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Activists forge ahead in violence-plagued Honduras city

San Pedro Sula has one of world’s highest murder rates

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San Pedro Sula, gay news, Washington Blade

San Pedro Sula (Honduras) City Hall (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — René Martínez was president of Comunidad Gay Sampedrana, an LGBT advocacy group in San Pedro Sula, a city in northwest Honduras, in June 2016. He was also running an outreach center in the city’s Chamelecón neighborhood through Youth Alliance Honduras, an organization that is part of an anti-violence program the U.S. Agency for International Development helped to develop.

Martínez was a “well-known” member of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s ruling National Party when he disappeared on June 1, 2016. Martínez’s relatives identified his body in San Pedro Sula’s morgue two days later.

“We worked a lot together,” Allysson Hernández, a transgender rights activist who lives outside of San Pedro Sula, told the Washington Blade on Friday during a telephone interview. “He gave me the space to work on my projects.”

Martínez’s murder underscores the very real risks that San Pedro Sula’s LGBT activists face in one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

San Pedro Sula in 2015 had 171.2 murders per 100,000 people, which made it the most dangerous city in the world that it is not in a war zone. This figure dropped to 111.03 murders per 100,000 people in 2016.

San Pedro Sula is Honduras’ second-largest city with 719,064 people, according to the country’s 2013 Census. The city generates more than 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Honduras — which borders Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua — is among the most violent countries in the world.

The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security notes the Central American nation in 2011 had 86.5 murders per 100,000 people in 2011. The Honduran government indicates this figure dropped to 66.4 murders per 100,000 people in 2014, but advocates have questioned these statistics.

Activists: Police are more of a threat than gangs

Maras and pandillas (street gangs) and drug traffickers are largely responsible for the violence that is concentrated in Chamelecón and other poor neighborhoods in San Pedro Sula. Cattrachas, an advocacy group based in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, and activists with whom the Blade spoke said members of the country’s military and Policia Militar (Military Police) routinely commit human rights abuses.

LGBT people are the frequent targets.

“Sometimes the worst violations that we have are with the government,” a San Pedro Sula-based activist told the Blade during a Feb. 10 interview.

The activist, who has been the target of two assassination attempts over the last year, asked the Blade not to publish their name.

“Police officers, soldiers are the ones who violate our rights,” said the activist.

The activist said police officers frequently target trans sex workers for extortion and violence. The activist told the Blade that gangs also force them to pay “daily or weekly rent to do their work on the street” and force them to sell drugs.

The activist said those who publicly criticize the gangs and the police and file formal complaints against them receive threats and often go into hiding. Freddy Funez, an LGBT activist who worked closely with Martínez, largely echoed these accounts.

Funez told the Blade on Feb. 10 during an interview at his office in San Pedro Sula that police officers often extort money from LGBT sex workers in order to allow them to work. He said they also extort money from their clients in exchange for not detaining them and telling their families.

“We are much more afraid of the police,” said Funez.

Funez told the Blade that police officers are responsible for “a great number of” murders of LGBT people in San Pedro Sula. He cited a case in which officers cut off a gay man’s penis before they dismembered him.

“The police can carry out more atrocities and violence than the gang members,” said Funez.

The Blade has reached out to the Honduran government for comment.

‘We have a forced migration’

Funez, Hernández and the activist with whom the Blade spoke all said the lack of employment, education and health care and poverty have made San Pedro Sula’s LGBT community particularly vulnerable to violence and discrimination from the police and gangs. Many feel as though they have no choice but to flee the country.

“They kill them; they assault them,” said the activist. “This, therefore, forces them to migrate. We have a forced migration. They don’t do it because they want to. They are doing it because the situation in which we are living in our country is very difficult.”

Many trans women who migrate to Mexico with the hope of entering the U.S. do so with the assistance of coyotes (smugglers) who frequently force them into prostitution or target them for human trafficking. Gangs that operate along the Mexico-U.S. border also force them into sex work and drug smuggling.

“They are a great danger for them,” said the activist.

Funez told the Blade that eight out of 10 LGBT people in San Pedro Sula still want to migrate to the U.S., in spite of the risks.

