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Gay club provides normalcy in one of world’s most dangerous cities

Gang, drug violence rampant in San Pedro Sula, Honduras

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Dance Floor, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, gay news, Washington Blade

One of the dance floors at Dance Floor, a gay club in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Feb. 11, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — The two dance floors at Dance Floor, a gay club in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula’s Zona Viva, were full of people shortly before 11:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Two men in their early 20s were dancing perreo, which roughly translates into “doggy style” in English, in one corner of the downstairs dance floor as Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” played. Couples — same- and opposite-sex and men and women — danced to bachata and salsa on both floors. Lady Gaga, Celia Cruz, Shakira, Marc Anthony, Britney Spears and Chicas Roland are among the other singers to whom the well-dressed crowd danced throughout the night.

Dance Floor could have been a gay club in Lima, Santo Domingo, Havana or in any other Latin American city. Yet it is in San Pedro Sula, which is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Statistics indicate San Pedro Sula had 171.2 murders per 100,000 people in 2015, which made it the most dangerous city in the world that is not in a war zone. The murder rate of Caracas, Venezuela, was higher than San Pedro Sula’s last year, but the city that generates more than 60 percent of Honduras’ gross domestic product still had 111.03 homicides per 100,000 people.

The FBI indicates that D.C., for comparison, had 16.6 murders per 100,000 people in 2014.

Maras (street gangs) and drug traffickers are largely responsible for the violence that is concentrated in San Pedro Sula’s poor neighborhoods. Cattrachas, a Honduran advocacy group, notes members of the country’s military and Policia Militar (Military Police) routinely commit human rights abuses.

San Pedro Sula residents — taxi drivers and others — insist the violence occurs throughout the city. Signs of the toll that it has taken are on clear display throughout San Pedro Sula.

An armed guard wearing a bulletproof vest stands in front of the entrance to San Pedro Sula’s cathedral. Signs inside the building tell parishioners and visitors they are under video surveillance out of “respect of this holy place and for everyone’s security.”

A sign at Dance Floor’s entrance says weapons and minors are not allowed inside the club. A security guard pats down each patron before he or she is allowed to enter.

Aside from endless reports of murders on Honduran television and in the country’s newspapers, the only time I personally experienced anything that may resemble San Pedro Sula’s unsavory side was when I saw a young man with a large machine gun get out of a pick-up truck after an unconscious woman who had been pulled out of the back seat of a car was placed inside of it. This incident happened shortly after 10 p.m. on Feb. 7 as a van that was driving a handful of other people and me to a hotel from the airport.

Avianca cancelled our flight from El Salvador to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa earlier in the day because the flight crew could not fly from Guatemala City because of a helicopter that crashed onto the airport’s runway. The incident that we saw on the road left us somewhat confused and shaken, but we safely arrived at our hotel a short time later.

The two local LGBT rights advocates who I interviewed in San Pedro Sula on Friday have a far more personal connection to the violence that has ravaged their city.

Freddy Funez worked closely with Comunidad Gay Sampedrana President René Martínez, who was strangled to death near his home in San Pedro Sula’s Chamalecón neighborhood in June 2016.

Another activist on Friday said during an interview at her office in San Pedro Sula’s Barrio Guamilito that she has had two attempts on her life in the last year. The activist also spoke about police who routinely try to extort money from trans women who engage in sex work because there are no other employment opportunities available to them.

Many San Pedro Sula residents — LGBT or otherwise — feel as though they have no other choice than to flee their city and migrate to the U.S. These people are not rapists, drug dealers or criminals. They are human beings who simply want a chance to live and work with dignity and without the constant fear of violence.

Dance Floor seemed as though it was an oasis of sorts for those who were there on a Saturday night.

It was a temporarily escape of sorts from the harsh realities of San Pedro Sula for those who are able to afford the L100 ($4.24) cover charge. It also provided a glimpse of normality in a city that too often lacks it.

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Safe Place International to take National Coming Out Day global

Group to spotlight LGBTQ refugees around the world at D.C. event

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(Photo courtesy of Safe Place International)

Tuesday, Oct. 11, Safe Place International will celebrate National Coming Out Day by spotlighting the journeys and achievements of its LGBTQIA+ refugee leaders around the world.

