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Honduras government institutions ‘are murdering us’

Lack of opportunities, violence prompt LGBTQ people to migrate

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La Ceiba, Honduras, on July 21, 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 Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico from July 11-25.

LA CEIBA, Honduras — Leonela and Jerlín, her partner of 11 years, and their school-age daughter live in La Ceiba, a city on Honduras’ Caribbean coast.

Jerlín was a bus driver in San Pedro Sula, the country’s commercial capital, until gang members shot him three times in 2012 because he couldn’t pay the extortion money from which they demanded from him each month. Jerlín, Leonela and their daughter subsequently fled to La Ceiba, which is about three hours east of San Pedro Sula.

“We left,” Jerlín told the Washington Blade on July 20 during an interview at the offices of Organización Pro Unión Ceibeña (Oprouce), a La Ceiba-based advocacy group. “We fled from there.”

Jerlín migrated to Mexico in January 2019, but returned to Honduras less than a month later because Leonela was in the hospital. The couple and their daughter migrated to Mexico a year later. 

Leonela asked for a Mexican humanitarian visa for her and her daughter once they arrived in Ciudad Hidalgo, a Mexican border city that is across the Suchiate River from Tecún Umán, Guatemala.

Leonela told the Blade that she planned to ask for asylum in Mexico and wanted to go to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Mexico’s Chiapas state, to find work. Leonela said she and Jerlín instead decided to return to Honduras because they did not want their daughter to further endure the “inhumane” conditions of the migrant detention center in Tapachula, a city that is roughly 20 miles northwest of Ciudad Hidalgo, in which they were living.

“We decided it was better to allow them to deport us,” said Jerlín.

A U.N. Refugee Agency mural in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, that faces the Suchiate River, which marks the border between Mexico and Guatemala, advises migrants of their rights once they enter Mexico. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jerlín, Leonela and their daughter returned to Honduras in May 2020. Someone shot at their house on July 10, 2020.

“They couldn’t even do what people wanted them to do, perhaps even buring us alive,” said Leonela.

Leonela and Jerlín are among the many LGBTQ Hondurans who have decided to leave Honduras in order to escape violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Vice President Kamala Harris and other Biden administration officials have acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is one of the “root causes” of migration from Honduras and neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador.

Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place. The White House has repeatedly told migrants not to travel to the U.S.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV, died at a New Mexico hospital on May 25, 2018, while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. 

Natasha, another trans Honduran woman, arrived in Matamoros, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, on Oct. 12, 2019. The previous administration forced her to pursue her U.S. asylum case in Mexico under its Migrant Protection Protocols. (The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the Biden administration to reinstate MPP.)

The Blade interviewed Natasha on Feb. 27 at a Matamoros shelter that Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants that Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city, helped create. The U.S. less than two weeks later allowed Natasha to enter the country.

Natasha, a transgender woman from Honduras who asked for asylum in the U.S., in Matamoros, Mexico, on Feb. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Oprouce Executive Director Sasha Rodríguez, who is trans, has participated in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

She said a lack of employment and housing associated with the pandemic has prompted more Hondurans to migrate to the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica. Rodríguez also told the Blade the U.S. and “our countries sell an American dream that doesn’t exist.”

“Why don’t these American organizations say don’t go,” she said, specifically referring to trans people who have decided to leave Honduras. “Here they see it as beautiful. They are already in the United States, but they were raped while trying to get there. They were kidnapped.”

Organización Pro Unión Ceibeña Executive Director Sasha Rodríguez in her office in La Ceiba, Honduras, on July 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Alexa, a 27-year-old trans woman from La Ceiba, told the Blade she has friends who live in Mexico. Alexa said she would like to leave Honduras, but she doesn’t want to leave her mother alone.

“I don’t want to leave her alone and abandon her because I have always fought for her,” Alexa told the Blade during an interview at Oprouce. “She supports me as a woman.”

Alexa said she served a nearly 3-year prison sentence for attempted murder, even though she was defending herself against a woman who was hitting her in the face with a rock. Alexa began to sob when she started to tell the Blade about the Salvadoran man who raped her in prison. She said the warden then forced her to cut her hair and guards doused her with “ice cold water” in an isolation cell.

“I was a woman,” said Alexa. “They made me a man.”

Alexa told the Blade that other prisoners tried to kill her. She said she also tried to die by suicide several times until her release on Jan. 27.

Alexa said she has not been able to find a job since she left prison. She also told the Blade that gang members continue to threaten her.

“It is sometimes very difficult to lead the lifestyle that we lead as trans women in Honduras,” she said, referring to anti-trans discrimination and a lack of employment opportunities.

