5-17-2013By Christopher Plummer
A. Whitney Ellsworth Fellow
Four years ago, Ana Patricia Centeno, a lesbian and Honduran LGBT activist, was granted asylum in the United States. After years of fear, persecution, and violence she is now living without having to look over her shoulder.
In Honduras—amid a dangerous climate for LGBT people, which has long been documented—she bravely fought for the equal rights of sexual minorities. Members of the LGBT community had been beaten, abducted, murdered with impunity, and fallen victim to ‘corrective rape’. Tragically, as her profile rose as an activist, Ana Patricia became a victim of the latter. She feared for her life.
She fled Honduras and came to New York to seek safety. Through Human Rights First’s Asylum Legal Representation program, we provided Ana Patricia a pro bono attorney that helped her gain asylum in the United States. Her pro bono attorney also worked with her to bring her children to the country. Today, she continues her work fighting for women’s and LGBT rights from her home in New Jersey, knowing that the situation remains dire for those who remain in Honduras.
Activists report that from 1994 to 2009 there were 20 murders of LGBT individuals, and after the 2009 coup d’état they have recorded 89 murders in 44 months. Though Honduras is one of the most dangerous places—likely, the current “murder capital” of the world—the rise in antigay murders is particularly alarming, and can be attributed to the policies, impunity, and political dysfunction of post-2009 Honduras. In 2011, U.S. Peace Corps withdrew its volunteers due to low security, and in 2012 the U.S. Department of State has issued a travel warning to U.S. citizens travelling to Honduras, pointing out that a vast majority of serious crimes are never solved.
Though much criticized for its foreign policy toward Honduras, the U.S. government has helped establish a Special Victims Task Force—consisting of vetted members of the Honduran National Police, the Public Ministry, and U.S. advisors—for looking into high profile violent crime cases, such as the attacks on members of the LGBT community. While there has been some progress in a few cases, impunity is the overwhelming norm.
As we commemorate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) on May 17th, the U.S. needs to do more to encourage the Honduran government to speak out against hate crime, train criminal justice officials to monitor and document violent acts, and strengthen trust and outreach with the local LGBT community, so victims will feel safer reporting violence.