July 17, 2018 at 8:55 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Violence, discrimination prompts LGBTI Hondurans to migrate

A picture of Roxana Hernández, a transgender Honduran woman with HIV who died in ICE custody in May, hangs on a wall inside the offices of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, an LGBTI advocacy group in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on July 11, 2018. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Members of Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, an LGBTI advocacy group in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, on July 11 were sewing a transgender Pride flag for an upcoming march. On the wall behind them were the pictures of 19 local activists and community members who have been killed over the last decade.

“You can be killed at any moment in this extremely violent country,” a lesbian activist told the Washington Blade during an interview with three others affiliated with Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa who identify themselves as transsexual women.

Honduras has one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates because of violence that is frequently associated with gangs and drug traffickers. Violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation remains commonplace in the Central American country that borders Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

One of the activists with whom the Blade spoke at Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa has previously received death threats.

She and her three colleagues asked the Blade not to publish their names or take their pictures because of concerns over their personal safety. One of activists — a trans woman — said “nothing has changed” in San Pedro Sula since the Blade last reported from the city in February 2017.

“What has increased and has changed is migration,” she said. “There are more trans girls migrating from the country.”

Trans women ‘always have poverty, insecurity’

The activists spoke with the Blade against lingering outrage over President Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which included the separation of migrant children from their parents once they entered the U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last week met with the foreign ministers of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico in Guatemala City. She announced the creation of an office within her agency that will advise their governments about the reunification of migrant children who have been separated from their parents.

The activists with whom the Blade spoke said violence and a lack of economic opportunities are the primary reasons that prompt lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and especially trans Hondurans to leave the country.

Statistics from Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist network that is based in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, indicate 15 people have been reported killed in the country so far this year because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

A gay Honduran man seeking asylum in Mexico told the Blade on Tuesday during an interview outside a refugee center in Mexico City that he fled San Pedro Sula earlier this year after gang members attacked him. The man said the gang members also raped his friend before they killed her in front of him.

“The situation therefore never changes for the community,” said the trans activist in San Pedro Sula who has previously received death threats. “We always have poverty, insecurity for trans girls. This is the main reason for migrating.”

A newsstand in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on July 10, 2018, sells a Honduran newspaper with a front page devoted to a shootout between police officers and gang members in a San Pedro Sula suburb that left a police officer and two suspected gang members dead. The newspaper also notes the 2018 World Cup semi-final game between France and Belgium (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Trans woman who died in ICE custody ‘represented a struggle’

The death of Roxana Hernández — a trans Honduran woman with HIV who died at a New Mexico hospital on May 25 while in ICE custody — sparked outrage among advocates in Honduras and in the U.S.

Hernández, who was from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, was in San Pedro Sula before she joined a 300-person caravan that traveled to the U.S. border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection took her into custody on May 9 when she asked for asylum at the San Ysidro Port of Entry near San Diego.

Hernández’s picture is among the 19 that are on the wall at Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa’s offices. The four activists with whom the Blade spoke were quick to point out other trans Hondurans have also been killed after leaving the country.

“Roxana’s case is being politicized at the moment,” said the lesbian activist. “It is being politicized in the sense that she represented a struggle when we were looking for martyred colleagues.”

“Roxana became a colleague as a result,” she added. “There are many other colleagues as well.”

Activist: Honduras government has no socio-economic plan

Honduran first lady Ana García earlier this month visited a detention center in McAllen, Texas, after Trump issued an executive order that ended the separation of migrant children from their parents. CNN reported García urged Hondurans to remain in the country and “let’s look for solutions to support you.”

García on June 19 made a similar plea on her Twitter page.

“Don’t migrate, don’t risk the lives of your children on that route,” she said. “Avoid traumas because with the U.S. ‘zero tolerance’ policy, you will be separated from your little ones when you arrive illegally.”

More than 30 peopled died in violent protests that took place across the country after President Juan Orlando Hernández’s disputed re-election last November. The activists in San Pedro Sula with whom the Blade spoke said it is possible the Honduran government has not explicitly criticized Trump’s immigration policy because it does not want to lose U.S. aid.

The U.S. Agency for International Development reports Honduras received $127,506,634 in U.S. foreign aid in fiscal year 2016. Full figures from fiscal years 2017 and 2018 are not yet available.

A flyer taped to a storefront in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on July 10, 2018, urges customers to apply for a U.S. visa. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The lesbian activist with whom the Blade spoke said the Honduran government has not implemented a socio-economic plan “to benefit the population.”

She said the government has increased funding of the country’s Military and National Police, which have been accused of human rights violations. The lesbian activist also told the Blade a lack of legal protections for trans Hondurans and their inability to legally change the name and gender on their ID cards has also made them increasingly vulnerable to discrimination and violence.

Graffiti on a wall in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, equates the police to rapists and murderers. Activists in the Honduran city insist police officers routinely target transgender women and other members of the
LGBTI community. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

One of the trans activists noted the Honduran government “does not have a plan” to help LGBTI migrants. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) last month told the Blade after he and other members of Congress traveled to South Texas there are no policies in place that specifically address the needs of LGBTI migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents.

All four of the activists with whom the Blade spoke said they have no plans to leave Honduras in spite of the rampant violence and discrimination that exists in their country.

One of the trans activists told the Blade she traveled to Mexico City three years ago to undergo cosmetic surgery. She said she returned to Honduras because her experience in the Mexican capital was “very ugly.”

The lesbian activist said she will stay in Honduras because she has “stability.”

“I would think about leaving, about migrating, if I didn’t have the stability that I have,” she added.

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

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