‘Fight will continue’ says LGBT leader in Honduras

Tegucigalpa, Honduras — Erick Martínez, a leader of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in Honduras, addressed a group of U.S. and Canadian solidarity activists on Nov. 21. These activists were in his country to track human rights abuses and observe the national elections on Nov. 24. Three days before the election was stolen by Honduras’ ruling National Party, Martínez expressed the hope of many Hondurans for change with the election of Xiomara Castro de Zelaya.

“If Libre [Castro de Zelaya’s Liberdad y Refundación party] wins, we will be heard,” Martínez explained. “If the National Party wins, we will go backwards.”

Close to 100 members of the LGBT community in Honduras have been murdered since the 2009 coup that overthrew democratically elected President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, including the stoning death of a gay man in a small village. Only 35 of the murders have been investigated, and of those only six have seen charges brought against the perpetrator. None has gone to trial.

The murders of transgender women, which account for almost one-third of all the anti-LGBT killings, are particularly brutal. After being stabbed, shot or burned to death, they are often mutilated. There is complete impunity toward the killers in these cases, Martínez charged.

Transgender women are also robbed, assaulted and raped, and many times the perpetrators are Honduran police. Noelia Cárdenas emigrated to Spain after surviving an attack that left her companion dead. Cárdenas herself was stabbed 36 times by a police officer during the assault.

Very powerful members of the rightist Honduran government are complicit in the violence, as well as in creating the hostile climate in which these attacks take place. When police raided and destroyed a gay bar in the capital city of Tegucigalpa last January, arresting and detaining 84, including Martínez, they told the bar owner that “we report to El Tigre.” “El Tigre” is the nickname of Juan Carlos Bonilla, the head of the National Police, who has death squad ties and has been linked to murders and disappearances over many years. Bonilla himself led an earlier New Year’s Eve raid on the same bar.

This past May, almost four years after the coup and with the government still obstructing justice for LGBT Hondurans, the U.S. State Department created a task force to investigate these killings. The FBI provided resources. Still, according to Martínez, “Nothing has been done. The system has not stopped the killings.” If any lives have been saved, Martínez noted, it has been thanks to the gay men who have organized independently to protect transgender women from attacks.

The Libre Party campaign has offered the LGBT community real hope. Martínez found vice-presidential candidate Juan Barahona receptive in a meeting they had together. Libre is committed to providing protection from LGBT-bashing. The party ran two “out” candidates in the national elections, a gay man and a transgender woman.

Transgender voters faced a unique problem: they could not vote if their gender presentation did not match the gender marker listed on their voter ID card. Others, Martínez felt, might not vote out of fear of humiliation. Survivors of stabbings and burnings might not go to the polls.

It is a harsh situation but, Martínez vowed, “The fight will continue.” This fighting spirit was displayed at a rally the day after the fraudulent election results were announced, when another gay activist, Pepe Palacios, proudly waved the LGBT rainbow flag under the noses of the military police.