LGBTTI march in Tegucigalpa meets homophobic/transphobic military state

I went to the march de la no homo-lesbo-bi-trans-fobia in Tegucigalpa last Friday. It was a different scene from San Pedro, where I've been to pride marches a few times. San Pedro has a reputation for having bigger, more flamboyant marches, and the community holds the national pride march there instead of in Tegucigalpa because the authorities crack down less. Things have changed for the worse for the Honduran gender and sexual diversity community (translation of the preferred term here, along with the initialism LBGTTI, although I've never known of an out intersex person actually being active or included in anything here), and that was evident from the moment I got out of my taxi. Or rather, from the moment my taxi driver told me he couldn't take me the final block and a half to my destination, the assembly point for the march (outside Anubis, a gay bar), because of the two big military blockades.

I got out of the taxi in front of the first road block, just before the Marriott. Over a dozen heavily-armed soldiers stood at the fence barricading the street, and as many or more were at the barricade on the other side of the block, past the Casa Presidencial. I told a soldier I needed to get to my hotel, pointing at the InterContinental in the distance, and he waved me through. It was mostly empty along the whole block, except for hotel patrons. I was having trouble imagining that all the militarization and the hassle to the Marriott could be for a pride march. I asked a man at a parking lot in front of a forcibly-closed-for-the-afternoon business across from the Casa Presidencial what the blockade was for, and he said some protestors were coming. "¿Todo esto es para unos cuantos homosexuales?" I asked, incredulous. He told me he didn't know who the protestors were. I tried telling myself it might be some other group with more militant demands than "stop killing us" marching in the same place at the same time.

But indeed, the soldiers were there to prevent the queers from sullying the block in front of the presidential palace with their rainbow flags. The following Tuesday Arely Vicky from APUVIMEH told me that the blockades had been put up to prevent marchers from walking down that block over the past few years, but APUVIMEH and Cattrachas, through talks with Ana Pineda, had reached an agreement with Pepe Lobo's administration to allow the community the right to free assembly. Apparently Juan Orlando is not respecting said agreement. Once I was halfway down the block, I used my zoom to get a couple shots of the first barricade.

The added irony to this scene was that just across the street from where I was standing to take this picture is this large painting on the Presidential Palace gate. Vicky told me that the painting had been done following talks between the Lobo administration and representatives of the community, by Ziad Suliman, a young painter who was killed shortly thereafter in a targeted assassination that (the folks at APUVIMEH told me) police labeled a suicide. It states:

In this Presidential House, House of the Honduran people, there is no discrimination [slightly inaccurate impossible translation of Spanish passive voice, could also be slightly inaccurately translated as "we do not discriminate"] on the basis of gender, origin, skin color, age, religious creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or socioeconomic condition or for any other reason.

And here's a video memorial for Suliman produced by Fred Alvarado, that includes an image of him painting the above painting. The video also includes graphic images of Suliman, as he was found floating in a river face up with a gunshot to the forehead:

I went back a few days after the march to take the above picture of Suliman's painting, and told a friend before I left. Be careful, he said. And I was. I asked the colectivo to let me off in front of the Marriott, and walked from there, smiling at the soldiers and trying to look like a tourist to take the photo and walk on. All this to take a picture of an innocuous pro-diversity piece of fiction that I couldn't help thinking at the time was probably the work of the U.S. embassy's efforts to clean up the post-coup government's image using some ridiculous anti-violence/ally training language (turned out there was more to it).

As I was exiting through the blockade on the other side of the street, the marchers were making their way toward it. I walked in the opposite direction of the march to take pictures and say hello to friends along the way. A lone policewoman accompanied the march, and although some marchers looked askance at her, she seemed to actually be there in a supportive role, even intervening on behalf of the marchers on a couple occasions when motorists got frustrated with the traffic delay. She was a dramatic exception to the rule that police are the worst perpetrators of violence against the community.

Arely Victoria Gómez marched with APUVIMEH. Vicky had been the LIBRE "diversity" pre-candidate for Alternate Congressmember alongside primary candidate Erick Martínez Salgado (who was also at the march), after the previous diversity candidate Erick Martínez Ávila was murdered. Last August she survived a violent hate crime.

