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Shelters for LGBTQ asylum seekers on Mexico-US border ‘overwhelmed’

Nearly 50 people living at Jardín de las Mariposas in Tijuana

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The view from the backyard of Jardín de las Mariposas, a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico, in late May 2021. (Photo courtesy of Jon Atwell/Alight)

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

TIJUANA, Mexico — Marvin is a 23-year-old gay man from Dulce Nombre, a municipality in Honduras’ Copán department.

He left Honduras with a migrant caravan on Jan. 13, 2020, in order to escape the discrimination he said he would have suffered if his family and neighbors knew he is gay. Marvin spent eight months in the custody of Mexican immigration officials until they released him last November.

He was in the Mexican border city of Tijuana in April when a cousin told him his younger brother had been murdered. Marvin, who is currently living at Jardín de las Mariposas, a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, began to sob when the Blade saw a picture of his brother’s body in the morgue in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city.

“He didn’t mess with anyone,” said Marvin.

Marvin is one of 47 people who were living at Jardín de las Mariposas when the Blade visited it on July 12. The shelter’s maximum capacity is 40.

A lesbian woman who asked the Blade not to publish her name said she fled El Salvador in January after MS-13 gang members threatened to kill her because she could not pay them the money they demanded from her. She said members of 18th Street, another gang, attacked her son after he refused to sell drugs.

“They hit him very hard; very, very hard,” the lesbian woman told the Blade at Jardín de las Mariposas, speaking through tears.

Olvin, a 22-year-old gay man from El Progreso, a city in Honduras’ Yoro department, left the country in January.

He said he and his partner of three years lived together in Tapachula, a city in Mexico’s Chiapas state that is close to the country’s border with Guatemala, for several months. Olvin said gang members threatened them and they suffered discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

Olvin told the Blade he rescued his partner from an apartment building one night after he refused to sell drugs, and they ran to a nearby park. Olvin, who was crying when he spoke with the Blade at Jardín de las Mariposas, said he left Tapachula a few days later without his partner.

Olvin arrived at the shelter a few hours before the Blade visited. He said he wants to ask for asylum in the U.S.

“I want to live in a safe place,” said Olvin.

Kelly West is a transgender woman who fled discrimination and persecution she said she suffered in Jamaica.

She flew to Panama City and then to Mexican city of Guadalajara before she arrived in Tijuana on June 16. West said she and a group of eight other LGBTQ asylum seekers tried to “run over the line at the border” between Mexico and the U.S., but Mexican police stopped them.

“We had to run for our lives,” West told the Blade at Jardín de las Mariposas. “I even ran without my shoes. I jumped over a bridge.”

She said she and three of the other asylum seekers with whom she tried to enter the U.S. went to another shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, but it was full. West said the shelter referred them to Jardín de las Mariposas.

“I really like it here,” she told the Blade. “Here I can be who I want, I can dress how I want to. I can wear my heels, I can wear my hair. I can just be feminine everyday.”

Kelly West, a transgender woman from Jamaica who has asked for asylum in the U.S., speaks at Jardín de las Mariposas, a shelter for LGBTQ migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, on July 12, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jaime Marín, who runs Jardín de las Mariposas with his mother, Yolanda Rocha, noted some residents were sleeping in a tent in the backyard because the shelter is over capacity.

“We’re overpopulated with a lot of residents,” Marín told the Blade.

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.

Vice President Kamala Harris and other administration officials have publicly acknowledged that violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the “root causes” of migration from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The White House has told migrants not to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border, but Marín said the number of people who have traveled to Tijuana since President Biden took office has increased dramatically.

The previous White House forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico under its Migrant Protection Protocols program. The Biden administration on June 1 officially ended MPP.

“The process has been easier, which means they’re no longer staying months or years,” Marín told the Blade. “They submit their application, let’s say today, and they get a response for a date in two weeks. They’re basically in the United States within a month.”

Marvin hopes to use the picture of his brother’s body in the morgue and Honduran newspaper articles about his murder as evidence to support his asylum case. Marvin, however, has yet to find someone to sponsor him.

