BY DOUG IRELAND | Cultural and political homophobia in Latin America remains starkly lethal, as evidence from two divergent societies there demonstrates.
In Honduras, there have been three new murders of LGBT people in recent weeks, bringing the death toll in the officially approved assassination campaign of queers to 31.
Meanwhile, in Brazil a new study by a gay group tracking homophobic and transphobic violence shows that an LGBT person is murdered every day and a half, a significant increase from three years ago, when it was one murder every three days.
According to a coalition of opposition groups, in Honduras, transvestites, hard-hit by the assassination campaign, were the targets of the three most recent brutal murders. On December 22, in Comayagüela, a 23-year-old travesti named Lorenza — whose legal name is Luis Alexis Alvarado Hernández— was found dead, her body visibly beaten and burned. Bloody stones near her corpse indicate that the bruises covering her body were caused by stoning, and her body had been set on fire. Used condoms found nearby have fueled the suspicion that she was also raped. After her death, the assailants threw her body into a ditch. News reports indicate that severe injuries to her face rendered her corpse virtually unrecognizable.
The same day, another travesti, Lady Oscar — whose legal name was Oscar Martinez Salgado — age 45, was found burned to death in her home in Tegucigalpa’s Barrio El Rincón. Her body showed multiple stab wounds. Neighbors reported witnessing two suspicious individuals running from her house as the fire ignited.
Less than two weeks later, on January 2, a young travesti known only as Cheo was found murdered on the main street of Colonia Alameda in Tegucigalpa. There was no identification on her when her body was found. She appears to have died from a severe stab wound to her chest.
Honduras’ best-known LGBT leader, 27-year-old Walter Trochez, was assassinated by state security forces in December 2009 for having launched a public campaign calling attention to the wave of anti-gay murders, which began following the June 2009 coup d’etat that overthrew the constitutionally-elected left-wing Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya.
Trochez was first kidnapped and tortured by state security forces, and shortly afterward murdered. Officials pressured him to stop asserting that the same forces behind what he called the “military-business-religious” coup were responsible for the organized killings of LGBT people. The gay activist refused to buckle in the face of dire warnings and continued his campaign, which cost him his life when he became the 17th victim of the murder campaign. He was killed in a drive-by shooting that riddled him with bullets (see this reporter’s December 23, 2009 article, “Honduras Regime Martyrs LGBT Leader” ).
Trochez was not only a well-known queer and AIDS activist, but also a prominent member of the National Resistance Front, the loose coalition of civil society organizations and grassroots activists opposed to the US-backed coup regime now headed by President Porfirio Lobo Sosa.
According to the pro-gay National Resistance Front’s website, which reported the latest killings, there has been little or no official police inquiry into the 31 LGBT murders.
Last week, a demonstration co-sponsored by LGBT groups and the Resistance Front was held at the Honduran Ministry of Justice in Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital, to protest the anti-gay murder campaign.
In Brazil, a draft annual report from the country’s oldest LGBT group, Grupo Gay de Bahia (GGB), founded in 1980, concluded that, based on media reports, there were at least 250 murders of queers in 2010, a dramatic increase of 52 from the number documented by the group for 2009. The final report will be issued in March.
Brazil is riddled with contradictory attitudes regarding sexual orientation. SÃ£o Paulo annually hosts the largest Gay Pride parade in the world, last year drawing some 3.3 million participants; there are similar celebrations in other Brazilian cities. Brazil also has the largest LGBT organization in Latin America.
At the same time, according to GGB, which is funded by UNESCO and the World Bank, between 1980 and 2009 at least 3,100 homosexuals were killed by hate crimes across Brazil, a figure that does not include the 250 murders GGB is now reporting for 2010.
Murders of gays in Brazil had already jumped 64 percent between 2007 and 2009, according to GGB — from 121 in 2007, to 187 in 2008, to 198 in 2009.
But these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg, according to Sérgio Carrara, a professor at the Institute of Social Medicine at UERJ, the State University of Rio de Janeiro.
“These numbers do not reflect reality,” he said. “The absence of a law against hate crimes means most of these crimes are treated with silence.” No official statistics are kept to document such crimes.
In a recent interview with the online Brazilian gay magazine Terra (terra.com.br/), GGB’s founder and former president, Luiz Mott, a prominent gay activist since the 1970s, said, “Brazil is the world leader in deaths of its LGBT population.” Mott blamed the homophobic violence in part on the intensely anti-gay propaganda of evangelical and Catholic leaders.
There is “a whole cultural and institutional homophobia that still exists and has, in evangelical churches and Catholic churches, the great manufacturing centers for such ideological weapons,” he said.
Mott was also highly critical of Brazil’s immediate past president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, universally known as Lula, who held office from 2003 until this month. The former president, he charged, put on a very pro-gay face, but fell well short on follow up that required leadership.
Lula launched a 2006 public campaign called “Brazil Against Homophobia,” including television ads and billboards, actively supported the United Nations declaration signed onto by 66 countries in favor of the universal decriminalization of homosexuality, and last year initiated a National Plan of Promotion of the Citizenship and Human Rights of LGBT People. However, he failed, according to Mott, to expend any political capital with the Congress to enact the 11 pro-gay rights recommendations from his National Human Rights Plan.
“Lula had a lack of political will to pass nearly a dozen laws in Congress aimed at full homosexual citizenship,” said Mott. “To enact such laws, political will and pressure by the executive on the legislature were necessary. Lula, unfortunately, lacked the courage and boldness to press his power base” and oppose the powerful Catholic and evangelical churches, so these laws were not adopted.
The veteran gay activist added, “In our view, there was malfeasance on the part of the presidency for not having effected the 11 measures… The government, despite the best intentions, did not face the main need, which is the guarantee of life for homosexuals. There were proposals to tackle homophobia and lethal crimes that, if passed, would have given us a more precise idea of the number of these murders.”
The new president, Dilma Rousseff, a protégé of Lula’s, and her Worker’s Party won a majority in both houses of the Congress. But the Worker’s Party, now a democratic socialist party with Trotskyite roots, has many members who retain Old Left homophobic attitudes and many others,
especially from the working class, who maintain a religious allegiance that is either evangelical or Catholic and share those religions’ homophobia.
Rousseff has already been accused of temporizing on the issue of abortion, which these churches also oppose. Will she do the same on pro-gay domestic legislation? Only time will tell.
The web site of Grupo Gay da Bahia is at http://www.ggb.org.br/. The website of the National Resistance Front of Honduras is tinyurl.com/48qohe3. Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at direland.typepad.com/.