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US urges Central America governments to protect LGBTQ rights

Effort part of strategy to address migration ‘root causes’

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A transgender Pride decal spray-painted onto a wall in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on July 19, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on assignment for the Washington Blade in El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico from July 11-25.

A State Department spokesperson says the U.S. will continue to urge the governments of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to protect LGBTQ rights as part of its efforts to address the “root causes” of migration from the three countries.

“Human rights, including those of LGBTQI+ persons, is one of the central pillars of our engagement with leaders from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador,” said the spokesperson in response to a series of written questions from the Washington Blade.

“The United States raises concerns about violence, discrimination, abuse, harassment and stigma targeting LGBTQI+ (people) across northern Central America with various stakeholders,” added the spokesperson. “We work to engage on these issues across multilateral fora, such as the United Nations, the Equal Rights Coalition and the Organization of American States.”

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras form what is known as Central America’s Northern Triangle.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who met with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei last month during her trip to Guatemala City, has said on numerous occasions that violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the factors behind migration from the region. Harris and other administration officials have also told migrants not to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border because it remains closed to them due to the pandemic.

LGBTQ Hondurans with whom the Blade recently spoke acknowledged violence has forced them to flee their homes.

Leonela Barralaga and Jerlín Martel are a same-sex couple who are raising an 11-year-old daughter in La Ceiba, Honduras.

They told the Blade on July 20 during an interview at the offices of Organización Pro Unión Ceibeña, a local human rights group, that they have fled Honduras twice. Barralaga and Martel said they returned to the country once because they did not want their daughter to further endure the squalid conditions in which they were living in Tapachula, Mexico, a city in the country’s Chiapas state that borders Guatemala.

Clothes from migrants in Miguel Hidalgo Central Park in Tapachula, Mexico, hang on walls surrounding the park on Jan. 29, 2019. Leonela Barralaga and Jerlín Martel, a same-sex couple from Honduras who are raising their 11-year-old daughter, lived in this city near the Mexico-Guatemala border for several weeks after they fled violence in their home country. The squalid conditions in which they were living in Tapachula prompted them to return to Honduras. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Marvin, a gay man from Honduras who plans to ask for asylum in the U.S., currently lives at Jardín de las Mariposas, a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.

Marvin during a July 12 interview with the Blade at Jardín de las Mariposas spoke about his brother, who was murdered earlier this year in Honduras. Marvin was sobbing when Jaime Marín, who runs the shelter with his mother, Yolanda Rocha, showed this reporter a picture of his brother’s mutilated body in the morgue in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city.

A court in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador last August sentenced three police officers to 20 years in prison for the 2017 murder of Camila Díaz Córdova, a trans woman who the U.S. deported. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights last month found Honduras responsible for the murder of Vicky Hernández, a trans woman who was killed hours after the 2009 coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya.

Alexa, a trans woman who receives services at Organización Pro Unión Ceibeña, told the Blade during an emotional interview that she was raped in prison while serving a sentence for a stabbing she claims was an act of self-defense. Alexa also said guards forcibly cut her hair.

The Blade the day before witnessed a man stop his car on a street in San Pedro Sula, which is about three hours west of La Ceiba, and solicit for sex work two trans women with Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, a local LGBTQ rights group. The U.S. granted asylum to Claudia Spellman, a trans woman who co-founded Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, after death threats forced her to flee Honduras.

“The United States is committed to fighting for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons at home and abroad,” the State Department spokesperson told the Blade. “LGBTQI+ persons are among the most vulnerable to forced displacement in and from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.”

“Promoting and advancing these human rights is a foreign policy priority,” added the spokesperson. “As such, we endeavor to combat the violence and abuse, criminalization, discrimination and stigma targeting LGBTQI+ persons around the world, including in these three countries.”

Two members of Guatemalan civil society who work with LGBTQ people and people with HIV/AIDS — Visibles Executive Director Daniel Villatoro and Ingrid Gamboa of the Association of Garifuna Women Living with HIV/AIDS — are among those who participated in a round table with Harris in Guatemala City.

Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala William Popp on June 17 visited the Guatemala City headquarters of Organización Trans Reina de las Noche, a trans advocacy group. The visit took place less than a week after Andrea González, the organization’s executive director who previously participated in the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program, was murdered near her Guatemala City home.

Andrea González in D.C. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Sasha Rodríguez, a trans woman who works for Organización Pro Unión Ceibeña, is also an IVLP alum.

Bianka Rodríguez, executive director of COMCAVIS TRANS, a trans Salvadoran rights group, is among those who participated in what a USAID spokesperson described to the Blade as a “youth leaders lunch roundtable that we organized” with Power in San Salvador last month. The USAID spokesperson noted “they exchanged important points of view regarding USAID support (past and present) and the challenges of the LGBTIQ+ community in the country.”

“USAID human rights projects based in El Salvador support anti-discrimination efforts against the LGBTQI+ community,” said the State Department spokesperson. “They also support a regional effort that engages private sector companies in inclusive strategies to open labor opportunities for the LGBTQI+ community.”