“I am in this country; I am LGTB; I don’t have employment opportunities; I don’t have a quality education that I am going to migrate,” he said, speaking hypothetically. “For us and for the community in Honduras in general and for the LGTB community, it has always seen the United States as the best, as the safest country, as the country that respects human rights a lot.”

“For someone in the community to say I am going to go to the United States and not return to this country is common,” added Funez.

Freddy Funez, Honduras, gay news, Washington Blade

Freddy Funez, a Honduran LGBT rights activist, at his office in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Feb. 10, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Funez spoke with the Blade 15 days after President Trump signed an executive order that spurs construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have detained hundreds of undocumented immigrants in raids across the country. The White House on Friday denied an Associated Press report that said it planned to mobilize as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to roundup undocumented immigrants in 11 states.

Mara Salvatrucha other street gangs that are responsible for the majority of the violence in San Pedro Sula and across Honduras and in neighboring El Salvador can trace their roots to Los Angeles.

The U.S. in the 1990s began to deport large numbers of foreign-born criminals. Many of them were gang members who ended up in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Funez told the Blade that many people “don’t understand” why Trump wants to build the wall. He also noted remittances from the U.S. account for a fifth of Honduras’ gross national product.

“For the majority of LGTB Hondurans who have gone, they are people who have dignified work in the United States,” said Funez. “They are feeling productive in the United States.”

The activist who asked the Blade to remain anonymous said LGBT migrants “are going to face more risk” because of the wall.

‘My work is here’ in San Pedro Sula

In spite of pervasive violence and discrimination, San Pedro Sula’s LGBT activists insist they have seen progress.

Claudia Spellman, a trans woman who directed an HIV/AIDS service organization in San Pedro Sula, and Josué Hernández, an openly gay man from the Cortés Department in which the city is located, ran for the Honduran Congress in 2012.

Spellman resettled in the D.C. area with her now wife after she received death threats. Erick Martínez, a prominent gay activist in Tegucigalpa, is running for Congress as a candidate from the left-leaning Liberty and Refoundation and Anti-Corruption Parties.

Trans advocacy groups and their supporters organized a march to the Congress on May 17, 2016 — the International Day Against Homophobia an Transphobia — in support of a bill that would allow trans Hondurans to legally change their names on legal documents. The Honduran government a few weeks later condemned the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 people dead and more than 50 others injured.

The massacre took place less than two weeks after René Martínez’s murder.

“There has been a very big opening in this country in the political arena,” Funez told the Blade, noting San Pedro Sula is Honduras’ most LGBT tolerant city.

Hernández was equally as optimistic, if not defiant.

“I am going to continue this fight,” Hernández told the Blade.

The activist with whom the Blade spoke on Feb. 10 said emphatically they have no plans to leave San Pedro Sula.

“My work is here,” said the activist. “When I go to another country, my fight ends.”

“I want to keep fighting until it is possible that there is a gender law, until trans women don’t face human rights violations,” they added.

The cathedral in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The cathedral in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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Biden names civil rights veteran to U.S. Education Dept.

Catherine Lhamon’s portfolio will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct, racial discrimination

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Nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine Lhamon. (Photo public domain))

The White House announced Thursday that President Joe Biden has nominated Catherine Lhamon to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Lhamon currently serves as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity at the White House, where she manages the President’s equity policy portfolio. She is a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, (ACLU) and served as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights from 2017 to 2021.

She has also served as Legal Affairs Secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Her portfolio at Education, where she previously served in the same position under former President Barack Obama, will include LGBTQ rights, sexual misconduct and racial discrimination in the nation’s K-12 schools, universities and colleges. Lhamon was Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, to which President Obama nominated her and the Senate confirmed her in 2013.

“I am thrilled that President Biden is nominating Catherine Lhamon to serve as Assistant Secretary of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. Catherine has devoted her career to ensuring equity is at the core of all her work,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement released by his office Thursday.

“She has a strong record of fighting for communities of color and underserved communities, whether as the current Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the former chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, or as a civil rights educator at Georgetown University. We are thrilled to have Catherine serving as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and know she will continue to fight for fairness, equity, and justice for all of America’s students.”

