October 24, 2015 at 9:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
OAS commission holds hearings on LGBT rights in the Americas

Marcela Romero, Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, Juana Ramona Torres, Network of Sex Workers of Panama, Heartland Alliance, gay news, Washington Blade

Marcela Romero of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, right, speaks with Venus Tejada Fernández of the Panamanian Association of Transgender People at the offices of the Heartland Alliance on Oct. 18, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights this week held several hearings on anti-LGBT discrimination throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Juana Mora Cedeño of the Rainbow Project and Sisi Montiel, a transgender woman with the Free Rainbow Alliance of Cuba, on Oct. 19 spoke about the challenges they said they and other independent LGBT rights advocates face on the Communist island.

Mora acknowledged that Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, has highlighted LGBT issues in Cuba through the National Center for Sexual Education that she directs. Mora and Montiel nevertheless said rampant anti-LGBT discrimination outside of Havana, a lack of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV and racism against Cubans of African descent remain problems on the island in spite of the aforementioned advocacy.

Representatives of the Cuban government did not attend the hearing.

“We don’t have the support of anyone,” said Montiel.

Juana Mora Cedeño, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Juana Mora Cedeño spoke with the Washington Blade in May in Havana. The advocate earlier this year met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) while she was in the Cuban capital. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Commissioner Tracy Robinson acknowledged the National Center for Sexual Education, which is known by the Spanish acronym CENESEX, as she spoke to Montiel and Mora during the hearing.

“Human rights are not discretionary,” said Robinson. “They cannot be for some. They are for all.”

Venus Tejada Fernández and Mixair Nolasco of the Panamanian Association of Transgender People on Oct. 19 spoke to the commission about anti-trans police violence they say remains commonplace in Panama.

Tejada said Panamanian police routinely target trans women who they accuse of engaging in prostitution. She also highlighted a case where she said officers attacked a trans woman as she left a supermarket.

“Police officials of the state of Panama treat us in a humiliating and discriminatory way,” said Tejada.

Nolasco — a trans woman who was unable to receive a visa from the U.S. government to attend the Organization of American States General Assembly in Washington in June — urged the Panamanian government to make it easier for trans people to document their gender. She also called upon the Central American country to provide “access to justice to all trans people…and to guarantee all our rights.”

“I am a trans Panamanian citizen who seeks recognition of my identity, of my rights,” said Nolasco. “As trans people who clearly exist in Panama, we want to know true democracy and equality and equity.”

Marcela Romero of the Latin America and Caribbean Network of Trans People and five representatives of the Panamanian government also attended the hearing.

Farah Diva Urrutia of the Panamanian Ministry of Exterior Relations defended her country’s human rights record.

“The Republic of Panama considers that all rights are universal and indivisible,” she said.

Ritchie Maitland and Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe, co-founders of Groundation Grenada, an advocacy group on the Caribbean island nation of Grenada, also on Oct. 19 spoke with the commission about their country’s anti-sodomy law under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison.

Representatives of the Grenadian government did not attend the hearing.

Maitland told the Washington Blade on Oct. 18 during an interview at the D.C. office of the Heartland Alliance that Grenadian authorities as recently as 2013 charged a man under the colonial-era statute known as Section 431.

“For a lot of people there’s a myth that the laws are on the books are for symbolic purposes only and they weren’t used,” he said as Brooks-Smith-Lowe listened. “It’s important in a case like Grenada to make people see that people are in fact being persecuted.”

Advocates from the Dominican Republic on Friday spoke during a hearing that focused on the LGBT rights situation in the Caribbean country. Activists in Venezuela were among those who participated in a separate hearing earlier in the week that highlighted the mistreatment of human rights defenders in the country.

“I only want to thank the leaders of our movement for their work today, for representing our movement in such a wonderful way,” said Deivis Ventura, a gay Dominican advocate who is seeking a seat on the Santo Domingo Municipal Council in the country’s capital. “Today I feel very good. Through your hard work and courage, God protected your work ensuring that the dream of justice and equality will become a reality in our country.”

The Organization of American States, which is based in D.C., created the commission in 1959 as a way to promote human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere. 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.

The hearings took place less than a month after more than 300 LGBT rights advocates from across Latin America and the Caribbean attended a conference in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa that the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund co-sponsored.

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

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