“My goal … is to go to the United States,” he said.

Marín told the Blade the two other shelters for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana are also at maximum capacity. Marín said U.S. immigration officials are also “overwhelmed” with new asylum applications.

“It might take a little bit longer than a month because of the number of people that are basically coming and we just have to increase the work we do as well because we are getting a lot more work too,” he told the Blade. “We are overwhelmed as well.”

Fire destroyed lesbian-run Mexicali migrant shelter on July 9

Centro Comunitario de Bienestar Social (COBINA) in Mexicali, a border city that is roughly 2 1/2 hours east of Tijuana, is a group that serves LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups.

It runs three migrant shelters in the city, which borders Calexico, Calif., in California’s Imperial Valley. An electrical fire that destroyed COBINA’s Refugio del Migrante on July 9 displaced the 152 migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and other countries who were living there.

An electrical fire on July 9, 2021, destroyed a migrant shelter in Mexicali, Mexico, that Centro Comunitario de Bienestar Social (COBINA), a local LGBTQ group, runs. (Photo courtesy of Juan Gutiérrez)

Some of the shelter’s residents were living in COBINA’s offices when the Blade visited them on July 12.

“We need resources to rebuild the shelter, to buy wood, to buy everything that is needed,” COBINA President Altagracia Tamayo told the Blade.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration has raised $2,600 for COBINA to use to buy clothes, food and diapers for the displaced migrants and their children. The ORAM funds will also allow COBINA to buy portable air conditioning units. (The temperature in Mexicali was 108 degrees when the Blade reported from there.)

Tamayo told the Blade that COBINA has been working with the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration to assist the displaced migrants.

Two women and a child who lived in a COBINA-run migrant shelter in Mexicali, Mexico, that burned to the ground on July 9, 2021, were living in COBINA’s offices when the Washington Blade visited them three days later. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jardín de las Mariposas moved into a new house in May. It is less than four miles from El Chaparral, the main port of entry between Tijuana and San Diego.

Alight, formerly known as the American Refugee Agency, recently worked with ORAM to install security cameras and purchase new furniture for Jardín de las Mariposas. They also painted the shelter and a mural, installed solar heaters on the roof, planted plants and renovated the backyard.

This work is part of Alight’s “A Little Piece of Home” initiative that works to improve shelters for migrants and refugees along the border.

“This is beautiful because they are helping us and not letting us down,” Marín told the Blade. “They’re basically giving us hope to continue this fight that we have.”

Bunk beds in one of Jardín de las Mariposas’ bedrooms. (Photo courtesy of Jon Atwell/Alight)
Alight has been working with Jardín de las Mariposas to make improvements to their shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Jon Atwell/Alight)
Alight has been working with Jardín de las Mariposas to make improvements to their shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Jon Atwell/Alight)

  

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Mexico

Five Calif. Congress members visit Tijuana shelters for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers

Delegation traveled to Mexican border city on May 6

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Members of Congress and LGBTQ+ activists on May 6, 2022, visited Casa Arcoíris, a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Kelly O'Keeffe)

TIJUANA, Mexico — Five members of Congress from California last week visited two shelters for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in Tijuana.

Congress members Mark Takano, Raul Ruiz, Juan Vargas, Katie Porter and Sara Jacobs on May 6 toured Jardín de las Mariposas and Casa Arcoíris.

The Council for Global Equality organized the trip.

Chair Mark Bromley, Co-chair Julie Dorf and Senior Policy Fellow Bierne Roose-Snyder traveled to Tijuana along with Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration Executive Director Steve Roth. Representatives of the Transgender Law Center and the Refugee Alliance also met with the group.

The trip began in San Diego.

“As we work to fix our broken immigration system, improve border efficiency, and restore asylum at our borders, we must take a humanitarian approach and proactively protect all vulnerable populations lawfully seeking asylum in our country,” said Ruiz in a statement his office issued before the trip. “The LGBTQI community is one of the most vulnerable to face persecution, violence, and abuse in their home countries, throughout their journey to our borders, and in detention centers. As a trained humanitarian, I am going to assess their vulnerabilities and help provide humanitarian protections that are consistent with our American laws and their human rights.” 