Lhamon has also litigated civil rights cases at National Center for Youth Law, Public Counsel Law Center, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.  Lhamon taught federal civil rights appeals at Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and clerked for the Honorable William A. Norris on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“Catherine Lhamon is the right choice to lead the Department of Education’s civil rights division at such a critical time for the country and the agency. There is much work to do in order to roll back the harmful policies and legacies of Betsy DeVos, from her attacks on transgender students to her unconscionable revocation of discriminatory discipline guidance and rewrite of Title IX rules,” Adele Kimmel, Director of the Students’ Civil Rights Project at Public Justice told the Blade in an email.

“During her previous tenure in the same job, Catherine embraced equality, enforced Title IX and ensured students had an ally inside the federal government. She will do so again, and the Senate should move to quickly confirm her so she can begin the work of restoring the Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights and dignity of students and implementing the Biden Administration’s pledge to undo the damage that DeVos has done,” Kimmel added.

Born in Virginia and raised in California, Lhamon graduated from Amherst College and Yale Law School. Lhamon and her husband and two daughters are transitioning between California and Maryland.

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IDAHOBiT events to promote intersectionality, resilience, allyship

HRC president to participate in virtual panel in Canada

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(Photo courtesy of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia committee)

 

Intersectionality, resilience and allyship are among the themes that this year’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia events will highlight.

Dignity Network Canada and the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention on May 17 will hold a virtual panel that will feature Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, Canadian Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity Executive Director Debbie Owusu-Akyeeah, Kaleidoscope Trust Executive Director Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, COC Nederland Executive Director Marie Ricardo and Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell. The British High Commission and the Dutch Embassy in Canada have co-sponsored the event.

“We hope that this will be a really interesting and important conversation on intersectionality and transnational solidarity — and what it means for these leaders and their organizations during these times,” reads a description of the event.

The U.N. LGBTI Core Group on May 17 will host a virtual IDAHOBiT event that will focus on ways to develop an “inclusive and diverse post-pandemic world.” The World Bank Group, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American and Asian Development Banks host a similar IDAHOBiT commemoration.

“In order to heal from the economic, social, and public health dire impact the pandemic has had and still has, every plan of recovery must take into account a human-rights based, intersectional and gender responsive approach that addresses the specific needs of LGBTI persons in order not to leave them further behind,” reads a description of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group event.

Several Russian LGBTQ rights groups on May 17 will hold a “Vaccine for Acceptance” event that seeks to bolster allyship in the country.

Retired South Africa Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron on May 16 will moderate a virtual panel that will focus on religion and anti-LGBTQ violence.

Workplace Pride and the Dutch Embassy in Budapest on May 17 will host a symposium on LGBTQ-inclusive workplaces in Hungary. M.V. Lee Badgett, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, on the same day will participate in a webinar the U.S. Embassy in Singapore is hosting with Oogachaga, a local LGBTQ advocacy group.

Haver Srbija, a Serbian NGO, on May 15-16 will hold Falafel, a film festival that seeks to build “bridges and promotes Israeli, Jewish and LGBTQI culture and communities” and highlight “various social issues in the context of the fight against prejudice, discrimination, anti-Semitism, homophobia and xenophobia and encourages the audience to develop critical thinking on the issue of these topics.” Proud Lebanon is slated to hold a series of six webinars between May 17-22 that will focus on feminism, LGBTQ rights and other topics.

The National Center for Sexual Education in Cuba will hold a series of virtual forums and other events through the month to commemorate IDAHOBiT.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, whose father is former Cuban President Raúl Castro, during a May 4 press conference in Havana said the IDAHOBiT events are part of the process of amending the country’s family code to make it more equitable for LGBTQ Cubans. Mariela Castro said a bill to amend it will be introduced in the Cuban Parliament in July.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference, according to Tremenda Nota, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba.

IDAHOBiT commemorates the World Health Organization’s 1990 decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s events will take place against the backdrop of a pandemic that continues to exacerbate existing inequalities for LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups around the world.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of countries. Violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains rampant in the U.S. and throughout the world.

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Mixed reviews from transgender Republicans on Caitlyn Jenner’s run

Remarks on kids in sport a sore point among LGBTQ advocacy groups

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Caitlyn Jenner was quickly repudiated by LGBTQ advocates after she entered California’s recall election as a gubernatorial candidate — and her fellow transgender Republicans are mixed over whether or not to back her up.

