IDAHOT in Central America: the achievements and challenges

May 20, 2014

May 17 marked the ninth annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), celebrated in many countries around the world. But is there a reason to celebrate in Central America?

Yes, although there are more reasons in some countries than in others.

Unlike 10 years ago, the issue of the rights of diverse populations is now on the public agenda in all countries. The subject itself has ‘come out of the closet’. From giant marches and debates to acts of solidarity, people come out publicly as gay and discussions of sexual diversity take place frequently in the media. Although there is still considerable controversy surrounding the legal recognition of LGBTI rights, at least the issue is being aired in the public sphere.

There are many individuals, advocacy organizations and groups of LGBT and non-LGBT people who are now debating the interest and the need to be acknowledged and recognized as full citizens in their countries. The common thread running through this discourse throughout the region is that LGBTI people will no longer allow themselves to be treated as second class citizens just because they love someone of the same sex.

The LGBTI movement has identified partners and allies in almost all branches of the state, in the media and in public opinion throughout the region. Ten years ago, no one would have imagined that the rainbow flag of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement would be raised side-to-side with the Costa Rican flag on the lawn of Casa Presidencial (President’s House), or that in countries like Guatemala and Honduras a Sexual Diversity Ombudsman would be installed.

But great challenges remain ahead: the visibility of sexual and gender minorities has led to a fierce power struggle by conservative actors to maintain the status quo who are unwilling to accept that their world order is being challenged by a minority group whose behavior they consider “unnatural”. Furthermore, violence toward LGBTI people continues. Hate crimes are the most extreme expressions of non-acceptance of sexual diversity, and unfortunately in countries like Honduras, violence against LGBT people has increased in recent years.

There are also internal challenges from within the community: it is hard to agree on agendas and be clear that the common interest of all organizations is the welfare and freedom of LGBT people. There is another, even greater challenge: the disadvantaged position of lesbian women around the region, who have been less visible and received fewer resources.

For over 15 years, Hivos has proudly supported the many expressions and actions of advocacy by organizations and groups promoting sexual diversity in Central America. Hivos was a pioneer in fighting for LGBT rights, paving the road with and for LGBTI organizations.

History is made every May 17, as people around the world, and especially throughout Central America, celebrate the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.