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Honduras: Reconciling a “Culture of Non-Violence” and Transphobia

June 2, 2009

honduras0509Today is the start of 39th Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly — a meeting of the Organization of American States, which seeks to promote peace, democracy, security, and solidarity among the nations of North America and South America. Held in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, this year’s theme is “Toward a Culture of Non-Violence;” among other things, the session’s draft declaration states a commitment to “prevent, eliminate, and punish all forms of violence against women,” and to protect the rights of “individuals in vulnerable situations, particularly those affected by violence generated by any kind of discrimination, including discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and xenophobia.”

What’s particularly interesting about the start of this year’s OAS General Assembly is that it begins just four days after Human Rights Watch released a new report, “‘Not Worth a Penny’: Human Rights Abuses against Transgender People in Honduras.” From the report’s summary:

While Honduran authorities have been prompt in signing international agreements pledging to curb violence and protect vulnerable groups, attacks on transgender people — often targeted because their looks and demeanor challenge prevailing sex-role stereotypes — continue to be commonplace in the country.

The Advocate has more:

Trans activist Cynthia Nicole was shot in January, and most recently two unidentified men assaulted Barbara Paola, an outreach worker for an LGBT organization in Tegucigalpa. Joshua, 19, told the organization that police punched her in the face, beat her with a baton, and broke a broomstick against her back before throwing her into jail. Other reports show that police stand by while trans people are attacked in the streets.

However, when confronted on such abuses, officers refer to vague language in the Law on Police and Social Affairs to protect morality and guard against “public scandal” and those “who go against modesty” to justify their actions or inaction. Similar policies in other Latin American countries like Colombia have been stopped after courts deemed them too broad.

I am struck by this double standard. Honduras is simultaneously condemning violence against women and condoning (however indirectly) violence against trans people (especially trans women). For those who follow trans issues, this may not be surprising; trans people are routinely excluded from LGB and feminist spaces and conversation. So the fact that a meeting to discuss ending violence against women and gay people does not include any explicit references to trans people is not shocking in itself. What is shocking is the lengths to which Honduran authorities go to defend this violence. As Human Rights Watch points out:

Some actions to protect public morality are permitted under international human rights law, mainly if they are clearly set out in domestic law, are shown to be necessary, and are applied proportionately. This is clearly not the case in the provisions of the Law on Police and Social Affairs in Honduras, however. Vague provisions in the law enable police violence and abuses against other marginalized communities as well as transgender people.

Though it remains to be seen whether this session of the OAS General Assembly will discuss transgender-specific issues (and it might — last year, they adopted the Brazil-sponsored “Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity”), it is even more unclear whether any discussion that takes place will have any affect on the current treatment of transgender people in Honduras. As the host of this General Assembly, Honduras should be setting an example for how people of all gender identities and expressions deserve to be treated. The draft declaration specifically calls for the end of violence and discrimination against women and gay people. While that is an admirable first step, the only way for the session to truly call the end for all discrimination is to specifically include transgender people as well. And if the Honduran authorities are not going to set that example themselves, it is up to the international community — including international queer and feminist groups, as trans issues are feminist issues — to ask them to.

To learn more about violence against trans people in Honduras, check out TransGriot‘s recent coverage.

One Comment
  1. Jessica permalink
    June 13, 2009 8:04 am

    Though the status of transsexual people, particularly transsexual women, is subject to erasure (Namaste, 2000, 2005) and repudiation (Shelley, 2008), we are often made aware of the dire straits of those who live with gender identities not assigned at birth in connection with issues of race and class in places other than North American and certainly other than Canada.

    In Canada, though we are, in a purely reactive manner, made aware of the ‘support’ of GLB(t) organizations when provinces delist surgery–as both Alberta and Manitoba have quite recently done–these organizations, that purport to be ‘ours,’ too, have long abandoned their adherence, if they ever did adhere, even to their own, voluntarily and with wide institutional support, advocacy for transsexual people.

    Issues of race and class, of course, certainly of those marginalized by these intersections, never seem to penetrate the walls of middle-class, middle-age, white, male.

    After the struggle for gay marriage was won, everyone went home.

    Those of us who have continued the struggle, the struggle simply to open the door, have not been well received by those who continue to claim they are ‘our’ champions.

    The dynamics of oppression seem to be eternal, regardless of who the actors are–those who were oppressed by society having achieved their formal, and many substantive goals, turn around and adopt the very roles they once struggled with for history never stands still.

    There have always been barriers for transsexual women reaching out to allies in North America and in Canada.

    The legacy of the ‘gay rights movement,’ always a locale where transsexual people have made strategic contributions–Reed Erickson, Beth Elliot, Sandy Stone, Sylvia Rivera, and these are only those whose contributions are somewhat known–have been conveniently revised out of existence.

    More importantly, the barrier between cis and trans women, and our potential for solidarity, most recently elucidated by Julia Serano, has only been tentatively explored.

    What has often been observed as “excessive” violence visited upon transsexual women, often also young and of colour, has been for daring to challenge masculinity/maleness itself.

    Rhetorically, I often ask, “Who would want to be a woman?”

    In Canada, the immediate challenge is the recognition of the formal human rights of transsexual people–we are arguably, if not actually, the last population whose human rights have not been recognized. As living persons–though not yet recognized a such before the law or even many places within society–the intersections of our lives illuminate so much that so many struggle against.

    We have watched and contributed to the struggles of others and have, of course, implicitly benefited. We chafe at the restraints of erasure, repudiation–and simple ignorance–from those we would join as equals in alliance bringing our perspective, our energy and the illumination of our analysis to move forward the struggle for freedom at this historical moment.

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