“We are not demanding new or special rights for people who identify as LGBT. We are just asking for the rights of all people to be respected”. Those were the words of Esdra Sosa, director of the Asociación LGBT Arcoiris on 6 December during the launch of the documentary ‘We are. Voices of Diversity (Somos. Voces de la diversidad)’, an activity organised with the support of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives. In the same way, Sosa insisted that “these rights are already recognised internationally, but Honduran governments have not respected them”.
This concern is shared by United Nations Special Rapporteur Michael Forst, who stated in his visit to Honduras in 2018 that he was very worried about “the high number of violent killings and attacks against LGBT people, the prevailing lack of accountability and almost total impunity”. In the same way, María Soledad Pazo, current Representative of the Office in Honduras of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), explains in the video that “LGBTI people in Honduras are particularly vulnerable because of certain highly intolerant religious trends and ideas that equate morality and gender expression with heteronormativity and binary identity”.
The figures back up these statements. From 2008 until the beginning of 2018, at least 295 LGBTIQ+ people were killed in Honduras; and at least 11 of them were recognised as human rights defenders. Nevertheless, the exact number is impossible to determine as at times, families and public institutions do not recognise or report that these killings are related to sexual orientation or gender identity, reporting them as common crimes. Moreover, LGBTIQ+ organisations frequently report that the perpetrators are members of the state security forces. This situation does not seem to have improved during 2019. So far this year, the Complaints Service in the Asociación Arcoiris has registered at least 21 murders of its sexually diverse membership, including 13 trans women.
Trans women represent a high percentage of victims of these attacks, although they are a minority within the LGBTIQ + community. “We are more vulnerable and we are more exposed to attacks, because we are more visible and, on many occasions, as a group we are often forced to engage in street sex work”, said JL Córdova, coordinator of the Grupo Muñecas in the Asociación Arcoiris. “We are being killed, and we are victims of hate crimes and terrible cruelty”, added Córdova, who also mentioned the lack of progress in investigating these murders. In Honduras, impunity rates are higher than 90%, and in the case of attacks against the LGBTIQ + community, this percentage exceeds 95%.
In spite of everything, Esdra Sosa said: “LGBTIQ + defenders do not get bogged down in thinking about who is going to be next; instead we continue with the struggle”. And José Figueroa, head of communication in the Asociación Arcoiris recalled that they have been working for months on an Equality Law that will not only benefit people of different sexual orientations and gender identities but also other vulnerable groups in the country such as the elderly, people with disabilities, women, children, and indigenous people. Just last October, the Ministry of Human Rights, the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion, Somos CDC and the Asociación Arcoiris signed a cooperation agreement to continue moving forwards in this direction.
The international community
To achieve this, Grecia O’Hara, head of communication at Somos CDC, recognises the importance of support from the international community. “Knowing that we have international support is a relief, because we know that we are not alone. We know that pressure from international organisations can have a huge impact. If we go alone to seek support, they ignore us. If we go with an international organisation, the doors open for us”. The international community was present at the event on 6 December. The Canadian Embassy, the delegation of the European Union and the Spanish Cooperation Agency, among others, showed their sensitivity and commitment to the situation of the LGBTIQ + community in the country.
Although LGBTIQ+ defenders are aware of all the obstacles, they also believe that they will achieve their goals. JL Córdova summed it up this way: “We are a strong movement. And even if they kill us, or silence us with threats, we can still achieve what we want”. María Soledad Pazo from the OHCHR spoke of these defenders as an example: “In my experience as a representative, I have had the honour of meeting absolutely committed, dedicated, courageous, constant, studious, strategic people… who have given me a lesson in what it means to defend human rights”.