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Mexico

Baja California governor vetoes conversion therapy ban bill

Measure overwhelmingly passed in Mexico state’s Congress on April 21

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Baja California Gov. Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda (Photo courtesy of Olmeda's Instagram page)

MEXICALI, Mexico — The governor of Mexico’s Baja California state has vetoed a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy.

The bill, which passed in the Baja California Congress on April 21 by a 20-4 vote margin, would specifically amend the state’s Penal Code and non-discrimination law to ban the discredited practice. Anyone convicted of conversion therapy would be fined and receive a sentence of between 2-6 years in prison.

Media reports indicate Gov. Marina del Pilar Ávila Olmeda vetoed the bill in order to send it back to lawmakers “to be able to strengthen this initiative from our points of view.” Eduardo Arredondo, an activist and member of the Congress’ Youth Parliament who pushed for the measure, on Tuesday told the Los Angeles Blade that Ávila made her decision in response “to the pressure that conservative groups put on her.”

“They maintain that each person is free to profess the religion that they want and can therefore act in accordance to their beliefs,” said Arredondo. “This includes seeking ‘help’ or an ‘advisory opinion’ in a situation in which their son or daughter is a member of the LGBT+ community. They also maintain that they, as parents, have the right to seek help to educate their child in the best way.”

Arredondo in a statement further defended the bill.

“The approval of the (conversion therapy) bill in Baja California represents a big step forward in the recognition of the rights of the LGBT+ community in the state,” he said. “The delay in the publication of the law on the part of the governor represents a setback in the guarantee of these rights. As long as this law is not published, therapies will continue to take place and many young people and children will continue to be subjected to these practices.”

Altagracia Tamayo is the president of Centro Comunitario de Bienestar Social (COBINA), a group in the state capital of Mexicali that serves LGBTQ+ people and other vulnerable groups.

Tamayo on Monday at a press conference that Comité Orgullo Mexicali, another local LGBTQ+ rights group, organized in response to Ávila’s veto said she survived conversion therapy.

“Conversion therapy damages the most intimate part of what makes children and young people a human being,” said Tamayo.  

Seven other jurisdictions in Mexico have banned conversion therapy.

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Mexico

Global Equality Caucus launches chapter in Latin America

Officials from across region attended launch in Mexico City

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The Global Equality Caucus earlier this month officially launched its Latin America chapter during a meeting it held in Mexico City (Photo courtesy of the Mexican Senate)

MEXICO CITY — A group of LGBTQ+ elected officials from around the world that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has launched a Latin America chapter.

The Global Equality Caucus earlier this month launched the chapter during a meeting in Mexico City.

Upwards of 100 elected officials in Mexico — local, state and national — joined representatives of LGBTQ+ rights groups and allies at the event. Twenty elected officials from Central America and more than 30 LGBTQ+ activists and human rights defenders from the region attended.

Mexican Sens. Patricia Mercado and Martha Lucía Mícher; Mexico City Assemblyman Temístocles Villanueva Ramos; Mexico City Secretary of Labor and Employment José Luis Rodríguez Díaz de León; Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ issues, and Nick Herbert, a member of the British House of Lords who advises Prime Minister Boris Johnson on LGBTQ+ issues, are among those who spoke at the meeting. Guatemalan Congressman Aldo Dávila, Costa Rican Congressman Enrique Sánchez and Mexico City Assemblywoman Ana Francis López Bayghen Patiño, among others, also attended.

“Right now we see different speeds in the advance of our rights, but we have the conviction that we can advance substantively towards full equal rights if we speak to those who make decisions in Congresses, national and local governments and in civil society,” Global Equality Caucus Membership and Projects Coordinator for Latin America Erick Ortiz told the Washington Blade.

Ortiz in 2021 ran for the El Salvador National Assembly. He would have been the first openly gay man elected to the country’s legislative body if he had won.

The Global Equality Caucus’ Latin America chapter will hold its second meeting in Buenos Aires next month.

Editor’s note: The Blade published a Spanish version of this article on April 14.

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