“Projects also do research on hate crimes against the LGTBQI+ community and provides to the justice sector to investigate such crimes,” they added. “The majority of activities are led by local or regional LGBTQI+ groups.”

A Pride march in San Salvador, El Salvador, on June 26, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Ernesto Valle)

The State Department spokesperson noted “discussions between civil society leaders” and the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, “as well as USAID-led forums on LGBTQI+ migration push factors, help us learn more about the root causes and ways we can better support this community.” They also pointed out that USAID’s Unidos por la Justicia project “has supported the LGBTQI+ community to develop an anti-discrimination law and the law of gender identity” in the country.

USAID and Unidos por la Justicia in 2019 officially recognized Unidad Colectivo Color Rosa for its work. The Blade on July 19 saw a plaque with the two organizations’ logos on it hanging inside their San Pedro Sula office.

“USAID in Honduras has done extensive work with the LGBTQI+ population who lack access to formal education and workforce development services by supporting training that included self-esteem and human rights to prevent stigma and discrimination, and promote respect for diversity,” said the State Department spokesperson. “Through private sector engagement, businesses have agreed to interview members of the LGBTQI+ community, which is the foundation to valuing diversity in the workplace.”

USAID also works with Asociación PASMO, an organization that conducts HIV testing in San Pedro Sula.

The State Department spokesperson told the Blade that Honduran LGBTQ activists have attended workshops that focused on their participation in the country’s political process. They said USAID for the project’s next phase “will work with local higher education institutions to certify community members to participate as candidates in elections.”

Sasha Rodríguez of Organización Pro Unión Ceibeña, an NGO based in La Ceiba, Honduras, in her office on July 20, 2021. Rodríguez has participated in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Honduras’ national elections are scheduled to take place on Nov. 28.

A federal judge in New York in March sentenced Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández’s brother, former Honduran Congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, to life in prison after a jury convicted him of trafficking tons of cocaine into the U.S.

The Biden administration on July 20 banned former Honduran President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, his wife and their children from traveling to the U.S. because of “their involvement in significant corruption.” Salvadoran prosecutors last week charged former President Salvador Sánchez Cerén and nine other members of former President Mauricio Funes’ administration with the misuse of more than $300 million in government funds.

Juan Francisco Sandoval, a leading anti-corruption prosecutor in Guatemala, fled to El Salvador on July 24 after Guatemalan Attorney General Consuelo Porras fired him. The Biden administration this week announced it has stopped working with Porras’ office.

Graffiti on the wall of a building in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, describes Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández as a “murderer.” Hernández’s contested 2017 re-election sparked protests that left dozens of people dead across the country. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Corruption is one of the myriad issues that activists in the region have raised with the Blade. They also remain highly critical of their respective governments over the lack of LGBTQ rights.

“The United States is concerned with the protection governments extend to LGBTQI+ persons throughout the region,” said the State Department spokesperson. “While we have seen some positive developments; we will continue to raise the importance of protections for LGBTQI+ persons whenever appropriate, as well as the importance of holding accountable perpetrators of discrimination and violence.”

The State Department spokesperson also responded to the Blade’s question about what the Biden administration can do to ensure the Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran governments adequately address anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in their respective countries.

“The U.S. government monitors and reports on the state of human rights across the world, including protections for the LGBTQI+ community,” said the State Department spokesperson. “Our efforts to draw attention to abuses of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons create transparency and promote accountability for such abuses. The U.S. government also has sanctions and visa restriction authorities it can apply to perpetrators to promote accountability for human rights violations and abuses.”

Abdiel Echevarría-Caban and Dunia Orellana of Reportar sin Miedo contributed to this story.

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Swiss voters overwhelmingly approve marriage equality law

‘Marriage for All’ statute received 64 percent support in referendum

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(Photo public domain)

Voters in Switzerland on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a law that extends marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Swiss voters supported the “Marriage for All” law by a 64-36 percent margin in the referendum.

Lawmakers approved the statue late last year. Marriage equality opponents were able to force a referendum on it.

Switzerland joins neighboring France, Germany, Austria and other European countries that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Maria von Känel, co-president of the “Marriage for All” campaign, described the referendum results as “a historic day, a milestone for LGBTQ equality.”

“It’s a great achievement,” she told the Washington Blade. “All cantons and 64.1 percent of Swiss voters have voted yes for marriage for all. Our partnerships and families are now recognized equally and legally.”

“We have great support of the family, children and human rights organizations and many thousands of people who took to the streets for this cause and did public work,” added von Känel. “We are infinitely grateful.”

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US ambassador to UN calls for repeal of criminalization laws

Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke at U.N. LGBTI Core Group event

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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (Photo courtesy of the U.S. State Department; public domain)

United States Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield is among those who participated in a Wednesday event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that highlighted efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Thomas-Greenfield in her remarks during the largely virtual U.N. LGBTI Core Group event noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than 70 countries.

