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This is how 300 LGBTQ people in the first Honduran migrant caravan of 2021 live

Community members left San Pedro Sula on Jan. 15

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(Photo by Agencia Presentes)

Editor’s note: Presentes is a media outlet that covers gender and human rights in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador as a way to fight discrimination. The Los Angeles Blade received permission to republish this article that was published on their web site on Jan. 18.

EL FLORIDO, Honduras-Guatemala border — 100 transgender women are part of the more than 300 LGBT+ Hondurans who have decided to flee their country in a migrant caravan that left from San Pedro Sula early on Jan. 15, 2021. They are all stranded in Chiquimula, Guatemala, as they wait for the authorities of this country to allow them to enter Mexico and onwards to their destination in the United States.

Like the remaining 8,000 members of this first migrant caravan of 2021, the 300 members of the Honduran LGBTQ community have endured long walks through the rain and the cold, uncomfortable trips in the back of cars and trucks, in addition to being clubbed and hit by Honduran and Guatemalan military forces.

Police and military repression

In Aguascalientes, where they were reportedly taken under false pretenses from infiltrators, hundreds of Honduran soldiers and police armed with tanks, rifles and pistols waited for about 1,000 Honduran migrants. The soldiers had orders to shoot at them if they resisted returning to Honduras, according to an observer from an international group.

Meanwhile, in El Florido, the caravan’s actual meeting point on the border between Honduras and Guatemala, Guatemalan military forces responded to the caravan’s intention to pass through that Central American country in order to reach Mexico with sticks and blows.

Trans men and women, lesbians and gays are fleeing inequality, discrimination and poverty caused by the profound inequality of which diverse populations are victims. LGBTI migrants who are part of this caravan are also fleeing the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the effects of Hurricanes Eta and Iota that ravaged the country in November 2020.

A large part of the LGBTI community in northern Honduras lost their homes and belongings when the passage of the two hurricanes destroyed entire neighborhoods and buried them under tons of mud.

The government of Juan Orlando Hernández has not done all of the work it said it would do in the areas affected by the natural phenomena that devastated the country last year. There are entire neighborhoods that are still buried under mud and where no medical teams or government food aide has reached.

Agencia Presentes accompanied many of the Honduran trans women who undertook the journey with the first migrant caravan of the year.

Transphobia in the caravan

Groups of LGBTI+ people, especially trans women and gay men who have a feminine gender expression, are physically harassed during the caravan’s journey as Agencia Presentes, which accompanied the 8,000 migrants to the border of Honduras and Guatemala, saw.

An example of mistreatment and discrimination against LGBTI+ groups in the migrant caravan is the case of Fabiola, 20, who traveled from Tegucigalpa to flee discrimination and transphobia.

During her journey, a man demonstrated his strength by hitting Fabiola “to remove her from the men’s line.” Presentes observed a series of verbal insults and harassment against trans women by people who used words such as “faggots,” “idiots” and “assholes,” among others.

(Photo by Agencia Presentes)

Although it is the second time she has traveled, Fabiola this time hopes she will be able to cross the border, travel through Mexico and arrive safely in the U.S.

The trans women walked hundreds of kilometers to reach the border. They were exhausted and their feet were sore. They preferred to walk on foot rather than return to the back of cars or pick-up trucks because they face more danger and harassment if they climb back into the cars. In the case of getting into a pick-up truck, they never do it alone. They do it in a group to avoid as much discrimination and ridicule as possible.

Many of the trans women did not bring any money with them for the trip, so some of them were left behind along the way. They hoped to obtain some resources to continue the trip.

“We have suffered discrimination. We live in the department of Colón and they don’t accept us for who we are, they look at us like a phenomenon,” Salomé, a trans woman from Honduras’ Atlantic coast, tells Presentes.

(Photo by Agencia Presentes)

“When you go to ask for support, what they do is discriminate against us. After the pandemic, sex work collapsed and we have fewer and fewer resources for daily subsistence,” said a trans woman from the municipality of Villanueva who did not want to be identified.

Gissele fled Valle in the department of Nacaome with a group of gay men. It is not the first time that she has done it, but she has faith that this time she will make it to the United States. She hopes to get papers that legally certify her as a woman. “They discriminate against us, they mock us and we don’t have work,” she lamented.

