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First openly gay Honduras congressman reflects on historic election

Victor Grajeda hopes to expand opportunities for LGBTQ Hondurans

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Victor Grajeda is the first openly gay man elected to the Honduran Congress. He spoke with the Washington Blade on Feb. 7, 2022, in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — The first openly gay man elected to the Honduran Congress on Monday described his election as a “very important” milestone for the country’s LGBTQ community.

“It is something that has marked a before and an after; a great responsibility fell on my shoulders,” Victor Grajeda told the Washington Blade during an interview in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city.

Grajeda, 31, is from San Pedro Sula and works at a beauty supply store. He lives with his partner of 13 years and their two cats.

Congresswoman Silvia Ayala of the leftist Free Party ahead of Honduras’ congressional elections that took place on Nov. 28 tapped Grajeda to be her “suplente,” which is alternate in Honduran Spanish and within the structure of the country’s political system. He will represent Ayala in Congress if she cannot attend sessions in person.

Grajeda, who is one of five openly LGBTQ candidates who ran for Congress, received more than 100,000 votes. He and Ayala represent Cortés department in which San Pedro Sula is located.

San Pedro Sula, gay news, Washington Blade
San Pedro Sula City Hall (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Grajeda spoke with the Blade less than two weeks after President Xiomara Castro, who is also a member of the Free Party, took office.

Castro defeated Nasry Asfura, a member of former President Juan Orlando Hernández’s National Party who is the former mayor of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, in the presidential election’s first round that also took place on Nov. 28. A 2009 coup toppled Castro’s husband, former President Manuel Zelaya.

Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power are among the dignitaries who attended Castro’s inauguration that took place at Honduras’ national stadium in Tegucigalpa on Jan. 27.

The inauguration took place amid a bitter dispute among Free Party members over who would become the Congress’ next president. Grajeda, who attended Castro’s inauguration, nevertheless described the event as “a return of hope.”

“It will be a bit difficult for things to change overnight and for (Honduras) to be another country tomorrow where everything is happiness,” Grajeda told the Blade. “But (Castro’s inauguration) marks a change, a new hope, a new opportunity, fresh air.”

Grajeda described 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, as a “narco president.” The Blade spoke with Grajeda hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the U.S. had officially sanctioned the former Honduran president for corruption.

“It was only a matter of time,” said Grajeda.

‘We had three murders in less than 24 hours’

Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remain commonplace in Honduras.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a landmark ruling it issued last June said the Honduran state was responsible for the murder of Vicky Hernández, a transgender activist who was killed in San Pedro Sula hours after the 2009 coup.

Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group in Tegucigalpa, notes Vicky Hernández and more than 400 other LGBTQ people have been killed in Honduras since 2009.

Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent trans activist, was killed outside her Tegucigalpa home on Jan. 11. Three LGBTQ people, including a gay couple in San Pedro Sula, were reported murdered in Honduras on Feb. 2.

Thalía Rodríguez in her Tegucigalpa home. She was murdered on Jan. 11, 2022. (Photo by Amilcar Cárcamo/Reportar sin Miedo)

Castro has not publicly commented on the Vicky Hernández ruling, but she has expressed support for marriage rights for same-sex couples. Grajeda noted to the Blade that Castro has also called for the legal recognition of trans Hondurans and supports “safe spaces” for LGBTQ people.

“The issue of violence, the issue of spaces is serious,” said Grajeda. “We had three murders in less than 24 hours.”

Harris and other Biden administration officials have acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is one of the “root causes” of migration from Honduras and neighboring countries.

Grajeda told the Blade that expanding access to education is a “key issue with respect to opportunities for the LGBT community.” Grajeda also said trans Hondurans in particular need more access to formal employment.

“The only opportunities available to trans people are to work as prostitutes, as sex workers,” he said.

“The same stigma that discriminates against them leaves them without access to education,” added Grajeda. “There are people (in the trans community) who are very intelligent, very capable.”

Harris comments about migrants ‘understandable’

Many of the migrant caravans that hope to reach the U.S. leave from San Pedro Sula’s main bus station.

The main bus station in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, from which many migrant caravans leave. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Immigrant rights groups in the U.S. last June criticized Harris when she told migrants from Central America not to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border. Grajeda described Harris’ comments as “understandable.”

“It is a position that she has because it is her country,” said Grajeda. “We cannot close our eyes to the fact that a really large number of people who go (to the border) are not all that legal, and that creates a burden.”

