One year after the decision in the case “Vicky Hernandez and Others vs Honduras'' where the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (ICHR) ruled in favor of the LGBTQ+ community and led President Xiomara Castro to apologize on behalf of the Honduran government for the killing of trans activist, Vicky Hernandez, in a public ceremony in May, the fight of the LGBTQ+ community for equality and gender recognition continues. In a Twitter Space organized by Contracorriente, leaders from the different LGBTQ+ collectives discussed the current state of the movement and their experiences with the new government.
Text: Jorge Paz Reyes
Photography: Jorge Cabrera
Xiomara Castro’s government marked a promising beginning in the fight for LGBT+ rights with a presidential campaign focused on inclusion and participation. In May, the president led a public ceremony where the State assumed international responsibility and asked for forgiveness for the 2009 murder of Vicky Hernandez. At the ceremony, the president also pledged to implement several administrative and legal procedures to guarantee the respect and human rights of the LGBTI+ community. Among them. A gender identity procedure that allows the change of personal data and identity according to gender expression.
Recently, however, the government has shown a fragile position in its commitment to sexual diversity and equality. In mid-June, Honduras’ National Radio launched a campaign to promote respect for sexual diversity. One of the ads stars a 15-year-old girl telling her mother that she is in love, while the mother asks “and who is she?”, letting her know that she knew about her sexual orientation and that she loved her anyway. The spot ends with the message: “People have different ways of feeling and expressing love, being a lesbian is just one of them… This is a message from Honduras’ National Radio, the voice of the nation”. The radio ad caused controversy almost immediately, especially among conservative religious circles, and led the government to withdraw it a few days after its broadcast.
Although the Undersecretary of Press, Carlos Estrada, defended and explained that the announcement was part of a campaign to “make visible and raise awareness of the issue”, the Presidential House was unhappy with the announcement. The former president and advisor to the president, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, said that something like this “would not happen again”.
Violence towards the LGBTI+ community has also remained, with more than 5 LGBTI+ victims registered in 2022. The last case that marked the community was the murder of Suany Maradiaga – a 31-year-old transgender woman – in the streets of San Pedro Sula. According to LGBTI+ activists, Maradiaga had filed three complaints with the Public Prosecutor’s Office prior to her murder.
The controversy of the radio ad and the violence against the community demonstrates an uncertain position of the government on sexual diversity issues and gives much to talk about the future of the struggle for equality and human rights of the LGBTI+ community in Honduras.
Expectations vs reality
The electoral campaign based on inclusivity and the President’s promises at the beginning of the year left many members of the community hopeful for definitive support on issues of sexual and gender diversity. However, 6 months into the new government, the dynamic between the government and LGBTI+ issues has been more complex than expected.
Allyson Soad, an activist for the rights of the trans community, explained that with the change of government there were “too many expectations”, especially in the area of representation and participation of LGBTI+ members. However, over time different scenarios have been seen that on the one hand favor the community, but on the other hand do not advance and cause concern.
During the first 100 days, Allyson Soad explains that the Government worked with different civil groups to identify and make visible the different problems of each social group. In the context of the Gender Identity Law, several meetings have been held with the National Registry of Persons, but several obstacles have been encountered in the process, such as the influence of religious fundamentalism.
Religious fundamentalism “creates a barrier that prevents us from reaching the goal, the objective, in this case the (gender identity) law,” Soad explained. So far there has been no concrete answer as to what the process of changing the name of trans persons would consist of.
The activist and member of Somos CDC (Center for Development and Collaboration LGTBI), Grecia Ohara, added that the Government has failed with the expectation that it was going to govern for “all the populations that have been historically violated”. Once the government took office, “the reality of things has been seen” and there is a disappointment of the population that “trusted the president with their vote”, Ohara emphasized.
The two activists acknowledge that there are many people in the government willing to work with the LGBTI+ community, but in general the president’s administration has not focused on providing a clear procedure for the community. “There is no willingness on the part of the institutions,” Ohara explained. In talks with the government for the recognition of trans people, Ohara explains that the government has complicated things by adding more procedures and institutions that only hinder the advancement of identity reform. The anger comes from the fact that the administration made the identity process look “very easy” from the beginning and “it seems like they did it to get out of the way,” he stressed.
Now that the dialogue has begun, not much organization has been seen and the uncertainty surrounding the different recognition processes has fragmented even the LGBTI+ organizations themselves. The confusion between the Reform to the Law and Regulations of the National Registry and the advancement of the Gender Identity Law has created tension among the different LGBTI+ collectives. “We have been surprised how instead of advancing for the recognition of our population we are fragmenting,” Ohara explained.