(Photo by Agencia Presentes)

Danny, 19, escaped from his house because he could not be who he is. His mother does not yet know that he is heading to the United States or that he is facing a series of challenges in Guatemala to reach Mexico. That doesn’t matter to Danny, who lives in Santa Bárbara, one of the departments with the highest rates of sexual abuse and discrimination against adolescents and young people.

Honduras is one of the worst countries to be an LGBTIQ+ person. The government headed for the last eight years by Juan Orlando Hernández has blocked a gender identity law in the National Congress. The Supreme Court of Justice, in addition, has not ruled that same-sex couples can enter into civil unions, despite the work of organizations such as Cattrachas, Somos CDC, Kukulkán and OPRUCE, among others.

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South America

Brazil LGBTQ+ activists, HIV/AIDS service providers fear Bolsonaro reelection

Presidential election to take place in October

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Anti-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro flyers on Paulista Avenue in São Paulo, on March 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SALVADOR, Brazil — Fernanda Fonseca was the coordinator of the Brazilian Health Ministry’s program to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis and viral hepatitis B in 2019 when she attended the International AIDS Society’s Conference on HIV Science in Mexico City.

Fonseca, who attended the conference in her personal capacity, made a presentation that focused on the issue. Her husband, who at the time coordinated the Brazilian Health Ministry’s viral hepatitis program, also traveled to Mexico City.

One of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s sons soon posted to Twitter a picture of a doctored presentation “about trans community rights, and LGBT community rights” that an unnamed “couple” had made at the conference. The “couple” who Bolsonaro’s son targeted was Fonseca and her husband.

“He was like, this is what the government is standing for,” Fonseca told the Washington Blade on March 16 during an interview at a coffee shop in Salvador, a city in northeastern Brazil that is the capital of Bahia state.

Bolsonaro took office as Brazil’s president on Jan. 1, 2019, after he defeated then-São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad in the second round of the country’s presidential election that took place the previous October.

Fonseca noted one of the first things Bolsonaro did as president was to remove HIV from the name of the Health Ministry department that specifically fights HIV/AIDS in Brazil.

It was previously the Department of Vigilance, Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis. It is now called the Department of Chronic Conditions and Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Bolsonaro fired the department’s director, Adele Benzaken, after he took office. Fonseca said her position was also eliminated without her knowledge while she was on maternity leave.

Fonseca eventually resigned. She now works for AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil as its country medical program director.

“They destroyed my department,” she said. “When I came back (from maternity leave), no one was answering my calls.”

Fonseca is one of the many HIV/AIDS service providers and LGBTQ+ activists with whom the Blade spoke in Brazil — Salvador, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — from March 12-21. They all sharply criticized Bolsonaro and expressed concern over what may happen in Brazil if he wins re-election later this year.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil Medical Program Director Fernanda Fonseca. (Photo courtesy of Fernanda Fonseca)

Bolsonaro is a former Brazilian Army captain who represented Rio de Janeiro in the country’s Congress from 1991-2018.

Fonseca told the Blade that Bolsonaro has banned the Health Ministry from buying lubricants, while adding he “wanted to shut down everything related to HIV.”

“It’s very specific. It’s very homophobic,” she said. “I don’t know who informs him.”

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil Program Manager Beto de Jesus during a March 14 interview at his office near São Paulo’s Praça da Republica noted Bolsonaro has suggested COVID-19 vaccines can cause AIDS.

“To him, the question of AIDS is connected to faggots,” said De Jesus.

São Paulo’s Municipal Health Secretary distributes free condoms on the city’s subway system. The Brazilian Health Ministry has donated to AIDS Healthcare Foundation antitretroviral drugs that it provides to Venezuelan migrants who receive care at their clinics in Colombia.

Free condoms at a São Paulo subway station on May 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
Antiretroviral drugs at AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s clinic in Bogotá, Colombia, the Brazilian Ministry of Health has donated. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Bolsonaro, among many things, has encouraged fathers to beat their sons if they think they are gay. (His son, Rio Municipal Councilman Carlos Bolsonaro, is reportedly gay.)

Jair Bolsonaro in March 2019 during a press conference with then-President Trump in the White House Rose Garden stressed his “respect of traditional family values” — he’s twice divorced and married his third wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, in 2017 — and opposition to “gender ideology.”