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Africa

Homophobic attacks in South Africa persist

Mpho Falithenjwa died by suicide after he was bullied for being gay

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Mpho Falithenjwa, 14, died by suicide earlier this month after he was bullied because he was gay. (Photo courtesy of Mpho Falithenjwa's Facebook page)

Despite having a constitution that explicitly protects LGBTQ and intersex South Africans, homophobic attacks remain pervasive in the country.

Mpho Falithenjwa, 14, died by suicide earlier this month after he was bullied because he was gay, according to his sister who spoke with MambaOnline, a local LGBTQ and intersex publication. South Africa’s LGBTQ and intersex community is wondering how an incident like this can be averted from happening again.

“We believe that the untimely passing of Mpho was mainly because of societal pressure, because of how society made it impossible for Mpho to come out without fear or prejudice, so what happened to Mpho really saddens us as activists it saddens us as Access Chapter 2 but over and above it saddens us as a country that 26 years after officially signing this Constitution as a country, we still have to grapple with issues of addressing the victimization of homophobia and transphobia subjected to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and it happened a time when we are reflecting and commemorating international Pride,” said Mpho Buntse of Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTQ and intersex rights organization. 

“Moreso, it brings eyes into the country to question the credibility of our Constitution because it cannot be that we have a Constitution that embraces the 2SLGBTQIA+ community yet it still makes it difficult for people to live without prejudice so this was conversion practice in the making because of the pressure that Mpho was given by society to conform to what society believes Mpho is as compared to what Mpho believes he is,” added Buntse. “What happened to self-affirmation? Generally as a country I think we really need to take a stance, a very strong stance in fighting and confronting issues of transphobia and homophobia from a place of policy more than anything.” 

Ruth Maseko of the Triangle Project called for more stringent measures to be taken against any form of bullying.

“There are many forms of bullying, verbally, physically and emotionally, it is abusive and should never be tolerated. Nobody should stand by no matter who you are, what your position is or what your age is and watch another person being bullied,” said Maseko. “Moreover, a deep concern for us is that the ages of perpetrators of hate crimes have been young. What are we passing on to our young people? What messages are we giving them, that makes it okay to start calling people names and excluding people because of who they are?”  

Falithenjwa’s death by suicide is the latest case to send shockwaves across South Africa.

A court in Pretoria in April sentenced two men to life in prison for raping a 19-year-old lesbian in 2020.

Human Rights Watch statistics indicate at least 20 LGBTQ and intersex people were reported killed in South Africa between February and October 2021. The international NGO indicates many of them were either beaten or stabbed to death because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We cannot keep losing young lives just based on who they are and how they identify. It’s hard when you are young and feel that you are not accepted and then bullied, and nobody does anything to stop bullying wherever it happens,” said Maseko. “That person then turns that hate inwards and ends their own life before their life has even really begun. Why? Just because of who that person is? Words have the ability to cause this outcome and it is devastating that a young person feels like they can no longer go on because of someone else’s words.”

Maseko added it is “not acceptable and should not be tolerated.” 

“Our children should be learning in their homes that it is never okay to do this to others. Children should not engage in prejudice,” said Maseko. “If they have learnt it, because none of us are born with prejudice, they have the ability to unlearn it. In schools, where it is evident that someone is the target of bullying on any grounds, immediate action should be taken.”

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Europe

Turkish police arrest hundreds over banned Pride parade

Istanbul officials sought to prevent event from happening

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LGBTQ activists in Istanbul on June 26, 2022, with a banner reads: ""If you don't let us walk, we will open our asses" (Photo courtesy of Kuir Mavzer/Kaos GL)

Hundreds of LGBTQ people, allies and supporters took to the streets of Istanbul Sunday in defiance of the country’s government’s ongoing 2014 ban of Pride parades and Pride Month festivities.

Protestors violently clashed repeatedly with police and security forces in various neighborhoods located around the Bol Ahenk Sokak (Pedestrian Plaza) and other sections of the central downtown area.

Authorities had shut down the city’s transit systems hours prior to the influx of LGBTQ activists and demonstrators and flooded streets with police in riot gear who made hundreds of arrests, in some cases tear gassing participants and attacking them with clubs.

Government security forces arrested over 373 people including Agence France-Presse journalist and chief photographer Bülent Kılıç. Detainees were taken by bus to a central holding facility for processing. Photojournalist Mehmet Demirci documented the arrest of Kılıç in a Twitter post.

Ankara-based Kaos GL, the largest Turkish LGBTQ activist group, documented the arrests and clashes which occurred prior to the 5 p.m. planned parade kick-off in a series of Twitter posts.

KAOS GL in a press release on Monday noted that “the detentions experienced during the march, was among ‘firsts’ for this year. Totally 373 LGBTIs and LGBTI+ right defenders were taken into custody on the day of march! This number is a record both in the history of Pride marches and the other public demonstrations.”

