“If You’re Invisible, You’re Harmless”: The LGBT Community in Honduras, Invisible No Longer

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José “Pepe” Palacios, a leading LGBT activist from Honduras, recently visited the United States at the invitation of the Honduras Solidarity Network and the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America (CRLN). Pepe is a founding member of the Diversity Movement in Resistance (MDR), created in the wake of the June 2009 coup d’état in Honduras that replaced the democratically elected government.  He is also a program officer at the Swedish aid agency Diakonia.  At events in Washington, DC that the Latin America Working Group helped arrange,  Pepe spoke about the violence the LGBT community has faced after the coup and what they are doing to organize for change…

“June 28, 2009 we had a coup d’état. It is a really important date for the LGBT community of Honduras. June 28, 1969 was Stonewall. 40 years later we had the coup d’état and for us, the coup was our Stonewall. Prior to that date, we didn’t have a movement at all. But, on that date, we joined all the social movements in our country. We had a fight in common: we wanted democracy.

Pepe_Lisa_GaryPepe speaking during a brown bag event. CREDIT: Jordan Baber, LAWG.Pepe speaking during a brown bag event. CREDIT: Jordan Baber, LAWG.

“It was really hard working together; there are 13 LGBT organizations. Before the coup, it was almost impossible to have even 2 LGBT organizations seated at the same table. There was a lot of transphobia and lesbophobia; we were just a ‘G’ organization. We called it LGBT but in reality it was not. Now, we have a common agenda. Our biggest allies are the feminists, union workers, indigenous organizations, afro-Hondurans, youth organizations, campesinos and even religious organizations, all of whom were against the coup.

“Honduran society is very conservative; there is a lot of homophobia. Being part of the resistance front doesn’t make you immune to homophobia immediately. But at least in this movement, the people are very supportive. Maybe it is because we have the same goal as them, but every time we accompany the resistance front, the people are very respectful. Others tolerate us, but they respect us. Between tolerance and respect, I prefer being respected.

“One of the things that has changed since the coup is that there is a lot of hate. In only 7 months after the coup, 26 LGBT persons were killed. In 2008, we only had 4 killed. We went from 4 to 26; that’s a big jump. From 1994-2009, we had 20 LGBT murders. After the coup, we have had 90. It went from being 1 per year to 2 per month. Why? We were living in a bubble before and if you’re invisible, you’re harmless. Since that day, the LGBT community became visible because we walked the streets protesting against the coup. Now we’re the chusma.

Pepe_PolisPepe with Representative Jared Polis. CREDIT: Gary Cozette, CRLN.Pepe with Representative Jared Polis. CREDIT: Gary Cozette, CRLN.“The American embassy and State Department sent FBI agents to support the police and prosecutors in their investigations of these murders. Now, 18 of the 90 cases are under investigation with 2 people sentenced. The investigations have progressed because of the involvement of the FBI agents. I don’t see a possibility that the current government improves the legal system. If it wasn’t for the pressure of the American embassy and State Department, they wouldn’t do anything at all to investigate. The government excuse is that there are lots of murders occurring so why should they have to focus on these LGBT murders in particular. The government is investigating now not because they want to but because of international pressure.

“In 2011, the resistance movement decided to create a political arm in order to participate in general elections (LIBRE). We had two pre-candidates for Congress. One, Erick Martinez Avila, was nominated in April and on May 7, 2012 he was murdered. Traditionally, we have had two parties and now we have a third, and for the first time they will have real competition in an election. What I want to do here is to raise awareness because maybe many of you didn’t have any information on what’s happening in Honduras with the LGBT organizations. Also we need to have the support of human rights organizations to observe the electoral process in order to insure it will be transparent.

“I would never ever leave my country because if I do that, I’m safe but others will still face threats. In every revolution there will be casualties, but we know we can’t stop. The positive thing is that we became visible and now we really are a movement, not a social club, not an NGO. We’re part of a movement that fights for the rights of everyone.”