Founded in 2003, Arcoíris is committed to empowering and informing the LGBTI community from Comayagüela and Tegucigalpa on issues of holistic health, the defence and promotion of human rights related to sexual diversity, advocacy, research and outreach. The populations they work with and who access their programs are lesbian and bisexual women, gay and bisexual men and transgender women and men (transsexual, transgender, transformist and transvestite). They also work with heterosexuals, raising awareness and challenging stigmatization based on sexual orientation. Arcoíris is part of the Committee on Sexual Diversity and the Honduras UPR Platform and recently Donny Reyes, coordinator of the Association, was elected by representatives of civil society to join the National Council for the Protection of Human Rights as a deputy member. Since 2009, Donny Reyes has been the beneficiary of precautionary measures issued by the IACHR to protect his safety, but to date, the Honduran authorities have not properly implemented these measures.
Situation for the LGBTI community
In Honduras, the LGBTI community has noted an increase in violence and crime against its members since the coup d’état in 2009. Between 1994 and 2008, 20 violent deaths were recorded, which multiplied significantly over the following six years. From 2009 until the end of 2014, there were 184 violent deaths. The group that registered most victims was gay men, with 103 murders; followed by 71 murders of transgender people and 15 lesbians. In October 2015, in the absence of official and updated figures, the number of murders of LGBTI people stood at 24, increasing the death toll to 204 since the coup d’état.
The situation for Honduras’s LGBTQI+ community was already critical before the current health emergency, but the arrival of COVID-19 to this Central American country has led to a double violation of their rights. This is how the Arcoiris LGBT Association describes their situation, explaining that the coronavirus pandemic has had a greater impact on the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
The Sexual Diversity Committee states that those who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex or other (LGBTQI+) “are disproportionately suffering from the ravages of the pandemic and its consequences due to their historic social, labour and economic exclusion under the Honduran state”. Due to the restrictions imposed by the Honduran Government, which declared a complete lockdown throughout the country and the suspension of constitutional guarantees on 20 March, those with less resources find it increasingly difficult to access essential services, from personal protective equipment to food and water.
The main problem, according to Donny Reyes, coordinator of Arcoiris Association, “is that the LGBT collective is not considered a priority group in the distribution of government aid. Other groups, like over-60’s and the disabled are given priority”. Arcoiris is therefore working to find food, housing support and biosecurity materials like bleach, soap, gloves and masks to help the LGBTQI+ collective. In order to raise the necessary funds, Arcoiris has requested humanitarian aid. “But at the moment, it is not going very well for us”, they explain.
So far, they have managed to obtain a few parcels of food aid from the Secretary of Development and Social Inclusion with the support of the National Human Rights Commissioner, though not without great difficulty. However, even when they get food aid, the problems do not end there. “We leave the parcels at strategic points because we are not permitted to be in the streets, and we can’t go door to door. But the people often do not have the means to travel, either because there is no public transport or because they cannot afford a taxi. We’ve heard that some of the parcels we left were stolen. On top of that, delivering the parcels is becoming more and more difficult and complicated. When someone from our group goes out to deliver the parcels, we’re afraid that something bad could happen to them. How can we guarantee the safety of the teams that move about the city?”.
Currently, obtaining a travel permit in Honduras for members of national and international human rights or humanitarian aid organisations is a long and complicated process. In fact, many organisations denounce that the Honduran state is minimising the work of human rights defenders, as they were not included in the list of exceptions to the lockdown. This closes their spaces for action, and blocks their fundamental work in this critical situation of suspended guarantees. “On top of this, they’re not giving travel permits to any LGBT organisation in the country, because it would be an official recognition and accreditation of our work,” says Donny Reyes.
In order to obtain the travel permit and continue their human rights defence work, Arcoiris Association, together with other civil society organisations in Honduras, have launched a legal appeal to restore the right to freedom of movement and freedom of expression for human rights defenders. In other words, to restore the right to defend rights.
A greater risk
Within this context, the risks faced by transgender women have increased hugely. “I am worried for my friends, because many of them go outside to work when there is a lockdown”, one member of the Muñecas Trans Women’s Collective of Arcoiris comments. The lack of work opportunities means that sex work in the streets of Tegucigalpa is one of the very few options this group has to make a living. In the midst of a pandemic and its restrictions, they must break the quarantine order and risk being arrested or becoming victims to violence.
In recent weeks, we have received reports of at least 10 attacks against trans women by soldiers, the National Police and private security agents, including verbal and physical attacks, threats and the use of tear gas. “They take advantage of the fact that we are violating the lockdown order to threaten us and hit us. But we need to pay our rent and buy food. Going out on the street is our only option”, says Adriana (not her real name), a trans woman who recently suffered an attack by soldiers in the centre of Tegucigalpa. Some of them have even reported being coerced into performing sexual acts in order to avoid being arrested.On 5 May, Honduras recorded its first hate crime during the health emergency when a 23 year old trans woman in the Caribbean city of La Ceiba was murdered. Although the arrival of COVID-19 has intensified the violence against the LGBTQI+ collective, this is not a new development. According to the Observatory of Violent Deaths of the LGBTI Community in Honduras, part of the Cattrachas Lesbian Network, so far in 2020 there have been at least six murders of LGBTQI+ individuals, one trans woman among them. Over the past ten years, organisations have reported over 315 hate crimes, of which almost a third were against trans persons. Of all these crimes, 92% remain unpunished.
Alongside the fear of being arrested or violently attacked, accessing health services has become even more difficult during the lockdown. This is particularly worrying for people living with HIV/AIDS, who have a compromised immune system. Arcoiris and the Muñecas collective are concerned. “Our HIV positive members do not have the means to travel to pick up their medicines, firstly due to the lack of transportation, and secondly because the trans women do not have identification and it’s very risky to leave the house like this. The few women who manage to get their medication can’t take it in the end, because they need to be taken with food, and the vast majority of them don’t have access to food right now”. Facing this situation, trans women, who already regularly experience situations of violence, discrimination, and a generalised hostility, are now more than ever looking to one another for support and companionship in order to lower their risk.
Meanwhile, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reminded states on numerous occasions since the start of the outbreak that the emergency must not be used as a pretext for abuses and violations of human rights, emphasising all the while the importance of protecting LGBTQI+ individuals. Yet according to LGBTQI+ organisations, the Honduran Government does not seem to be implementing these recommendations.
Arcoiris and PBI
The leaders of the Association report being the victims of attacks, threats and harassment which aim to destabilise the organization. 6 members have been murdered.
PBI began accompanying the organisation in July 2015. During the second half of 2015, PBI reported more than 15 security incidents against members of the LGBTI Arcoíris Association, including surveillance, harassment, detentions, assaults, robberies, theft, threats, sexual assault and even murder. Several members have been forced into exile abroad, including Donny Reyes and Esdra Yaveth Sosa.
We continue to accompany the Association, working with them to improve their security, build international support networks, and increase their capacity. This life-saving protection and support is only possible because of donations from people like you.