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US condemns murder of prominent transgender activist in Guatemala

Andrea González murdered days after vice president visited country

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Andrea González (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

GUATEMALA CITY — The U.S. has condemned the murder of a prominent transgender activist in Guatemala.

Reports indicate Andrea González, executive director of Organización Trans Reinas de la Noche, a trans advocacy group, was shot to death in broad daylight on June 11 near her home in Guatemala City. Las Reinas de la Noche in a statement posted to its Twitter page mourned González.

“Reinas de la Noche is in mourning over the irreparable loss of Andrea González, a leader and activist for the human rights of trans people,” said Reinas de la Noche. “Her legacy will endure in each one of us, and her light will never be extinguished.”

The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala noted González participated in the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program that invites human rights activists, journalists and civil society members to the U.S. to meet with their counterparts and American officials.

Andrea González in D.C. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

González also worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala mourns the death of Andrea González,” said the embassy in a statement.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power and U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala William Popp on Wednesday visited Reina de las Noche’s headquarters to express their condolences over González’s murder.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung in a statement noted González was killed days after Cecy Ixpata, who was also affiliated with Reinas de la Noche, was killed in Salamá, the capital of Guatemala’s Baja Verapaz department.

Salamá is roughly three hours northeast of Guatemala City.

“We condemn the outrageous murders of two transgender women in Guatemala,” said Chung. “We believe all such violence must be investigated and the perpetrators held accountable.” 

Chung added the murders are “particularly saddening as we celebrate the contributions of LGBTQI+ activists around the world during Pride month.”

Violence and discrimination based on gender identity remains widespread in Guatemala.

Two activists who work with LGBTQ Guatemalans and Guatemalans with HIV/AIDS are among the 18 members of Guatemala civil society who participated in a roundtable with Vice President Kamala Harris in Guatemala City on June 7. 

Harris has previously noted that violence based on gender identity is one of the “root causes” of migration from Guatemala and other Central American countries. State Department spokesperson Ned Price last month noted to the Blade during an interview ahead of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia that protecting LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers is one of the Biden administration’s global LGBTQ rights priorities.  

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Central America

LGBTQ youth find refuge at church-run shelter in El Salvador

Hogar Santa Marta opened in August

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Hogar Santa Marta (Washington Blade photo by Ernesto Valle)

The Los Angeles Blade published a Spanish version of this article on Oct. 25.

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — LGBTQ youth in El Salvador frequently face violence in their families and communities, and this abuse often happens with impunity. Many of these community members have either fled their homes or have been kicked out of them because they are not accepted for who they are.

A shelter that supports this vulnerable population has opened.

The Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador in 2009 created its Sexual Diversity Ministry, a pastoral mission that brings together LGBTQ people and their communities. The ministry has become a space in which everyone can live their faith free of discrimination.

Hogar Santa Marta opened in August, and is one of the ministry’s initiatives.

Bishop Juan David Alvarado of the Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador told the Los Angeles Blade this project responds to human needs, especially when there is so much injustice. He said the shelter is a temporary home for young people as they work to solve their problems or find a way to better themselves.

“We as a church wanted to give an answer to LGBTQ people who have suffered human rights violations,” said Alvarado.

Hogar Santa Marta has already helped a number of LGBTQ young people. Three of them moved into the shelter and others have been able to receive assistance at their time of need.

“Our first option is that people do not necessarily have to experience family abandonment, so it is about achieving a conciliation with families,” explained Cruz Torres, coordinator of the Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador’s Sexual Diversity Ministry. He added the goal is to allow these young people to remain with their families.

Young people as of now primarily contact the shelter through its social media networks. A technical team evaluates the cases and then determines the way to proceed with each of them based on whether they are victims of violence or forced displacement or have been kicked out of their homes.

“This method of using networks has been deliberate in order to control our growth and not to have an immediate saturation,” said Hogar Santa Marta Director Eduardo Madrid, who explained the shelter’s opening was delayed because it was not ready to support young people who need support.

Helen Jacobo, the shelter’s psychologist, and Madrid created a protocol to determine the process to use with a person who is seeking help.

The technical team creates a profile of the person when it establishes contact with them and notes the situation in which they are living. It then passes this information along to the psychologist who will then schedule an interview.

“We can find out about their support networks, if they have a shelter or a safe place (to live) through a small interview,” said Jacobo.

‘I feel more complete and more secure’

Carlos, 25, sought the shelter’s support because of a series of the problems the pandemic made worse.