Transgender Republicans are few in number, but some are in high-profile positions and have been working with their party to change its approach and drop its attacks on transgender people, whether it be in the military, public bathrooms, or school sports.

Jordan Evans, a Charlton, Mass.-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully last year ran to become a Massachusetts Republican State Committee Woman, told the Washington Blade she had high hopes for Jenner as a fellow transgender candidate, but they were quickly dashed after her campaign launched.

“My feelings changed quickly after Caitlyn made it clear that she was less interested in using this opportunity to present the Republican Party and conservative movements with an accessible and high-profile introduction to the trans community and simply wanted to be a trans woman who espoused the same destructive approaches that we just so happen to be seeing all over the country,” Evans said.

Evans said the high hopes she had were based on the transgender advocacy she said Jenner was doing behind the scenes and the potential for two prominent LGBTQ Republicans to run for governor in California. After all, Jenner may soon be joined in the race by Richard Grenell, who was U.S. ambassador to Germany and acting director of national intelligence before becoming the face of LGBTQ outreach for Trump’s failed re-election.

But Jenner’s approach to the gubernatorial recall in California, Evans said, is “putting trans youth at risk for a campaign that isn’t even transformative for Republicans during this volatile time.”

“Even her current messaging is superficial and does nothing to help dispel claims that she’s unqualified,” Evans said. “The only positive thing that I’ve seen come from this is conservative mainstream media using her correct pronouns, but that is not worth the damage that she’s inflicting.”

Much of the disappointment over Jenner’s campaign is the result of her essentially throwing transgender kids under the bus as part of her campaign at a time when state legislatures are advancing legislation against them, including the bills that would essentially bar transgender girls from participating in school sports.

Jenner, declining to push back on these measures and assert transgender kids have a place in sports, instead essentially endorsed the bills shortly after she announced her candidacy.

“If you’re born as a biological boy, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete in girls’ sports,” Jenner told TMZ, which asked her about the hot-button issue during a Sunday morning coffee run.

Jenner dug deeper into MAGA-world at the expense of solidarity with the transgender community. Last week, Jenner retweeted Jenna Ellis, who has a notoriously anti-LGBTQ background and was criticized just last year for refusing to use the personal pronouns of Rachel Levine, who’s now assistant secretary of health and the first openly transgender presidential appointee to win Senate confirmation.

Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the New Jersey General Assembly last year, said via email Jenner “did much good for several years by educating millions of people around the world about transgender folks,” but won’t countenance the candidate’s remarks on transgender kids in sports.

“In regard to her current run for California governor, her recent comments regarding transgender youth playing sports are confusing,” Williams said. “Just last year, she said that she supported transgender female athletes. Caitlyn should consult with tennis great Billie Jean King, soccer star Megan Rapinoe or WNBA legend Candace Parker on the subject of transgender athletes in women’s sports, as they are very well versed on the matter.”

At a time when state legislatures are pushing through legislation targeting transgender youth, restricting their access to sports and transition-related care, Jenner’s refusal to repudiate those measures has become a focal point for opposition to her candidacy from LGBTQ advocacy groups, who say she’s “out of touch” (although none were supporting her even before she made those comments).

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which supports LGBTQ political candidates and public officials, has signaled it wants nothing to do with Jenner.

Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Jenner hasn’t applied for an endorsement from the Victory Fund “and she shouldn’t bother to.”

“Her opposition to full trans inclusion – particularly for trans kids in sports – makes her ineligible for the endorsement,” Meloy said. “There are many great trans candidates running this cycle who are champions for equality.”

To be sure, Jenner used her celebrity status as a former reality TV star and Olympic champion on behalf of transgender lobbyists, urging donations to groups like the National Center for Transgender Equality and going to Capitol Hill to lobby Republicans on transgender issues. Jenner has also given money for transgender kids to attend college, giving transgender advocate Blossom Brown a check for $20,000 on “The Ellen Show” in 2015.

Blaire White, a transgender conservative and YouTube personality, drew on these examples of Jenner helping transgender youth in a video earlier this month and said the two once had dinner together, but wasn’t yet ready to make a endorsement.