Safe Place International is a holistic leadership development organization for displaced LGBTQIA+ individuals. As the lived experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community are often trivialized and overlooked, we endeavor to create pathways for a sustainable and fulfilled life that celebrates the unique qualities that their lives hold. LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers are at a unique intersection of identity, where they have to face both xenophobia for their migrant status and prejudice for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In approximately 70 countries, LGBTQIA+ individuals experience violence and discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is caused by oppressive government policies and legislation that criminalizes same-sex relationships. It is also caused by negative religious and societal beliefs. As a result, LGBTQIA+ individuals flee their countries and families in search of a safe place to call their home.

After leaving behind their lives; many refugees find themselves without food, shelter, safety or support for their future. Asylum seekers and refugees that identify as LGBTQIA+ are ignored or unseen by the refugee protection system and facing increased marginalization due to their status as refugees and their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In only a few years, Safe Place International has reached over 15 countries and served over 1,000 LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers, who we consider “community members.” Our belief in these community members is why we can proudly say that we are a refugee-led, person of color-led, women-led and LGBTQIA+-led organization!

National Coming Out Day is a significant day for the LGBTQIA+ community, as it is a day when so many find the courage to proclaim their truth and join the Pride family. The day is also special to those of us who have already “come out” as we reflect on becoming who we are and the evolution to who we were meant to be. While some journeys were filled with warmth, affirmation and liberation, many have experienced rejection, pain, loss and even death. Regardless of one’s experiences on this spectrum, National Coming Out Day has become a time when the LGBTQIA+ community comes together to ensure that our new community members are met with the encouragement and acceptance that we all deserve. It is also a time to reflect on the countless queer bodies who face persecution, violence and oppression around the globe.

Safe Place International’s Coming Out Day Celebration will do just that. The event marks a significant new chapter as the organization officially “comes out” to the D.C. community. We will be introducing our new executive director, as well as celebrating the successes of our interventions by exploring how Safe Place International is impacting the lives of our global LGBTQIA+ community and what makes them so resilient, compassionate and ready to change the world! 

So, if you want to be inspired, perhaps explore meaningful ways to impact and change the lives of oppressed queer people whose only crime is love and authenticity, then please join us! Hold us as we boldly come out to D.C. We promise you a fun, colorful celebration that will be grounded in meaning, connectedness, and the relentless spirit of love and acceptance. 

For more details, feel free to contact Matt Maxwell, our director of development at [email protected]. You can purchase your ticket here.

We hope to see you there! 

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Bisexual activists cautiously excited after White House meeting

Sept. 20 gathering took place during Bisexual Visibility Week

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From left to right: Ellyn Ruthstrom, Tania Israel, Nicole Holmes, Mimi Hoang, Ezra Young, Lauren Beach, Belle Hagget Silverman, Diana Adams, Heron Greenesmith, and Khafre Abif. Kneeling: Robyn Ochs, Fiona Dawson and Blair Imani outside the White House on Sept. 20, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Heron Greenesmith)

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, just in time for Bisexual Visibility Week, a diverse group of 15 bisexual and pansexual activists met with officials from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including Melanie Fontes Rainer, the director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS. 

The 15 advocates comprised a wide cross-section of the bisexual community, including nonbinary, transgender, female, young, older, Black, Asian and Muslim advocates, people with disabilities and parents. We came from many walks of life: Academia, education, research, health care, advocacy, law, media and community activism. This isn’t unusual: Bisexual people comprise more than half of all LGBT people, totally approximately 12.5 million bisexual adults in the U.S. Strikingly, 15 percent of all GenZ adults — nearly 1 in 6 — identify as bisexual. People of color are more likely to identify as bisexual, as are cisegender women and transgender people in general. 

It has been a painful six years since the Executive Branch last met with bisexual activists (you do the math.) Those meetings, like this one, were the product of tireless advocacy from a population with zero paid organizational staff and less than one percent of all philanthropic dollars earmarked for the LGBT community. It was these stats and others that we shared at HHS on Sept. 20. 

Bisexual and pansexual people face specific disparities in mental and physical health, intimate partner violence and monkeypox prevention, treatment and care. Did you know, for example, that nearly half of bisexual women report having been raped? And did you know that federal reporting on monkeypox doesn’t disaggregate between gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men, despite evidence that bisexual men are uniquely vulnerable to MPX and other infectious diseases. 