A report that Human Rights Watch released earlier this month notes Bolsonaro “has a long history of mischaracterizing and vocally opposing gender and sexuality education, including on the grounds that it constitutes ‘early sexualization’.” Bolsonaro has supported legislation that would limit LGBTQ+-specific curricula in the country’s schools, even after the Brazilian Supreme Court struck down local and state laws on the issue.

Jair Bolsonaro was not president when Rio Municipal Councilwoman Marielle Franco, a bisexual woman of African descent, and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were murdered in Rio’s Lapa neighborhood on March 14, 2018.

Ronnie Lessa, one of the two former police officers who has been arrested in connection with the murders, lived in the same large condominium in Rio’s exclusive Barra da Tijuca neighborhood in which Jair Bolsonaro lives. Franco’s widow, Rio Municipal Councilwoman Mônica Benício, on March 19 said this fact is “just a coincidence.”

Benício during the interview that took place at a coffee shop in downtown Rio stressed Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric against LGBTQ+ Brazilians, women and other groups was “known” before he became president. Benício also acknowledged it resonates with a segment of Brazilian society.

“It is an absolutely despicable posture and incompatible with a posture of the president of the republic,” said Benício.

A Brazilian television station on March 14, 2022, reports on the fourth anniversary of Rio Municipal Councilwoman Marielle Franco‘s murder. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Two Brazilian LGBTQ+ rights groups — Aliança Nacional LGBTI and Grupo Gay da Bahia — in a report they released on May 10 notes 300 LGBTQ+ Brazilians “suffered violent deaths” because they were murdered or died by suicide. The organizations specifically note Salvador is the most dangerous state capital for LGBTQ+ people.

The report notes 28 percent of the murder victims were killed with knives, machetes, scissors, hoes and other weapons. One of them was stabbed 95 times.

“The cruelty of how many of these executions were committed demonstrates the extreme hatred of the criminals, who are not content with killing, disfigure the victim washing their murderous homophobia in the spilled blood,” said Aliança Nacional LGBTI President Toni Reis in the report’s introduction.

Grupo Gay da Bahia President Marcelo Cerqueira on March 15 told the Blade during an interview in Salvador that race, poverty, class, machismo and family structures all contribute to the area’s high rate of violence against LGBTQ+ people.

“There are many relationships with asymmetrical power dynamics,” he noted.

A samba troupe performs in the Pelourinho neighborhood of Salvador, Brazil, on March 15, 2022. A report that two Brazilian advocacy groups released earlier this month notes Salvador is the most violent Brazilian state capital for LGBTQ+ people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Keila Simpson is the president of Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals), a Brazilian Transgender rights group known by the acronym ANTRA.

She noted to the Blade on March 16 during an interview at her office in Salvador’s Pelourinho neighborhood that the Supreme Court in 2018 ruled Trans Brazilians can legally change their name and gender without medical intervention or a judicial order. Simpson said Trans Brazilians nevertheless continue to suffer from discrimination, a lack of formal employment and educational opportunities and police violence because of their gender identity. She also added efforts to combat violence against LGBTQ+ Brazilians have become even more difficult because Bolsonaro is “propagating violence against LGBTQ people every day.”

“It increases the possibility of people who are already violent by nature to continue committing violence,” said Simpson.

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (ANTRA) President Keila Simpson at her office in Salvador, Brazil, on March 16, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Mariah Rafaela Silva, a Trans woman of indigenous descent who works with the Washington-based International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, agreed when she and her colleague, Isaac Porto, spoke with the Blade at a restaurant in Rio’s Ipanema neighborhood on March 21.

“If I would choose a word to define Bolsonaro it would be danger,” said Silva. “He represents a danger to the environment. He represents a danger to diversity. He represents a danger to Black people. He represents a danger to indigenous people.”

Mariah Rafaela Silva, right, and Isaac Porto in Rio de Janeiro on March 21, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Rio de Janeiro (State) Legislative Assemblywoman Renata Souza is a Black feminist who grew up with Franco in Maré, a favela that is close to Rio’s Galeão International Airport, and worked with her for 12 years.

