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Central America Fails to Acknowledge or Legislate in Favor of LGBTI Community

O'Brian Robinson (R) sits with two friends at the beach. He is a trans man, coordinator of Negritudes Trans HN, a group that fights for the rights of the trans community in Honduras, including those of the black Garífuna population living mainly on the Atlantic coast, in the north of the country. CREDIT: Courtesy of Negritudes Trans HN

O'Brian Robinson (R) sits with two friends at the beach. He is a trans man, coordinator of Negritudes Trans HN, a group that fights for the rights of the trans community in Honduras, including those of the black Garífuna population living mainly on the Atlantic coast, in the north of the country. CREDIT: Courtesy of Negritudes Trans HN

SAN SALVADOR, Jun 20 2023 (IPS) - There is still a long way to go before the LGBTI population in Central America stops being discriminated against and begins to make progress in gaining recognition of their full rights, including the possibility of changing their name to match their gender identity, in the case of trans people.

“The issue of the rights of LGBTI people is extremely precarious. There is no recognition of our rights, obviously including the identity of trans people in our country,” O’Brian Robinson, general coordinator of Negritudes Trans Honduras, told IPS from Tegucigalpa.

"The non-recognition of our identity also affects us in all social spheres, in the areas of ​​employability, healthcare and schooling; people are forced to live on the fringes of society.” -- O’Brian Robinson

In the heavily conservative Central American countries, public policies with a strong moralistic bias predominate on issues such as the right to abortion or the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) population.

That is the reason for the strong institutional resistance to the passage of a gender identity law recognizing the rights of this community, without discrimination. In none of the six countries in the region – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama – has such legislation been enacted.

The vast majority of the LGBTI population experiences marginalization and social rejection that in many cases leads to physical violence and even murder – phenomena that are not exclusive to this region.

A June 2022 Amnesty International report stated that El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Honduras are among the countries in the Americas with “high levels of hate crimes, hate speech, and marginalization, as well as murders and persecution of LGBTI activists.”

 

As in other regions of the world, the LGBTI community in Central America has been marginalized and is the victim of frequent human rights violations, including murders and other hate crimes. One of the chief demands is the approval of laws that allow transgender people to legally change their name so it matches their gender identity and expression. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

As in other regions of the world, the LGBTI community in Central America has been marginalized and is the victim of frequent human rights violations, including murders and other hate crimes. One of the chief demands is the approval of laws that allow transgender people to legally change their name so it matches their gender identity and expression. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

 

The right name

Regarding the fight for a name that matches an individual’s gender identity and expression, Robinson pointed out that daily aspects such as carrying out bank transactions, undergoing a medical consultation or enrolling in an academic course are difficult for a trans person in Honduras.

And this is especially true if the legal name on their document is the one they no longer use, which is generally the case due to the obstacles they face in obtaining an ID that reflects their transgender identity.

“The non-recognition of our identity also affects us in all social spheres, in the areas of ​​employability, healthcare and schooling; people are forced to live on the fringes of society,” added the 29-year-old activist.

These daily tasks can be carried out, but often after facing ridicule, contempt, and arguments with civil servants who do not understand that State institutions are there to serve everyone, without distinction.

In Honduras, it is forbidden to change your name, according to article 61 of the National Registry of Persons Law, with only three exceptions: that it is unpronounceable, that it is the name of some object, or that it violates decency and good customs.

This third category makes it impossible for a trans person to change their name.

According to the Amnesty International report, the concept of transgender encompasses people who identify as such and also includes transsexuals, transvestites, gender queer or “any other gender identity that does not meet social and cultural expectations regarding it.”

Robinson added that LGBTI, and specifically trans, organizations have been pushing for changes in the legal regulations since 2010 in order to pass a law that brings visibility to and protects people with anything other than a heterosexual gender expression and sexual identity.

In 2021 they also promoted a reform of the registration law, which would open the door to a legal name-change process for trans people.

More than 4,000 signatures were collected in support of the proposed bill. But it was rejected by the authorities, who alleged that only 200 of the signatures were real and the rest were false, which Robinson said was untrue and a “ridiculous” argument.

In Guatemala and El Salvador, trans people can change their names, but that is because the legal regulations allow anyone to do so if they wish and can afford to.