Venus, a 30-year-old trans woman who is also from La Ceiba, echoed Alexa.

“To be a trans person is synonymous with teasing, harassment, violence and even death,” Venus told the Blade at Oprouce.

Venus said Honduran soldiers regularly attack trans women. She told the Blade a lack of access to health care, machismo and patriarchal attitudes are among the myriad other issues that she and other trans Hondurans face.

“We don’t have access to education, to health (care), to a job,” said Venus. “Above all we are fighting for a gender-based law that recognizes us as women and men.”

Venus added she, like Alexa, would leave Honduras “if I was given the opportunity to do so.”

Landmark ruling finds Honduras responsible for trans woman’s murder

Red Lésbica Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group based in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, notes 373 LGBTQ Hondurans were reported killed in the country between 2009-2020.

Statistics indicate 119 of those murdered were trans. Red Lésbica Cattrachas also noted 18 of the LGBTQ Hondurans who were reported killed were in Atlántida department in which La Ceiba is located.

Vicky Hernández was a trans activist and sex worker with HIV who worked with Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, a San Pedro Sula-based advocacy group.

Hernández’s body was found in a San Pedro Sula street on June 29, 2009, hours after the coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya from power. Hernández and two other trans women the night before ran away from police officers who tried to arrest them because they were violating a curfew.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in June issued a landmark ruling that found Honduras responsible for Hernández’s murder.

The ruling ordered Honduras to pay reparations to Hernández’s family and enact laws that protect LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination. The government of President Juan Orlando Hernández, whose brother, former Congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, is serving a life sentence in the U.S. after a federal jury convicted him of trafficking tons of cocaine into the country, has not publicly responded to the ruling.

Rodríguez noted to the Blade that Oprouce and other advocacy groups have been fighting for a trans rights law in Honduras for more than a decade.

“We have had failure for 11 years, but I think that with what happened with the Inter-American Court, the recommendations that have come from the Vicky Hernández case could achieve something important,” said Rodríguez. “There are very good human rights recommendations for Honduras and there are good recommendations that Honduras could automatically apply to trans women.”

Rodríguez as she discussed the ruling reiterated trans Hondurans continue to face violence, discrimination and a lack of employment opportunities. Rodríguez also reiterated her sharp criticism of her country’s government and its institutions.

“Societal exclusion forces us to do sex work,” she said. “We are being harmed by our trade: Murder, persecution, hate crimes, torture, beatings.”

“I always say that it is an institutional death because state institutions are murdering us,” added Rodríguez.

‘My fight is here’

In spite of these challenges, Rodríguez said there has been progress.

Oprouce — which works on a variety of issues that include the prevention of gender-based violence and fighting HIV/AIDS — offers workshops to the Public Ministry, the Honduran Armed Forces and judges. Asociación de Prevención y Educación en Salud, Sexualidad, Sida y Derechos Humanos (Aprest), another advocacy group in Tela, a city that is about 60 miles west of La Ceiba, conducts similar trainings with local and national authorities.

Aprest Executive Director Leonel Barahona Medina told the Blade during an interview at a beachfront restaurant in Tela on July 20 that city officials have given him an office from which he and his colleagues can work. Barahona said they also supported activists who raised the Pride flag on June 27 in front of Tela City Hall.

A similar ceremony took place in a park in the center of La Ceiba.

“We have good relations with them,” said Barahona, referring to Tela officials.

Aprest Executive Director Leonel Barahona Medina raises the Pride flag at Tela City Hall in Tela, Honduras, on June 27, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Leonel Barahona Medina)

Both Barahona and Rodríguez said their work will continue.

“My fight is here,” said Rodríguez. “My essence and my dreams are here.”

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

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South America

Chilean government launches LGBTQ, intersex rights campaign

Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo spoke exclusively with the Blade

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Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo has participated in the Chilean government's LGBTIQA+ Roundtable. (Photo courtesy of Chile's Women and Gender Equity Ministry)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean President Gabriel Boric on Wednesday launched his government’s first LGBTQ and intersex rights campaign that seeks to reduce discrimination against the country’s queer community. 

According to the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh), a Chilean LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, hate crimes against the community have increased this year by 66 percent. Five people have also been murdered because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression.

Boric during his campaign against José Antonio Kast, a far-right former congressman, pledged to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights and policies during his administration. The #LivingWithPride campaign is part of these efforts.

Boric’s first gesture towards the queer community was to appoint Marco Antonio Avila, a gay man, as his government’s education minister and Alexandra Benado Vergara, a lesbian woman, as Chile’s next sports minister. Ávila and Benado arrived at La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace, with Boric on March 11 when he took office. 