Souza in March traveled to D.C. and met with Serra Sippel, chief global advocacy officer for Fòs Feminista, a global women’s rights group, White House Gender Policy Council Senior Advisor Rachel Vogelstein and other officials and women’s rights activists. Souza on Tuesday noted to the Blade that she also denounced Franco’s murder, the “escalation of police violence and Black genocide in Brazil’s peripheries and favelas” and called for international observers in the country for the presidential election when she spoke at the Organization of American States and to members of Congress.

“President Bolsonaro is the expression of a capitalist political project that serves private national and international interests related to the military-industrial complex, religious fundamentalism, agribusiness and the predatory exploitation of natural resources,” said Souza. “This project’s social base comes from the formation of an ideal of barbarism through the use of violence as language and hate as a fuel that spreads a misogynist, racist and fundamentalist culture, discriminatory customs and policies that predatory to nature and to being human.”

Rio de Janeiro (State) Legislative Assemblywoman Renata Souza, right, meets with Justin Hansford, the executive director of Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, in D.C. in March 2021. (Photo courtesy of Serra Sippel)

The first round of Brazil’s presidential election will take place on Oct. 2.

Polls indicate Bolsonaro is trailing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro has already sought to discredit the country’s electoral system, even though a group of more than 20 would-be hackers who gathered in the Brazilian capital of Brasília last week failed to infiltrate it.

Da Silva, who was Brazil’s president from 2003-2010, is a member of the country’s Workers’ Party.

Sergio Moro, a judge who Jair Bolsonaro later tapped as his government’s Justice and Public Security Minister, in 2017 sentenced Da Silva to 9 1/2 years in prison after his conviction on money laundering and corruption charges that stemmed from Operation Car Wash. The Supreme Court in November 2019 ordered Da Silva’s release.

Marina Reidel, a Trans woman who is the director of the country’s Women, Family and Human Rights Department, on Monday told the Blade to email a request for comment on Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-LGBTQ+ record to a spokesperson. The Blade has yet to receive a response.

Julian Rodrigues, who was the coordinator of the Workers’ Party’s National Working Group from 2006-2012, on Tuesday from São Paulo noted Da Silva in 2004 created the Health Ministry’s “Brazil without Homophobia” campaign that he described as a “pioneering program for LGBT rights.” Rodrigues also highlighted Da Silva created the Culture Ministry’s Diversity Secretariat that, among other things, funded community centers and sought to make police officers and other law enforcement officials more LGBTQ+-friendly.

Simpson noted the Health Ministry when Da Silva and President Dilma Rousseff were in office funded projects that specifically helped sex workers and other vulnerable groups.

Rousseff was in office in 2013 when the Supreme Court extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country. Michel Temer was Brazil’s president in 2018 when the Supreme Court issued its Trans rights decision.

The Supreme Court on May 24, 2019, issued a ruling that criminalized homophobia and transphobia. Bolsonaro, who took office less than five months earlier, condemned the decision.

The Supreme Court in May 2020 struck down the country’s ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood. Brazil in 1999 became the first country in the world to ban so-called conversion therapy.

Pride flags fly over Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro on March 20, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Rodrigues described Bolsonaro and his administration as “an extreme right-wing, authoritarian and fascist government that uses racial prejudice, gender prejudice and prejudice against LGBTs as engines to mobilize its conservative and reactionary social base.”

“It is a very dangerous government for Brazil’s democratic freedoms,” Rodrigues told the Blade. “The entire Brazilian LGBT movement is fighting ardently to defeat the Bolsonaro government and elect Lula, a progressive president who is committed to the rights of LGBTQ people and all Brazilian people.”

A gay man who was on Rio’s Ipanema Beach with his husband on March 20 told the Blade they support Jair Bolsonaro because they feel he has fought corruption in Brazil. They did, however, add that Jair Bolsonaro “should keep his mouth shut.”

Fonseca said her father voted for Bolsonaro in 2018 because he “hated” Da Silva.

“We don’t live in a democratic state anymore,” said Fonseca, who noted the Supreme Court eventually absolved Da Silva. “We can’t trust the police force. We can’t trust the legal system.”

“People who think like him now they believe they can say that, they have the right to say homophobic things, racist things. They can because our president says them, so it’s ok,” added Fonseca. “We need to remember that it’s not ok. I don’t think they are the majority, So I think when we have a leader again that is strong, we are going back on track.”

Cerqueira echoed Fonseca.