“For millions of people it is illegal for them to be who they are, to love who they love. We need to repeal and eliminate these laws,” she said. “For our part, the United States is using our diplomacy, our foreign assistance and every tool we have to protect human rights, empower civil society and support local LGBTQI movements.”

The U.S. is one of 35 countries that are members of the Core Group.

Wednesday’s event also highlighted efforts to decriminalize transgender people and repeal laws that specifically target them.

“We need more countries to join this committed group,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “Together, let’s do everything we can to protect human rights and promote equality for all.”

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo; Nepalese Ambassador to the U.N. Amrit Bahadur Rai; New Zealand Ambassador to the U.N. Craig Hawke; Australian Permanent U.N. Representative Mitch Fifield; Brazilian Ambassador to the U.N. Rolando Costa Filho; Canadian Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Keith Rae; Assistant U.N. Secretary General for Strategic Coordination Volker Türk; Argentine Foreign Affairs Minister Santiago Cafiero; Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Tom de Bruijn; Japanese Foreign Minister Jun Shimmi; Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide; Salvadoran Foreign Affairs Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco; Costa Rican Vice Multicultural Affairs Minister Christian Guillermet-Fernández; Finnish Foreign Affairs Ministry Johanna Sumuvuori; Nick Herbert of the British House of Lords; European Union Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli; Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Ann Linde; Icelandic Foreign Affairs Minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson; Maltese Equality, Research, Innovation and the Coordination of Post COVID-19 Strategy Minister Owen Bonnici; Mexican Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Undersecretary Martha Delgado; Italian Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Benedetto Della Vedova; Chilean Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Carolina Valdivia; German MP Michael Roth; Irish State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora Minister Colm Brophy and Danish Development and Nordic Cooperation Minister Flemming Møller Mortensen participated in the event that Reuters U.N. Bureau Chief Michelle Nichols emceed.

Acting OutRight Action International Executive Director Maria Sjödin and activists from Bhutan, Botswana, Guyana, Mozambique, Angola, Panamá and India took part. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, and Nikkie de Jager, a Dutch U.N. goodwill ambassador known as NikkieTutorials who is trans, also participated.

“Decriminalization is a very basic demand,” said Sjödin. “Given how many countries have these laws on the books, it is still a priority.”

Herbert, who is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s LGBTQ envoy, noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in 35 of the Commonwealth’s 54 countries. Herbert also announced the U.K. will give an additional $2.75 million to “support LGBT+ individuals in Commonwealth countries, including to those seeking to address outdated legislation that discriminates against women, girls and LGBT+ individuals.”

“We are clear that tackling discrimination is only one part of the issue,” said Herbert. “We must encourage countries as well to put in place laws that protect their LGBTI citizens going forward.”

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promote LGBTQ rights abroad. The decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relation is one of the White House’s five global LGBTQ rights priorities.

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Immigration Equality condemns deportation of Haitian migrants, asylum seekers

Prominent activist found dead in Port-au-Prince home in 2019

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Hurricane Matthew, gay news, Washington Blade
Hurricane Matthew damage near Jérémie, Haiti in 2016. Immigration Equality has condemned the deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Reginald Dupont/Fondation SEROvie)

Immigration Equality on Wednesday sharply criticized the Biden administration over the deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from the U.S.

“Over 10,000 Haitian migrants and asylum seekers are waiting at America’s doorstep, but the Biden administration won’t uphold their basic right to ask for protection,” said Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford in a press release. “This is blatantly illegal and morally reprehensible. Many of these people are asylum seekers who face grave danger if returned to Haiti. They have traveled thousands of miles to escape a country torn apart by devastating earthquakes and political turmoil.”

The White House in recent days has been struggling to respond to the influx of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers in Del Rio, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. Pictures of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing and whipping Haitians have sparked widespread outrage.

Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most migrants and asylum seekers because of the pandemic, remains in place. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun to deport Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from Texas.

Immigration Equality in its press release notes Charlot Jeudy, a member of Kouraj, a Haitian LGBTQ rights group, was found dead inside his home in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, in 2019.

Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remain commonplace in Haiti.

President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination on July 7 and an 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14 that left scores of people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of others have caused additional turmoil in Haiti, which is the Western Hemisphere’ poorest country.

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas in 2010 killed an estimated 200,000 people.

Fondation SEROvie, a Haitian HIV/AIDS service organization, contributed to relief efforts after Hurricane Matthew caused widespread damage on the country’s Tiburon Peninsula in 2016. Last month’s earthquake struck in the same area.

“For LGBTQ people in particular, expulsion means returning to a society that rejects them. They are frequent targets of violence and sexual assault, including by the police,” said Crawford. “The country is fundamentally unsafe for the queer and transgender community.”

“Instead of welcoming Haitian asylum seekers as the U.S. should, the Biden administration is sending them back to life-threatening conditions,” added Crawford. “We call on the administration to halt the deportation flights immediately and end Title 42 in its entirety. The disturbing images of border agents on horseback chasing down terrified Haitian migrants go against the administration’s professed ideals. Shame on the Biden administration for embracing this xenophobic and illegal Trump-era policy and mistreating vulnerable migrants.”

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