“The Civil Code in Guatemala has always allowed everyone to change their name, but from a heterosexual perspective,” Galilea Monroy, director of the Multicultural Network of Trans Women of Guatemala, told IPS.

Monroy, a trans woman, said that through this mechanism around 500 people from that community have been able to change their names, with financial support from international organizations.

But a name change costs around 600 dollars in Guatemala and about 4,000 dollars in El Salvador.

Monroy also pointed out that the name change does not include modifying the “sex” in the personal identity document, and in her case, her ID continues to say she is a “man”. The same is true in El Salvador.

 

Galilea Monroy is the executive director of the Multicultural Network of Trans Women of Guatemala, which pushes for respect for the rights of trans people in a nation where, like the rest of Central America, it is difficult to work for changes on behalf of LGBTI people, and where hate crimes against this community are frequent. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Multicultural Network of Trans Women of Guatemala

Galilea Monroy is the executive director of the Multicultural Network of Trans Women of Guatemala, which pushes for respect for the rights of trans people in a nation where, like the rest of Central America, it is difficult to work for changes on behalf of LGBTI people, and where hate crimes against this community are frequent. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Multicultural Network of Trans Women of Guatemala

 

A region of hatred and death

In El Salvador, transgender activist Karla Avelar, with the support of several Salvadoran human rights organizations, filed a lawsuit against the government on Jan. 31 for not providing a legal mechanism allowing her name to match her gender identity on her ID.

The case came to light on May 17, during a conference in San Salvador in which the organizations and Avelar participated by means of videoconference.

In February 2022, the Constitutional Chamber, a five-judge court that is part of the Salvadoran Supreme Court, ruled that the legislature had one year to pass a law that would allow trans people to change not only their names but the gender on their ID.

But parliament, which since 2021 has been controlled by Nuevas Ideas, the party of President Nayib Bukele, failed to meet the deadline.

Avelar also held the government responsible in her lawsuit for failing to investigate or prosecute those responsible for the violence against her and her mother, which forced them to seek asylum in a European country in 2017.

In addition, the lawsuit mentions the forced displacement that she and her mother suffered because they had to flee the violence, including gang violence.

“El Salvador has a history of violence and discrimination against the LGBTI community that mainly affects transgender people,” Avelar said in an online call from the conference held in San Salvador by the organizations backing her case.

The violence suffered by Avelar, 45, included an attempt on her life in 1992.

In a March 2021 ruling on the case of Vicky Hernández, a Honduran trans activist murdered in June 2009, allegedly by agents of the State, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered a series of reparations for the LGBTI community to be fulfilled by Honduras in the area of human rights.

Among the provisions to be complied with, the Inter-American Court included the “right to recognition of legal personality, to personal liberty, to private life, to freedom of expression, to their name and to equality and non-discrimination,” as included in several articles of the American Convention on Human Rights, known as the San José Pact.

This international treaty, in force since 1978, makes Inter-American Court rulings final and binding on the States parties, which currently number 23 as some countries have pulled out. But Honduras has not complied with the requirements in the ruling.

 

Trans women, the most prone to violence

Transgender women are the most prone to suffering attacks, whether verbal or physical, the Amnesty International report says, because due to the lack of job opportunities they tend to engage in sex work on the streets, unlike trans men.

This was corroborated by the Guatemalan activist, Monroy, who pointed out that around 90 percent of trans women engage in sex work and are thus victims of all kinds of abuse and attacks.

“Most of us trans women have to do sex work because we don’t have social coverage or basic rights such as access to education, work, decent justice, not to mention a pension,” Monroy stressed.

She added that around 90 percent of transgender women engage in sex work on the streets of Guatemala, and the rest work in trades such as hairdressing, or are in the informal sector.

To this must be added the transphobic attitudes that prevail among the population of Central American countries.

“Discrimination is latent in social spaces, in parks, in restaurants, in nightclubs, and in many cases they reserve the right of admission when they identify you as being part of the LGBTI community, and much more so if you are trans,” Monroy said.

She added: “It’s horrible when they tell you: ‘there is no service here’, or there is, but they tell you ‘sit there in the corner where nobody will look at you’.”

She said that far from promoting laws in favor of gender identity, in Guatemala 20 lawmakers “who are totally religious are pushing for approval of Law 5940, which does not recognize gender identity and in which they want to implement the famous conversion therapies.”

 
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