September 9, 2020
Written by: Fundación Acceso, Shelter City partner in Costa Rica
Translated by: Niya Seklemova
Many kilometers divide Tegucigalpa, where José lives, from Guatemala City, where Jorge resides, but what they have in common (except for the first letter of their names) is their activism for the rights of the LGBTIQ+ people, and the fact that their lives have both been threatened as a result. The testimonies which they shared with us during their stay in Shelter City Costa Rica provide us with different shades of the Central America we know and see with our eyes every day.
From his experience in the Association for a Better Life (Asociación para una Vida Mejor – APUVIMEH), José introduced us into the Honduran context:
“We started to see that there was discrimination and lack of political will, but also, one intolerant society”.
APUVIMEH was born in Honduras with the aim to attend to the health situation of people affected by HIV. Currently, the organization is developing its work in the capital and in 5 state departments. José’s experience has taught him that it is not possible for people to improve their health unless their right to life is recognised. Relentless demands are made by his organisation to the government to take responsibility and address hate crimes: “We demand that the government ends the deaths, but also that the ones who have been murdered receive justice”.
What the world sees is a government which has ratified international instruments, which require it to guarantee the rights of the LGBTIQ+ population. What the practice shows, however, is a prevailing lack of political willingness to recognise their rights.
The story of José also lets us understand that following the 2009 Honduran coup d’état, the situation of the population in general and of the LBGTIQ+ community in particular, has worsened: “… we’ve practically lived in a state of helplessness, we do not have democracy any more, we do not have rule of law”. In addition, this situation has been an ideal breeding ground for hate crimes:
“From 2008 through 2018 there have been three hundred twenty five deaths and this year (2019) we have already counted more than twenty killings. The situation is really critical because the cases which are adjudicated are very few. Not more than forty five cases have been filed before Court and six have been acquitted”.
The growing political influence of fundamental religious groups has also had aggravating effects. Such groups have advanced changes in the Political Constitution to obstruct any progress in the recognition of the civil rights of the LGBTIQ+ population, like in the case of the right to same-sex marriage.
In the Guatemalan context, as well, Jorge shares that “there is a very obvious disrespect towards gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, intersex and all other people which make up this community”.
For the last 28 years his work has developed in Oasis, an organisation dedicated to the promotion and protection of the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community.
“In the beginning we did not have the slightest clue what human rights are, neither what the magnitude of their violation is for our personal and social lives. As time went by we started discovering that the problem was much bigger and that we did not have the capacities nor the possibilities to be able to tackle it in its entirety”.
His words are representative of the situation of LGBTIQ+ people and other unprotected groups in Guatemala. The concern is with a system which discriminates and subjects a significant part of the population to a permanent state of exclusion:
“Among the biggest problems which exist in Guatemala is the ‘machismo’, the racism and of course – the homophobia and transphobia. In Oasis we believe that these problems exist because of the economic model which protects the economic interests of a very small segment of the society, a segment which profits every time there is a conflict within the society, while they continue extracting resources from this same society which has been impoverished in a barbaric manner”.
“Among the biggest problems which exist in Guatemala is the ‘machismo’, the racism and of course – the homophobia and transphobia.”
In the analysis attained from his experience in the organisation, Jorge signals that the exclusion of people for their gender identity or sexual orientation begins in the family setting. It is there where the first indication is given regarding who does not fit the heterosexual and patriarchic model. In this setting LGBTIQ+ people face a perverse dilemma: to hide their sexual identity and give up their rights or to face a series of violent acts, among which expulsion from formal education, and as a consequence, exclusion from the opportunity to a decent work.
“The situation is extremely serious, because people who have families and even people who have economic capabilities end up in a situation of social exclusion in which they have to survive through sexual exploitation, which is a terribly harmful practice in the Guatemalan society”.
Jorge agrees with José on the active role which some churches play in maintaining this structure of social exclusion.
The Guatemalan defender decided to participate in Shelter City amidst a situation of persecution. His stay meant that he had space to connect with himself and he could share with colleagues from the region who live through similar situations.
“Living together with other people who are in a similar situation allows not only to get to know other contexts where people are in extreme conditions of social vulnerability, but also to learn about other struggles and to contribute by sharing my own struggle”.
Meanwhile, José found in Shelter City time to address his own personal needs again:
“Life gives us opportunities and I believe that this one has been an opportunity to re-charge our batteries”.
And also a space to reflect on his efforts in order to make his work more effective:
“We realise that we have been exposed, but also that we need to take care of our own selves because if we are defending the rights of many people who depend on our work, we are worthy of taking care of ourselves.”
They both continue working to improve the life conditions of the LGBTIQ+ people in Central America. This is a demanding task and it never comes to a halt. In the words of Jorge:
“We need to change a society which is extremely conservative, and until we have achieved this, no other changes will be possible, not just in Guatemala but also in Latin America and in the whole world”.
The dedication of these defenders combined with that of others, paints a rainbow through the dull horizon of Central America.
Against a background of growing digressions and threats to roll back on the guarantees of rights of LGBTIQ+ people, their strength and commitment together with that of others, remind us of the importance of their work and the risks they are facing. From Fundación Acceso we continue adding our voices to their demands and providing alternatives for integral protection, through the Shelter City and other initiatives.
Read the original article in Spanish and more articles by Fundación Acceso here.