Allyson Soad explained that at the moment the important thing is to continue pressuring the government and continue the struggle for the recognition of the community. “What is convenient at the moment is to see the fruit of this struggle and remember that part of the LGBT struggle also belongs to the popular resistance movement and the Libertad y Refundacion Party,” she added. Both activists concluded that progress “cannot be superficial” and that actions cannot be left out without first consulting the LGBTI+ community.
A problem of representation and ignorance
In the same Twitter Space, the problem of representation and ignorance was also discussed. Allyson Soad, as well as Grecia Ohara, confirmed that many of the problems of violence and hate have to do with the way the media and the government has represented the LGBTI+ community.
Grecia Ohara explains that the LGBTI+ community in Honduras has always been misrepresented: “The LGBTI+ community is always being told the same story, a group that demands rights that we don’t deserve.” The representation of the community usually does not come from the community, but from external members. With the radio wedge, for example, Ohara complains that the LGBTI+ representation was the wrong one. “That’s not our language, a Honduran mom doesn’t talk to her daughter like that,” Ohara said. According to the activist, the language and context of the ad is not appropriate and only leads the Honduran population to judge the LGBTI+ community in a cruel and ignorant way.
“They are not addressing the issue…from the eye of LGBTI+ people and they are looking at it from the cisgender perspective of heterosexual people,” Ohara explained. It is the lack of LGBTI+, especially trans, representation in the government that hinders the dynamic between the government, the LGBTI+ community and the rest of society. Ohara stressed that without the perspective of the LGBTI+ community, decisions that are made may end up negatively affecting the community, as was the case with the radio spot that incited a violent and derogatory reaction.
Within the discussion for fair representation, the issue of visibility and stigmatization was also addressed. Another major problem affecting the LGBTI+ community in Honduras is stigmatization and low visibility. Activist Allyson Soad explained that it is fundamental to educate the population about the processes and petitions of the different LGBTI+ organizations and to highlight the reality that the community lives. Both activists stressed the importance of recognizing the oppressive system within religious fundamentalism that “excludes the community from many opportunities and prohibits advancement”.
“We have an average life span of 30-35 years of age,” Soad stressed. Therefore “we have to follow up on each of the actions we have in the organizations” to make visible the fight against hate and violence, Soad explained.
Soad spoke of the small achievements that have emerged with justice operators as an example of the importance of follow-up with different LGBTI+ collectives. Forensic teams have begun to deal appropriately with victims of violence from the LGBTI+ community thanks to follow-up with LGBTI+ organizations such as Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa and Asociación Feministra Trans. Soad explained that lately the authorities have been focusing on people from the collective in order to clarify and identify if the person was part of the LGBTI+ community… and to be able to orient themselves appropriately”. However, the activist admits that the situation of violence does not stop worrying.
Grecia Ohara added that within the institutionality there are people who have a real commitment to human rights, but the problem is the stigmatization of the LGBTI+ movement. The activist explains that the big obstacle for justice operators and politicians who want to support the LGBTI+ movement is the fear of being fired or stigmatized for simply associating with the community. Ohara explains that it is incredible how in the National Congress itself there have been homophobic acts against deputies for their sexual orientation or support, as in the case of Victor Grajeda – openly gay Libre congressman – who was insulted for his sexual orientation in the National Congress recently.
The activists emphasize that in order to promote the rights of the LGBTI+ community, the movement must be destigmatized and the population must be educated that the interests of the LGBTI+ community go far beyond sexuality, and that in the end they only seek to obtain rights like any other community.
A law for gender identity
To conclude the Twitter Space discussion, the activists discussed the importance of the different legislative processes that the Xiomara Castro administration promised to the LGBTI+ community, specifically highlighting the procedures around gender expression and identity.
As activists Grecia Ohara and Allyson Soad explained, the reality is that the procedures for the Gender Identity Law have been disorganized and confusing. Ohara, who has worked on the reform project known as La Reforma a la Ley y Reglamento del Registro Nacional (the reform to law and policy of the national people’ registry) since 2019, explains that it is fundamental to have a reform and law for the recognition of trans people. The reform ensures that trans people can change their name and gender expression in public records; but Ohara highlights that it is only an administrative process and a law is necessary to be able to permanently shield the process.
“Trans women and men and the community must advocate not only for an administrative process, but for a process that is law,” explains Grecia Ohara.
Activist Allyson Soad added that the Gender Identity Law is fundamental because it will help break all those “taboos and barriers” that have limited the trans community for a long time. The activist also stressed other benefits that the law would bring beyond gender expression, such as access to education, jobs and decent housing.
Overall, this Twitter Space highlighted the complex situation of the dynamics between the new government, the LGBTI+ movement and Honduran society, as well as the desire on the part of the LGBTI+ community for fair and humane representation. In the end, the discussion concluded with the desire to unite goals and objectives to support the different vulnerable communities in Honduras: “In order to have advances in human rights we have to be united and united,” concluded Grecia Ohara.