“I will say that until she lays out all of her policy positions and until she’s more on record in long form really talking about what she wants to do for the state of California, I can’t say for sure I would vote for her and would not vote for her,” White concluded in the video. “What I can say is: I’m interested. And also, being under Gavin Newson’s governorship, I would literally vote for a triple-amputee frog over Gavin Newsom, so she already has that going for her.”

Jenner’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment for this article on the repudiation of her campaign from LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Gina Roberts, who’s the first transgender Republican elected to public office in California and a member of the San Diego GOP Central Committee, said she’s neutral for the time being as an elected Republican Party leader, but nonetheless had good things to say about Jenner’s candidacy.

“I think it’s awesome,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of indicative of how cool the Republican Party in California is because nobody really cares or it makes any difference. I mean, I was the first elected GOP transgender person in California and I think we’re ready for No. 2.”

Asked whether Jenner’s comments about allowing transgender kids in sports was troubling, Roberts said that wasn’t the case because she has her own reservations.

“I have pretty much the same opinion because … there’s so many nuances in that,” Roberts said. “If somebody transitions after they’ve gone through puberty, there is a big difference, especially in high school. If they transition beforehand, it’s not a big deal.”

A gun enthusiast and supporter of gun owner’s rights, Roberts said she competes in women’s events in shooting sports, but there’s a difference because she doesn’t “really have any advantages all those young, small ladies can pull a lot faster than I do and shoot faster than I do.”

Roberts concluded she’ll personally make a decision about whom she’ll support in the California recall election after Grenell announces whether or not he’ll enter the race, but can’t say anything until the San Diego GOP Central Committee issues an endorsement.

“He’s a good friend of mine, too,” Roberts said. “I know both of them. I think they’d both be certainly better than Gavin Newsom, I have to stay neutral until the county party decides who they’re going to endorse. I will support somebody or another in the endorsement process, but I can’t publicly announce it.”

Although LGBTQ groups want nothing to do with her campaign, Jenner’s approach has garnered the attention of prominent conservatives, who are taking her seriously as a candidate. One of Jenner’s first interviews was on Fox News’ Sean Hannity, a Trump ally with considerable sway among his viewers. Hannity was able to find common ground with Jenner, including agreement on seeing California wildfires as a problem with forest management as opposed to climate change.

Kayleigh McEnany, who served as White House press secretary in Trump’s final year in the White House and defended in the media his efforts to challenge his 2020 election loss in court, signaled her openness to Jenner’s candidacy after the Hannity interview.

“I really enjoyed watching @Caitlyn_Jenner’s interview with @seanhannity,” McEnany tweeted. “I found Caitlyn to be well-informed, sincere, and laser-focused on undoing the socialist, radical, a-scientific policies of Biden & the left. Very good.”

In theory, that support combined with Jenner’s visibility might be enough to propel Jenner to victory. In the recall election, California will answer two questions, whether California Gov. Gavin Newsom should be recalled, and if so, which candidate should replace him. The contender with the plurality of votes would win the election, even if that’s less than a majority vote, and become the next governor. There isn’t a run-off if no candidate fails to obtain a majority.

With Jenner’s name recognition as a celebrity, that achievement could be in her reach. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger won the 2004 recall election in California as a Republican based on his celebrity status, and ended up becoming a popular governor.

But the modest inroads Jenner has made with the acceptance of conservatives and potential to win isn’t enough for other transgender Republicans.

Evans, for example, said Jenner’s candidacy is not only a disappointment, but threatening the potential candidacies of transgender hopefuls in the future.

“It’s difficult to be in electoral politics, and that’s even more true when you’re a member of a marginalized community,” Evans said. “Caitlyn’s behavior is making it even more challenging for the trans community to be visible in a field where we desperately need to be seen. She’s casting a tall shadow on our ability to have a voice and is giving credibility to lawmakers and local leaders simply unwilling to view us with decency and respect.”

Williams said Jenner should avoid talking about transgender issues over the course of her gubernatorial run “and instead focus on the hard, critical policy issues facing California.”

“It is a state in crisis and she has to run a very serious campaign and not rely on her celebrity or LGBTQ status to win over voters’ hearts and minds — just like all other LGBTQ candidates around the country need to do when they run for public office,” Williams said.

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