“President Gabriel Boric Font’s government has implemented a series of measures that seek to advance in safeguarding the rights of LGBTQ+ people,” Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview after the government launched the #LivingWithPride (#VivirConOrgullo in Spanish) campaign.

Vidal said “one of the relevant lines of work that the Ministry of Women and Gender Equity has developed since we took office … seeks to highlight the structural difficulties experienced by people of the LGBTIQA+ community, move towards state representation, since there is currently no institutionality that welcomes this community.”

“This is why we have taken the mandate to welcome this population, within the legal possibilities that govern the ministry,” Vidal emphasized to the Blade.

Vidal said “the gender mainstreaming network that has been reactivated with our government has opened a door to the organizations of the LGBTIQA+ community in all portfolios.” 

“The advisors in charge of gender mainstreaming do not understand gender in a binary way, they have the conviction that we must also develop public policies for the LGBTIQA+ community.” she told the Blade.

Boric directed the Women and Gender Equity Ministry and his administration’s sociocultural coordinator to create and lead an “LGBTIQA+ Roundtable,” which includes organizations, activists and members of the LGBTQ Congressional Caucus to work to implement their demands because Chile thus far does not have a government institution that specifically addresses queer rights. 

“The roundtable’s objective is to generate and prioritize, together with the LGBTIQA+ community, guidelines for the development of public policies on the matter, from an intersectoral perspective,” said Vidal. “More than 35 civil society organizations from all over the country, representatives of the Legislative Branch and different (Executive Branch) portfolios have participated.” 

Vidal stressed “this space of constant linkage with social organizations has allowed us to know the reality that social organizations of the LGBTIQA+ community live when linking with State agencies.” She also noted “the experience has been successful, being a valuable space that will allow us to build a work path for the design of gender equality public policies relevant to the LGBTIQA+ community, to improve their lives and eradicate gender-based violence and hate crimes against the community.”

The roundtable has been meeting once a month since May. It’s last 2022 meeting will take place this month, and it will resume its work next year.

Vidal told the Blade that transgender women can now use her ministry’s public policies.

“We consider trans women as part of the diversity of women, which implies that they can access the different benefits of the National Service for Women and Gender Equity (SernamEG), which is the executing body of the ministry’s programs,” she said. 

Another initiative Vidal highlighted is the incorporation of a “social name” section in the public employment pages for those who have not yet legally changed their name. This option allows people to identify themselves as trans or nonbinary.

The Education Ministry “has developed a participatory process for the design of the Bill on National Policy on Education on Affectivity and Comprehensive Sexuality. It has also made it possible for students, mothers, fathers, parents, guardians and education workers to participate in what Vidal described as “non-sexist” education workshops.

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Russia

WNBA star Brittney Griner released

Olympic Gold medalist detained in Moscow in February

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(Bigstock photo)

Russian authorities have released WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Griner was released in exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S. The exchange took place in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

Griner had been serving a nine-year prison sentence after a Russian court convicted her on the importation of illegal drugs after Russian customs officials found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

American officials had previously acknowledged their willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a deal to secure Griner’s release. A senior administration official on Thursday told reporters during a conference call that Russian authorities earlier this week moved Griner from the penal colony where she had been serving her sentence to Moscow.

The official said Griner flew to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens greeted Griner once she landed.

“She is now in the air,” said the official.

President Biden spoke with Griner before she left the United Arab Emirates. The White House tweeted a picture of Biden in the Oval Office with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“She is safe,” tweeted Biden. “She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

Cherelle Griner was standing alongside Biden, Harris and Blinken at the White House when the president spoke about Brittney Griner’s release.

“It’s just a happy day for me and my family,” said Cherelle Griner.

Cherelle Griner added she and her wife remain “committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul” Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for spying.

A senior administration official on Thursday said the White House proposed “multiple different options” that included Whelan’s release. The official added the Biden administration remains “committed” to his release.

The Russian Foreign Ministry in a statement acknowledged “a Russian citizen (Bout) has been returned to his homeland.”

Blinken issued a lengthy statement after Griner’s release.

“This morning, I joined President Biden, Vice President Harris, National Security Advisor Sullivan and Cherelle Griner in the Oval Office as Cherelle spoke to her wife Brittney, who is now on her way back to the United States and to her wife’s loving embrace,” said Blinken. “I am grateful to the State Department team and to our colleagues across the government who worked tirelessly to secure her release. I especially commend Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, who is accompanying Brittney back to the United States, as well as his entire team. We also extend deep appreciation to our many partners who helped achieve this outcome, including our Emirati friends, who assisted in the transfer today.”