“I had to leave my house because of mistreatment, insults and beatings,” he recalled.

Carlos said he was relieved to arrive at a safe place, and even more so when he knew that he would have a lot of support.

“They have provided me with a lot of services, such as psychosocial support and I will get a job very soon,” he said with joy.

The shelter first offers its residents a place to live with access to regular meals and psychological therapy to address the traumas they have experienced. The shelter also accepts donations to provide residents with their basic needs.

“For my part I am very grateful, we have worked on ourselves as a person,” said Carlos with an assured look that conveys happiness from behind a face mask with a smile drawn onto it. He also expressed that he is grateful the shelter allowed him to live there with his pet that he took with him when he left his house.

Religion is not imposed upon the shelter’s residents, even though a church group created it.

“If you want to believe, you believe,” said Carlos. “They don’t impose religion on you.”

“I feel more complete and more secure,” he added, while saying that he has learned to put himself first. “That has been the most noticeable change that I have been able to have.”

With this self-empowerment in mind, the second stage for the shelter’s residents is to learn how to fight for their rights and know how to maintain them. Sustainable relocation, family awareness and creating a life plan are also part of this effort.

Alejandro, 23, has already been able to leave the shelter with the technical team’s support. He was able to get a job and find a new place to live.

He learned about the shelter from a friend who is a member of the Anglican Episcopal Church of El Salvador. The friend helped him present his case and he became the first young person to live in the shelter.

“Even though I was only there for a month, I felt the necessary support from the whole team,” says Alejandro.

He said he feels very involved with the shelter because he is its first successful case.

Alejandro said he had the opportunity during his first meetings to propose ideas about how the shelter can approach future cases. Alejandro added it was very rewarding to him that both the director and the psychologist took his thoughts into account.

Now that he has been able to find a job, Alejandro said he will do everything he can to remain stable. He will particularly rely on the psychological support the shelter still provides him, which is the third stage of its work. This support lasts for up to a year after admission and is supported through an alliance with NGO’s, the government and private companies.

Hogar Santa Marta clients (Washington Blade photo by Ernesto Valle)

Strategic alliances

Hogar Santa Marta has made a variety of strategic alliances that allow it to carry out its work. One of them is with the U.N.’s International Organization for Migrants and specifically with its Integrated Responses on Migration from Central America project.

The shelter hopes to use this partnership to further develop a psychosocial program that will be able to help more vulnerable LGBTQ youth. Hogar Santa Maria hopes it can use some of these same strategies that IOM uses.

“Some of the instruments that they have specifically respond to psychological issues,” Jacobo explained.

Hogar Santa Marta’s programs have been made available to IOM in order to improve the way it views sexual diversity-related issues. They also hope to receive support for when they implement a group management program once more LGBTQ youth live in the shelter.

Rosalinda Solano, the national coordinator of the IOM project, said she is very interested in following up on the in-home work and hopes to enter into a collaboration with the shelter, such as the one that provides psychosocial support to LGBTQ people who have been returned to the country.

“We have also managed to identify other possible links, through profiles that can be linked to job opportunities,” she said.

Solano said the project seemed to be something very innovative and needed in the country, which does not have anything else. She hopes it will do something that has not been done before in El Salvador.

“It takes a fairly comprehensive approach, not it is just providing shelter,” she said.

There are two other shelters in El Salvador that specifically serve the LGBTQ community—ASPIDH ARCOIRIS TRANS’ Casa Trans and COMCAVIS TRANS’ Casa Refugio Karla Avelar—but they primarily serve displaced transgender women. Hogar Santa Marta is the first LGBTQ shelter in El Salvador that a church created.

“Young people see home with great hope for a new life,” said Alvarado.

The shelter can be found at Facebook as Santa Marta LGBT and on Instagram as @santamartalgbt. There is a link to a GoFundMe account there where donations can be made.

“We as a church recognize LGBTIQ+ people’s prophetic voice and we accept God’s call to care, direct and guide all people who face social injustice,” said Alvarado.

Hogar Santa Marta staff (Washington Blade photo by Ernesto Valle)
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Central America

Gay Guatemalan congressman ‘scared’ for his life

Aldo Dávila a vocal critic of country’s president, corruption

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Guatemalan Congressman Aldo Dávila participates in a protest in Guatemala City in 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

GUATEMALA CITY — A gay Guatemalan congressman who is a vocal critic of his country’s president and corruption says he is afraid for his life.