The group also recorded the scope of anti-LGBTQ Pride Month bans and pressure by Turkey’s governmental bodies across the country.

“There were 10 ban decisions announced within the scope of Pride Month events. These ban decisions were taken by Boğaziçi University Rectorate, METU Rectorate, Gaziantep Governorship, Çanakkale Governorship, Datça District Governorship, Beyoğlu District Governorship, Kadıköy District Governorship, Eskişehir Governorship and İzmir Governorship.

The detentions began with 70 people at ninth Boğaziçi Pride March on May 20, increasingly went on till June 26. 373 people were taken into custody in Istanbul on June 26. This number is among the highest detentions within the context of the public demonstrations in İstanbul recent years. Totally 530 LGBTI+s and LGBTI+ right defenders were detained in 37 days.”

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South America

Activists across South America mark Pride Month

Demonstration in Chilean capital drew more than 100,000 people

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More than 100,000 people attended a Pride protest in Santiago, Chile, on June 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Gonzalo Velásquez)

Activists in Chile and across Latin America on June 25 took to the streets to celebrate Pride Month.

The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh) and Fundación Iguales in Chile organized a demonstration in Santiago, the country’s capital, in which more than 100,000 people participated. March organizers demanded the repeal of Article 365 of the Chilean Penal Code that criminalizes same-sex couples.

Movilh member Felipe Castillo explained “Article 365 of the Penal Code stigmatizes and discriminates against young homosexuals, as it sets 18 years as the age of sexual consent, when for heterosexuals it is 14 years.”

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has asked Chile to repeal Article 365. The country has committed to eliminate the law in an agreement it signed with Movilh in 2016 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Chile’s marriage equality law took effect on March 10, the day before President Gabriel Boric took office. 

New Colombia president a sign of hope for LGBTQ, intersex activists

LGBTQ and intersex activists in Colombia are looking forward to what will be a new political era after former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro won the second round of the country’s presidential elections on June 19. Petro, along with his running mate, Vice President-elect Francia Márquez, who will be the country’s first vice president of African descent, will be the first leftist executives in Colombian history.

A source in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, told the Washington Blade that Petro during the campaign pledged to fight violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to implement policies “for the reaffirmation of gender identities and sexual orientation without barriers for all non-binary people and transgender people in Colombia.”

Manuel Velandia, a long-time Colombian LGBTQ and intersex activist who organized the country’s first demonstration in support of queer rights 39 years ago, told the Blade that authorities sent a contingent of 100 police officers and “we — 29 gay men, two lesbian women and a transsexual woman — marched.”

“The march could take place because in Colombia it was a crime to be homosexual and we achieved the decriminalization of homosexuality in the Penal Code,” said Velandia.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Bogotá on June 25 to demand a nationwide LGBTQ and intersex strategy “as a measure to guarantee the rights of this population, combat discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sexual characteristics (OSIEGCS), and eliminate the barriers that persist for the materialization of the rights acquired by judicial means, according to national and international human rights standards.” 

Velandia explained to the Blade that activists are “writing a document of what we expect from the next government from president’s inauguration and during the first 100 days.”

“We now are focusing on the most priority issues,” said Velandia. “We think that a law that comes out of a ministry is not as important as a national law passed by Congress.”

Additional Pride marches will take place in Bogotá in the coming days.

Peruvian activists hold country’s largest-ever Pride march

The largest Pride march in Peru’s history took place on June 25 in Lima, the country’s capital.

“It has been the largest march in the 20 years of history of this massive activity,” activist Jorge Apolaya told the Blade. “[It was a] joyful rebellion, as we call it.”

Apoyala pointed out activists took to the streets because “it is necessary” for Peru and President Pedro Castillo’s government to act on “the demands of the LGBT population, the gender identity law, the equal marriage law that are pending before respective committees in the Congress of the Republic and generate the necessary discussions so that they can be debated.”

According to the activist, “the country continues to remain at the back door with respect to respect for LGBT human rights in the world, but not even in the world, but at the Latin American level.”

Protests prompt cancellation of many Ecuador Pride events

Protests that have taken place across Ecuador for more than two weeks prompted activists to suspend most activists and demonstrations in favor of LGBTQ and intersex rights that had been scheduled to take place this month.

“There are seven Prides that have already been suspended out of those that were scheduled,” Diane Rodríguez, a prominent Ecuadorian activist, told the Blade.

Rodríguez noted two marches in the cities of Santo Domingo and Loja were able to take place on Saturday.

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