“While we celebrate Brittney’s release, Paul Whelan and his family continue to suffer needlessly,” added Blinken. “Despite our ceaseless efforts, the Russian Government has not yet been willing to bring a long overdue end to his wrongful detention. I wholeheartedly wish we could have brought Paul home today on the same plane with Brittney. Nevertheless, we will not relent in our efforts to bring Paul and all other U.S. nationals held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad home to their loved ones where they belong.”  

LGBTQ rights groups applauded Brittney Griner’s release.

“Britney Griner’s long awaited release is a relief for her wife, teammates, fans and all in the LGBTQ community who recognized the extreme danger she faced as an out gay Black woman detained in Putin’s Russia,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “Britney’s wife Cherelle never gave up fighting for her safe return, and President Biden and the State Department never wavered in their commitment to the Griners and the LGBTQ community on Britney’s behalf. We can’t wait to welcome Britney home.”

“The wait is over. Brittney Griner is coming home, and not a moment too soon,” added Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson. “Brittney is so much more than a WNBA superstar and Olympian, she is an American hero who had undergone unfathomable hardship. After being wrongfully held for 294 days away from her home, her friends, and most importantly her family, we celebrate her release. The HRC family is grateful for the State Department’s efforts to free her — and to any member of our community facing hate and extremism — your community will never stop fighting for you, just like we never stopped fighting for Brittney.”

National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson in their statement noted “number 42 has been hanging on my wall as a daily reminder of the violence and discrimination Black people, LGBTQ folks and women regularly endure in this country and around the world.”

“After being held for months in a Russian prison on drug charges, we are overjoyed and relieved she has been released today in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout,” said Johnson. “We thank President Biden and all those who relentlessly negotiated and advocated for her release and return to her family. Now her jersey will be a celebration and reminder of the resilience of our people and the power of our community.”

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Caribbean

Court orders Aruba, Curaçao to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples

‘The right to same-sex marriage has been established’

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Curaçao is one of the constituent countries in the Caribbean that are part of the Netherlands. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A court on Tuesday ruled Aruba and Curaçao must allow same-sex couples to marry.

The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba that has jurisdiction over three constituent countries (Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten) and three special municipalities (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba) within the Netherlands issued the ruling in two marriage equality cases that Fundacion Orguyo Aruba and Human Rights Caribbean in Curaçao filed on behalf of two women who want marriage rights in Aruba and Curaçao.

“The court has come to the conclusion that excluding same-sex marriage is in violation of the prohibition of discrimination and incompatible with state regulations,” reads the ruling, according to the Curaçao Chronicle, an English newspaper in Curaçao. 

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry and adopt children in Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba since 2012.

Same-sex couples cannot legally marry in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. The countries, however, must recognize same-sex marriages from the Netherlands, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba.

The Court of First Instance in Curaçao on Sept. 13, 2021, ruled the lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples violated the country’s constitution. Prime Minister Gilmar Pisas’ government appealed the decision in the Human Rights Caribbean case. 

Aruba’s registered partnership law took effect in September 2021. Accion 21, a centrist party that openly gay Sen. Miguel Mansur chairs, in June introduced a marriage equality bill.

Janice Tjon Sien Kie of Human Rights Caribbean on Tuesday told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview the ruling could take effect as early as March 7 if the Curaçaoan government does not appeal it to the Dutch Supreme Court in The Hague.

“As of March 7, Curaçao has marriage equality,” she said. “If they (the government) go into appeal, it would only cause a delay of approximately 18 months.”

Mansur and Melissa Gumbs, an openly lesbian member of the Sint Maarten Parliament, attended the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in D.C. this past weekend.

“Essentially the right to same-sex marriage has been established by the appeals court in both Curaçao and Aruba,” Mansur told the Blade on Tuesday.

Mansur noted the ruling does not address adoption rights for same-sex couples. He told the Blade on Wednesday he does not expect the Aruban government to appeal it, and the Advisory Council will receive the marriage equality bill on Dec. 16.

Gumbs, who founded the center left Party for Progress in Sint Maarten in 2019, on Tuesday told the Blade there “is precedent now within the Caribbean part of the kingdom (of the Netherlands) that it’s not right to withhold same-sex marriage rights from people.” Gumbs added her party plans to introduce a marriage equality bill in Parliament.

“That’s something that we will be using,” said Gumbs, referring to the ruling.

Cuba, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Barthélemy are the other jurisdictions in the Caribbean in which same-sex couples can legally marry. 

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