“I am scared of what may happen with so much persecution against me,” Aldo Dávila told the Los Angeles Blade on Sept. 10 during an interview at a Guatemala City hotel. “I am scared for my life, for my partner, for my family and for my team.”

Dávila — a member of the Winaq movement, a leftist party founded by Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner — in 2019 became the first openly gay man elected to Guatemala’s congress. Dávila, who also lives with HIV, had previously been the executive director of Asociación Gente Positiva, a Guatemala City-based HIV/AIDS service organization.

Three men on April 19 approached his vehicle while it was stopped at a traffic light near Guatemala’s National Library and tried to rob him.

One of Dávila’s bodyguards who was driving shot one of the men. The other two men fled the scene before passersby and police officers arrived.

Dávila was not injured, but he later said in a Facebook post that he is “thankful for life.” Dávila told the Blade that Guatemalan authorities have not thoroughly investigated the attack.

“I requested an armored car after the attack, but I have not received it yet,” said Dávila, who arrived at the hotel with two female police officers who sat in the lobby while he spoke with the Blade. “This has not been resolved, even though it was in April. It is very complicated.”

Dávila said Culture Minister Felipe Aguilar, Congress President Allan Rodríguez and other supporters of President Alejandro Giammattei have lodged nine formal complaints against him after he publicly criticized the government over a variety of issues that include its response to the pandemic.

“It has been a systematic attack against me,” said Dávila.

Dávila told the Blade that he and his partner installed cameras in their apartment after someone killed their dog. Dávila also said he continues to receive death threats online and at his home.

“We are going to kill you, we are going to shut you up,” said Dávila, referring to the type of threats he says he receives.

“They send me little messages, I am clearly making those who are corrupt very uncomfortable,” added Dávila.

Prominent transgender activist murdered in June

Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains commonplace in Guatemala.

Dávila told the Blade that 21 LGBTQ people have been reported killed in Guatemala so far in 2021, including one person who was stoned to death.

Andrea González, executive director of Organización Trans Reinas de la Noche, a trans advocacy group, was shot to death in Guatemala City on June 11, days after Vice President Kamala Harris visited the country. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power both condemned González’s murder, but Dávila told the Blade there has been “no investigation.”

“It’s one more case about which to forget, unfortunately,” said Dávila.

Dávila also noted he has met with officials who include representatives of the National Civil Police, the Public Ministry and the National Institute for Forensic Sciences “to ask what they are doing” to combat anti-LGBTQ violence in the country.

“This is serious,” he said.

Organización Trans Reinas de la Noche Executive Director Andrea González in D.C. when she participated in the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program. She was killed in Guatemala City on June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

‘People don’t migrate because they want to’

Menchú, Visibles Executive Director Daniel Villatoro and Ingrid Gamboa of the Association of Garifuna Women Living with HIV/AIDS are among the 18 members of Guatemalan civil society who participated in the roundtable with Harris while she was in the country. The U.S. vice president met with Giammattei before the event.

Harris has previously acknowledged that violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is among the “root causes” of migration from Guatemala and other Central American countries. Harris and other Biden administration officials have also told migrants not to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“People migrate because states don’t have the capacity to respond to the most basic needs,” said Dávila. “People don’t migrate because they want to. People don’t migrate because (they say) today I am going to go to the United States because I have nothing to do. They don’t go on vacation. They go in search of health, work, security and economic resources to be able to sustain themselves.”

“Guatemala has not had the capacity to retain Guatemalans because it doesn’t offer them the minimum to be able to live,” he added.

Dávila described Harris’ visit to Guatemala as “important.”

He said Guatemalans are “eternally grateful for the” COVID-19 vaccines the U.S. has donated to the country. Dávila added he would like Washington to “take a look at the human rights violations that are happening in” the country and further sanction those who are responsible for them.

Giammattei earlier this year named his chief of staff to Guatemala’s Constitutional Court.

The U.S. has granted asylum to former Attorney General Thelma Aldana, who the Constitutional Court refused to allow to run for president in 2019 after prosecutors alleged she embezzled money from a building purchase. The Biden administration in July stopped working with current Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ office after it fired Juan Francisco Sandoval, a leading anti-corruption prosecutor who subsequently fled the country.

The U.S. has imposed travel bans on a number of Guatemalan officials, but Dávila said these sanctions are not effective.

“We want clearer, more drastic sanctions,” he said. “The U.S. has been a historical ally for Guatemala, not just since yesterday, not from five years ago … it has been economically and financially supporting this country for a long time. The United States can impose more drastic sanctions against the government so the government stops being corrupt, so the government does not fight against migration.”