“(Bolsonaro) managed to energize prejudiced people who were not vocal before,” Cerqueira told the Blade on March 15 during an interview in Salvador. “People were afraid to say that I was racist, that I was homophobic, that I was prejudiced. Nowadays everybody wants to be homophobic.”

An anti-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro t-shirt for sale in a market in Rio de Janeiro, on March 19, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Porto noted conservatives continue to dominate the country’s Congress and Brazilians who are Black and/or LGBTQ+ lack political power. He told the Blade the situation in a post-Bolsonaro Brazil is “going to be complicated”

“Brazilian society has not changed,” said Porto. “There is a movement of people who are organized and recognize themselves as equal.”

“There’s a lot of damage that we have to repair,” added Silva.

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The White House

White House condemns Oklahoma ban on abortions starting at fertilization

“Roe has been the law of the land for almost 50 years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned”

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre (Screenshot/NBC News)

WASHINGTON – White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement Thursday night condemning the Oklahoma Abortion Bill passed earlier in the day banning nearly all abortions starting at fertilization, which would make it the nation’s strictest abortion law.

The New York Times noted that the bill is modeled on one that took effect in Texas in September, which has relied on civilian instead of criminal enforcement to work around court challenges. But it goes further than the Texas law, which bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.

“The President believes that women have the fundamental right to make their own reproductive health choices. Roe has been the law of the land for almost 50 years, and basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.  Today’s action by the Oklahoma legislature is the most extreme effort to undo these fundamental rights we have seen to date.  In addition, it adopts Texas’ absurd plan to allow private citizens to sue their neighbors for providing reproductive health care and helping women to exercise their constitutional rights,” Jean-Pierre said.

“This is part of a growing effort by ultra MAGA officials across the country to roll back the freedoms we should not take for granted in this country.  They are starting with reproductive rights, but the American people need to know that other fundamental rights, including the right to contraception and marriage equality, are at risk.  The President is committed to standing up for these constitutional rights, and for protecting Americans’ fundamental freedoms,” she added.

The bill subjects abortion providers and anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion to civil suits from private individuals. It would take effect immediately upon signature by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, who has pledged to make Oklahoma the most anti-abortion in the nation.

Oklahoma One Step Closer To Banning Abortions At Conception:

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Ohio

Cincinnati area high schoolers created ‘Jim Crow’ signs & are disciplined

“These water fountains were labeled ‘blacks only,’ ‘whites only,’ which pushed us back so many generations”

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Colerain High School (Screenshot/WLWT NBC 5)

CINCINNATI – A group of students at Colerain High School in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio posted racist notes mimicking ‘Jim Crow’ segregation-era rules over a pair of drinking fountains then took pictures which were posted to social media earlier this month.

According to officials with the Northwest Local School District, the notes posted over the water fountains were posted for a matter of 30 seconds before being removed by the students. The students involved in the incident posted the signs, took photos and removed the notes before posting the photos online.

“These water fountains were labeled ‘blacks only,’ ‘whites only,’ which pushed us back so many generations,” said one parent who preferred to remain anonymous told Cincinnati NBC affiliate WLWT 5. “My heart dropped. My heart dropped. I could not believe it. It was so offensive.”

A Northwest Local School District spokesperson called the incident “unacceptable on all levels” and a deviation from the district’s “culture of inclusivity, respect, kindness and compassion for everyone.”

“Upon investigation of the matter, we have learned that the notes posted over the water fountains were posted for a matter of 30 seconds and were never seen by other students or staff members,” the spokesperson said. “The three students involved in the incident posted the signs, took photos and removed the notes before posting the photos online.”

“We want to make sure our staff, students, families and community understands where we stand on racial intolerance, discrimination, racism and hatred. We take this matter very seriously. Those who participated in this tasteless and hurtful act have been issued significant disciplinary actions. This type of behavior is not and will not be condoned or tolerated,” a statement released Wednesday from the Northwest Local School District read.  “The actions that were displayed do NOT reflect the values and the culture we’ve worked so hard to cultivate in all of our schools across the district. NWLSD stands firm in creating a culture of inclusivity, respect, kindness and compassion for everyone. As a school community it’s our responsibility to uphold these values and we will not tolerate any action from anyone that compromises or disrupts that culture.”

About 30% of the high school’s 1,730 students are Black, according to U.S. News and World Report. About 49% is white.

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