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August 28, 2015

Perspectives from Our Trip to the Dominican Republic

In 2013, the arrival of openly gay U.S. Ambassador James Brewster in the Dominican Republic stirred passionate debate in the predominantly Roman Catholic country. When Human Rights First traveled to the Caribbean nation last week, activists reflected on Brewster’s influence and recognized his role in opening dialogue on the human rights of the LGBT community.

But they also emphasized that Brewster’s arrival was hardly the beginning of the movement to advance the human rights of LGBT people in the DR. During a week of interviews with committed activists and NGO leaders, we learned about the longstanding—and ongoing—efforts to advance the human rights of LGBT Dominicans.

At a roundtable discussion, nearly 20 activists outlined the major issues confronting the LGBT community. One transgender activist said, “Society has turned us into sex slaves,” highlighting how marginalization and lack of opportunities force many transgender women to become sex workers; as such, they become even more vulnerable to violence and abuse—including by the police. Discrimination in healthcare is routine for LGBT people, and transgender women in particular often face ridicule and rejection from hospital and clinic personnel.  

Other activists highlighted the invisibility of members of the lesbian community, and the need for more programs that address the issues these women face, including the threat of so-called “corrective” rape, discrimination in employment, and mental health issues. 

Fear of reprisal prevents many LGBT people from denouncing attacks and discrimination. Abuse committed by members of the police force, including violence and arbitrary arrests, breeds a lack of faith in the justice system and an unwillingness to report violations. 

But activists are leading important efforts to change the landscape. Local NGO Trans Siempre Amigas leads workshops to empower members of the transgender community, documents hate crimes, and denounces violations against transgender people. Coordinadora Lésbica y de Hombres Trans works to empower lesbians and transgender men through education and training. Diversidad Dominicana works at the grassroots to empower LGBT people, particularly lesbian women. 

The Observatorio de Derechos Humanos para Grupos Vulnerabilizados (Human Rights Observatory for Vulnerable Groups) works with dozens of civil society organizations to document violations against vulnerable groups, including members of the LGBT community. They’re developing “know your rights” trainings to combat arbitrary arrests of LGBT people.

Our whirlwind week revealed to us the strength of the movement for LGBT human rights in the Dominican Republic. The U.S. government should bolster it with moral, technical, and financial support. By doing so, it could help secure lasting change for the Dominican Republic’s LGBT community.