A monument to migrants in Salcajá, Guatemala, on March 9, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Dávila told the Blade he has not decided whether he will run for a second term in 2023.

Dávila said he has had “some problems” with the Winaq movement over funding for hospitals during the pandemic, but he remains a member. Dávila told the Blade he has received invitations to join other political parties.

“I am thinking about it and evaluating all the scenarios,” he said.

Dávila added he remains “very proud to be part of the opposition in the history of this country.”

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Central America

Honduran government’s institutions ‘are murdering us’

Lack of opportunities, violence prompt LGBTQ people to migrate

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La Ceiba, Honduras, on July 21, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on assignment for the Los Angeles Blade in Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico from July 11-25.

LA CEIBA, Honduras — Leonela and Jerlín, her partner of 11 years, and their school-age daughter live in La Ceiba, a city on Honduras’ Caribbean coast.

Jerlín was a bus driver in San Pedro Sula, the country’s commercial capital, until gang members shot him three times in 2012 because he couldn’t pay the extortion money from which they demanded from him each month. Jerlín, Leonela and their daughter subsequently fled to La Ceiba, which is about three hours east of San Pedro Sula.

“We left,” Jerlín told the Los Angeles Blade on July 20 during an interview at the offices of Organización Pro Unión Ceibeña (Oprouce), a La Ceiba-based advocacy group. “We fled from there.”

Jerlín migrated to Mexico in January 2019, but returned to Honduras less than a month later because Leonela was in the hospital. The couple and their daughter migrated to Mexico a year later. 

Leonela asked for a Mexican humanitarian visa for her and her daughter once they arrived in Ciudad Hidalgo, a Mexican border city that is across the Suchiate River from Tecún Umán, Guatemala.

Leonela told the Blade that she planned to ask for asylum in Mexico and wanted to go to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Mexico’s Chiapas state, to find work. Leonela said she and Jerlín instead decided to return to Honduras because they did not want their daughter to further endure the “inhumane” conditions of the migrant detention center in Tapachula, a city that is roughly 20 miles northwest of Ciudad Hidalgo, in which they were living.

“We decided it was better to allow them to deport us,” said Jerlín.

A U.N. Refugee Agency mural in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, that faces the Suchiate River, which marks the border between Mexico and Guatemala, advises migrants of their rights once they enter Mexico. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jerlín, Leonela and their daughter returned to Honduras in May 2020. Someone shot at their house on July 10, 2020.

“They couldn’t even do what people wanted them to do, perhaps even buring us alive,” said Leonela.

Leonela and Jerlín are among the many LGBTQ Hondurans who have decided to leave Honduras in order to escape violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Vice President Kamala Harris and other Biden administration officials have acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is one of the “root causes” of migration from Honduras and neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador.

Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place. The White House has repeatedly told migrants not to travel to the U.S.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV, died at a New Mexico hospital on May 25, 2018, while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. 

Natasha, another trans Honduran woman, arrived in Matamoros, a Mexican border city that is across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, on Oct. 12, 2019. The previous administration forced her to pursue her U.S. asylum case in Mexico under its Migrant Protection Protocols. (The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the Biden administration to reinstate MPP.)

The Blade interviewed Natasha on Feb. 27 at a Matamoros shelter that Rainbow Bridge Asylum Seekers, a program for LGBTQ asylum seekers and migrants that Resource Center Matamoros, a group that provides assistance to asylum seekers and migrants in the Mexican border city, helped create. The U.S. less than two weeks later allowed Natasha to enter the country.

Natasha, a transgender woman from Honduras who asked for asylum in the U.S., in Matamoros, Mexico, on Feb. 27, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Oprouce Executive Director Sasha Rodríguez, who is trans, has participated in the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

She said a lack of employment and housing associated with the pandemic has prompted more Hondurans to migrate to the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica. Rodríguez also told the Blade the U.S. and “our countries sell an American dream that doesn’t exist.”

“Why don’t these American organizations say don’t go,” she said, specifically referring to trans people who have decided to leave Honduras. “Here they see it as beautiful. They are already in the United States, but they were raped while trying to get there. They were kidnapped.”

Organización Pro Unión Ceibeña Executive Director Sasha Rodríguez in her office in La Ceiba, Honduras, on July 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Alexa, a 27-year-old trans woman from La Ceiba, told the Blade she has friends who live in Mexico. Alexa said she would like to leave Honduras, but she doesn’t want to leave her mother alone.

