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Why Honduran Election Fraud Is an LGBT Issue

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Last month, over three millions Hondurans came out across the country to vote in the 2013 general elections. They gathered to select a new president, new Congressional representatives, new city mayors, and new representatives for the Central American Parliament. Long before that day arrived, we knew these would be fiercely competitive races. Since 2009, when the army ousted President Manuel Zelaya in an anti-democratic coup d'état, there had been no free and fair elections and the frustrations of the Honduran people had reached a boiling point. This resulted in the 2011 launch of a new left opposition party, Liberdad y Refundación or LIBRE, who fielded their first presidential candidate this year, Xiomara Castro, facing off against the Partido Nacional's Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado.

That's why I found myself in Tegucigalpa on November 24, as a member of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender human rights delegation. We were invited among the many groups serving as monitors in hopes that these elections would not be plagued by the rigging and fraud that were seen in the 2009 sham that followed the coup.

Unfortunately what my queer colleagues and I saw was anything but free and fair. My delegation witnessed and documented widespread election irregularities including blatant vote buying, intimidation of voters and observers, massive voter disenfranchisement, and anomalies in vote tabulation for large blocks of the country, all of which resulted in the consolidation of power by the National Party and the unfair defeat of the opposition.

The other thing we saw plainly through the relationships we built with our counterpart LGBT activists was that the injustice facing all Hondurans across the country is having a disproportionate impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. It became clear that the results of this election are, in fact, an LGBT issues because of threats to pro-LGBT legislation and the possibility of continuing anti-LGBT violence.

PRO-LGBT LEGISLATION

Juan Orlando Hernandez has been outspoken in his opposition to pro-LGBT legislation, supposedly because of his faith. As a result, he's promised to roll back the pro-LGBT legislative progress that has been made in the country as well as block what's coming down the pike. To be specific, this means two bills dealing with non-discrimination and legal gender recognition.

In the years since the coup, the biggest legislative victory LGBT activists have achieved is the amendment of article 321 of the Honduran penal code to include sexual orientation and gender identity as classes legally protected from discrimination. Despite the historic victory, however, the law has not been put into practice in any meaningful way and discrimination in employment and education as well as public accommodations systematically persists. This has pushed trans women into outdoor sex work and pressured lesbian and gay people to remain closeted and hidden from view in order to generate income and survive. Now, rather than taking on implementation law as a next step goal for the LGBT movement, activists face the Juan Orlando's campaign promise to repeal the protections altogether.

Outside of the more general movement of the resistance, the primary legislative goal for the Honduran trans movement is creating the legislative framework for legal gender recognition. Right now it is impossible to obtain accurate and updated identification. This means trans people are "outed" when they present identification documents that show old pictures, birth names, and incorrect gender markers. This can be a trigger for violence as well as discrimination in hiring and school enrollment. Honduran activists have spent the last three years working together and collaborating with their colleagues all around Latin America to develop proposed language based on the Argentine model. The law will allow swift and simple gender recognition using a single administrative form and will not require any proof of transition-related health care or a court order. The community plans to introduce the bill in 2014 with support from the Libre party, but its chance of passage and implementation under the Hernandez regime look grim.

ANTI-LGBT VIOLENCE

Honduras is one of the worst countries in the world in terms of its rates of murder and violence across the board and these figures have only increased in the years since the 2009 coup. Unfortunately LGBT people, including both those active in social movements and those who are not, have been disproportionately impacted.

Trans women are often among the most visible members of the LGBT community in Honduras and, as a result, have born the brunt of this anti-LGBT violence. According to some accounts, two trans women in San Pedro Sula were the first deaths of the resistance movement, and overall more than 253 anti-trans murders have taken place since the coup. Beyond being complicit in this violence by failing to investigate these crimes, the police are unfortunately also all too often perpetrators. Even those murders that may not have been directly political -- those targeting sex workers, for example, as opposed to the 53 trans activists from the Movement for Diversity in the Resistance -- all of these can be linked to the increased militarization of the streets and the country at large.

These statistics stand out among the many numbers one can read about murder in Honduras, but they're also consistent with other impacted communities. For example, women, regardless of sexual orientation, face extreme violence in Honduras, with one woman murdered every fourteen hours. More than 600 women have been murdered so far this year. Similar statements can be made about political opposition figures generally.

CONCLUSION

Of course, the linkages between the oppression of the Honduran people and the global movement for LGBT liberation extend far beyond two pieces of legislation and individual instances of violence. This issue deserves the attention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the United States and, indeed, everyone in the United States first and foremost because of our own government and our own corporations' roles in the recent history of the country. Furthermore, this line of thinking also calls to mind the intersectional maxim that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. But I guess what was so striking to me during my time in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula was just how direct and clear the link is between LGBT issues and these election results.

Unfortunately, the official response to these elections by the United States has been severely disappointing. The U.S. embassy has declared that we must respect the falsified results and the US Department of State has characterized the process as "generally transparent," but the fight is not over. The Tribunal Supremo Electoral has called for a limited recount and the official thirty day period to contest results is far from over. That's why I'm encouraging LGBT people across the country to tune into what's happening. For the latest election news, action alerts, and opportunities to work in solidarity with Honduran activists, please see The Honduras Solidarity Network.