s government over its efforts in support of LGBT-specific issues. He said the country’s influential Roman Catholic Church has also not publicly resisted these efforts.
“It hasn’t come up,” said Nealon.
Nealon ‘very proud’ of U.S. focus on global LGBT rights
The embassy’s efforts are taking place against the backdrop of the Obama administration’s decision to make LGBT rights a cornerstone of its foreign policy.
Obama on Monday referenced LGBT rights in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly. The president last month invited retired gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, among others, to a White House ceremony with Pope Francis.
Berry in April officially assumed his post within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. He joined six gay men who represent the U.S. in the Dominican Republic, Spain and Andorra, Denmark, Vietnam, Australia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as ambassadors.
The State Department and USAID coordinate the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership that is designed to promote LGBT rights around the world. The Obama administration nevertheless continues to face criticism from advocates who maintain it has not done enough to challenge countries with anti-LGBT rights records.
Nealon told the Blade he is “very proud” of the White House’s continued focus on global LGBT rights.
“As an ambassador one of your jobs is to deliver difficult messages sometimes or unpleasant messages or messages that you’re not comfortable delivering, but that’s not the case with these issues,” he said. “These are issues that we can all be proud of. We can all be proud of how far our country has come.”