“I don’t want to leave her alone and abandon her because I have always fought for her,” Alexa told the Blade during an interview at Oprouce. “She supports me as a woman.”

Alexa said she served a nearly 3-year prison sentence for attempted murder, even though she was defending herself against a woman who was hitting her in the face with a rock. Alexa began to sob when she started to tell the Blade about the Salvadoran man who raped her in prison. She said the warden then forced her to cut her hair and guards doused her with “ice cold water” in an isolation cell.

“I was a woman,” said Alexa. “They made me a man.”

Alexa told the Blade that other prisoners tried to kill her. She said she also tried to die by suicide several times until her release on Jan. 27.

Alexa said she has not been able to find a job since she left prison. She also told the Blade that gang members continue to threaten her.

“It is sometimes very difficult to lead the lifestyle that we lead as trans women in Honduras,” she said, referring to anti-trans discrimination and a lack of employment opportunities.

Venus, a 30-year-old trans woman who is also from La Ceiba, echoed Alexa.

“To be a trans person is synonymous with teasing, harassment, violence and even death,” Venus told the Blade at Oprouce.

Venus said Honduran soldiers regularly attack trans women. She told the Blade a lack of access to health care, machismo and patriarchal attitudes are among the myriad other issues that she and other trans Hondurans face.

“We don’t have access to education, to health (care), to a job,” said Venus. “Above all we are fighting for a gender-based law that recognizes us as women and men.”

Venus added she, like Alexa, would leave Honduras “if I was given the opportunity to do so.”

Landmark ruling finds Honduras responsible for trans woman’s murder

Red Lésbica Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group based in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, notes 373 LGBTQ Hondurans were reported killed in the country between 2009-2020.

Statistics indicate 119 of those murdered were trans. Red Lésbica Cattrachas also noted 18 of the LGBTQ Hondurans who were reported killed were in Atlántida department in which La Ceiba is located.

Vicky Hernández was a trans activist and sex worker with HIV who worked with Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa, a San Pedro Sula-based advocacy group.

Hernández’s body was found in a San Pedro Sula street on June 29, 2009, hours after the coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya from power. Hernández and two other trans women the night before ran away from police officers who tried to arrest them because they were violating a curfew.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in June issued a landmark ruling that found Honduras responsible for Hernández’s murder.

The ruling ordered Honduras to pay reparations to Hernández’s family and enact laws that protect LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination. The government of President Juan Orlando 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, has not publicly responded to the ruling.

Rodríguez noted to the Blade that Oprouce and other advocacy groups have been fighting for a trans rights law in Honduras for more than a decade.

“We have had failure for 11 years, but I think that with what happened with the Inter-American Court, the recommendations that have come from the Vicky Hernández case could achieve something important,” said Rodríguez. “There are very good human rights recommendations for Honduras and there are good recommendations that Honduras could automatically apply to trans women.”

Rodríguez as she discussed the ruling reiterated trans Hondurans continue to face violence, discrimination and a lack of employment opportunities. Rodríguez also reiterated her sharp criticism of her country’s government and its institutions.

“Societal exclusion forces us to do sex work,” she said. “We are being harmed by our trade: Murder, persecution, hate crimes, torture, beatings.”

“I always say that it is an institutional death because state institutions are murdering us,” added Rodríguez.

‘My fight is here’

In spite of these challenges, Rodríguez said there has been progress.

Oprouce — which works on a variety of issues that include the prevention of gender-based violence and fighting HIV/AIDS — offers workshops to the Public Ministry, the Honduran Armed Forces and judges. Asociación de Prevención y Educación en Salud, Sexualidad, Sida y Derechos Humanos (Aprest), another advocacy group in Tela, a city that is about 60 miles west of La Ceiba, conducts similar trainings with local and national authorities.

Aprest Executive Director Leonel Barahona Medina told the Blade during an interview at a beachfront restaurant in Tela on July 20 that city officials have given him an office from which he and his colleagues can work. Barahona said they also supported activists who raised the Pride flag on June 27 in front of Tela City Hall.

A similar ceremony took place in a park in the center of La Ceiba.

“We have good relations with them,” said Barahona, referring to Tela officials.

Aprest Executive Director Leonel Barahona Medina raises the Pride flag at Tela City Hall in Tela, Honduras, on June 27, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Leonel Barahona Medina)

Both Barahona and Rodríguez said their work will continue.

“My fight is here,” said Rodríguez. “My essence and my dreams are here.”

Abdiel Echevarría-Caban and Reportar sin Miedo contributed to this story.

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