Khafre Abif is a Black bisexual educator, father and person living with HIV. At the meeting with agency officials, Abif shared the story of how staff at his HIV-care clinic initially denied him the monkeypox vaccine, despite Abif being bisexual and thus in a population of special focus for the vaccine. 

“This meeting has been a long time coming for the bi+ community,” said Abif. “I’m looking forward to a dialogue with federal officials about solving some of the health issues we face.”

In order to begin remedying these disparities and more, we presented the administration with a set of benchmarks, including the creation of a Federal Interagency Bisexual Liaison and a Federal Interagency Bisexual Working Group. Other benchmarks included training for HHS staff on bisexual disparities and remedies thereof, funding streams for bisexual-specific funding and interventions, and the disaggregation of data on specific health disparities. 

Robyn Ochs is a pillar of bisexual and pansexual community organizing. At HHS, Ochs shared more about her specific expertise. “Research has made clear our health disparities and invisibility. It’s time for federal interventions to catch up with what we already know through research and lived experience.”

Frustrated by years of inaction by the federal government to release bisexual-specific data, target the bisexual and pansexual community with tailored interventions, or recognize the importance of bi+ health in general, we are cautiously excited by this opportunity to share critical data and remedies. 

Heron Greenesmith is the Senior Research Analyst for LGBTQI+ Justice at Political Research Associates, and the co-founder of BiLaw and the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition. Find Greenesmith on Twitter @herong.

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Turkey Pride crackdowns only strengthen LGBTQ resistance

Hundreds arrested in Istanbul on Sunday

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Police crackdown on the Istanbul Pride march on June 26, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Hayri Tunç)

The waving colors of the thousand shades inside of a rainbow,

The sparkling joy from the pride and honor of self-declaration, 

The echoing sounds of the steps for solidarity in the cobblestone streets of İstanbul, 

To unite for equality, for justice, for solely our right to be. 

This was our goal, our expectation and our hope for Pride Turkey 2022. It has, however, been overshadowed by the government’s vicious attempts to repress the colors of the LGBTQI+ community. 

First, it started with the ban of Pride speeches and panels that many district governors and other local authorities across Turkey announced. Local police officers raided the many event venues as if “illegal” activities were being conducted. 

As in the last couple of years, it was already expected the government would ban the Pride marches in many cities. It was, however, the first time the government officially tried to prevent even face-to-face community gatherings of LGBTQI+ organizations. It was a type of intervention reflecting the level of fear and intolerance of the government regarding the growing connection, solidarity and public visibility of LGBTQI+ community.

Nevertheless, oppression often brings out the most creative means. As such, Pride committees have carried all the activities on digital platforms. Many activists and civil society representatives have shown support by participating in live broadcasts from event venues, and the voice of LGBTQI+ solidarity still reached a wide audience. 

Subsequently, the most drastic pressure by the government has manifested itself during the Pride marches. The police violently intervened and used unproportionate force against marchers in many cities, which resulted in a radical number of unwarranted detentions. 

While 530 LGBTQI+ activists were taken into custody over the last 37 days across Turkey, 373 of them were arrested during the Istanbul Pride march on June 26. This constitutes a first, since the Istanbul Pride arrests constituted the largest number of people taken into custody during a street march since the Gezi protests.

Will these enormous efforts to pressure win the day? The answer is “definitely no.” On the contrary, it sparked a backlash by triggering strong solidarity among Turkey’s queer community. The outstanding resistance of LGBTQI+ marchers gained public recognition on social media, while persistent legal support of LGBTQI+ initiatives canceled all the detentions. In the end, the exhaustive pressures of the government could not manage to fade the multicolor of LGBTQI+ identity. In fact, it helped our rainbow flag to shine even more glamorous and visible.  

We, as members of the LGBTQI+ community, have once again proved through this entire experience that solidarity, togetherness and collective resistance are the most powerful facilitators in our fight to exist equally.   

In honor of the unbreakable resistance of Turkey Pride 2022 supporters, 

Thanks to you, the cobblestones of Istanbul and every street in Turkey echoed with the steps of LGBTQI+ solidarity.

Dilek İçten is a journalist, researcher and civil society expert with a demonstrated history of working in interdisciplinary and investigative research projects examining the socio-cultural dynamics of media, gender and migration. The focus of her work varies from freedom of expression, media censorship and journalistic independence to gender based-discrimination and hate speech against disadvantaged groups and minorities.

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