When I went to talk with Vicky a few days later at the APUVIMEH offices I'd been to last Fall in El Bosque, it turned out APUVIMEH was no longer there. A few phone calls later I discovered where they were, and took the colectivo back down the hill and walked the rest of the way to the new downtown offices. A woman was sitting in the back of the large hot room where the new office was, watching videos on television, and Vicky told me they had had to leave because of extortion threats at the last place. I later got the longer version of the story which was that one of the extortionists had been detained, but that the intellectual author/mastermind of the scheme was a DGIC agent living in El Bosque, and that they had denounced him, but no action had been taken. They had so feared for their safety that they had not been to their own offices where they had all their equipment, and from December until February 15th when they moved into the new office downtown. "Andabamos en los restaurantes de comida rápida, en los malls, por miedo de regresar al Bosque," APUVIMEH director Sandra Zambrano told me. When they finally went for their things, they requested police accompaniment for protection in the move.

The woman watching music videos on TV in the back, it turned out, was sent by the Secretaría de Seguridad because 19 members of APUVIMEH have protective measures. But, Sandra noted, she's only there from 8 to 5. They have no one to protect them otherwise. Here are some of the things that have happened to APUVIMEH activists in the past year:

  • The kidnapping of Sandra's teenage daughter, June 20, 2013. This kidnapping hasn't even had a case number assigned to it yet.
  • The attack on Yona Cruz, an assassination attempt in which men on a motorcycle shot him four times in the stomach. He's had three surgeries to repair his intestine. He showed me his scars:

    Yona told me the Ministerio Público began investigating the case but then stopped. Sandra added, "está durmiendo el sueño de los justos."

  • Vicky's attack on August 9, 2013, mentioned above, in which everything related to her gender identity (earrings, heels, etc.) was violently stripped while the four men doing it (and beating her up) shouted anti-trans and anti-gay slurs at her. She told me she'd left the country from December to just a couple weeks ago for her protection. She'd been in Nicaragua. When I asked why she hadn't left earlier she told me it was because she hadn't been able to get together the money to leave until then. But she couldn't handle it, she told me. She wanted to be doing human rights activism, and in Nicaragua they don't have the problems they have here. "Esto es lo mío," she said. I noticed she was wearing an engagement ring and asked about it. She laughed and told me, no, she wasn't getting married (she wished!), and that "estoy comprometida con Honduras." Because the organization was in the process of getting protective measures issued for various members when she left, she wasn't able to get them in the end, and as such was more vulnerable. I commented that protective measures don't seem to do much to protect here, and she nodded, but said that in case anything happened, at least there would be the antecedente. "Tengo miedo de salir a la calle, pero digo no me queda de otro. Todavía tengo miedo, no creas." A public defender has been assigned her case, but Vicky hasn't spoken with her yet, "¿Para qué?, digo, si no han hecho nada." A little while later she told me about how her determination to leave the country grew last Fall after her attack. She became terrified of motorcycles that drove by her. On one occasion she was waiting for a bus near the airport when a motorcyclist drove up near her and put his hand in his pocket. "Dije esto ya es mi fin. Pero lo que sacó fue celular." Even then, she was imagining that maybe he had a picture of her to know the right person to kill, and that's why he took out the phone, to compare. She continued, "En la calle no voy caminando, voy corriendo. Por eso no uso tacones, para ir corriendo."
  • Joel, one of the organization's activists was kidnapped on January 2nd, 2014, by four ski-masked men who beat him up and told him that los culeros no valen nada and that they should stop going out on the streets. (Vicky interjected as Sandra related this to me, saying it's always four, with my attack it was four men too). Sandra said that after the kidnapping they were sent a text message that the same thing was going to happen to two other members of the organization.
  • Roberto Antonio Cruz, the secretary of APUVIMEH, has been followed by men on motorcycles who have taken his pictures. The organization has denounced it with the Ministerio Público and CONADEH, but it hasn't been assigned a case number.
  • Amaranta Acosta, a trans woman who was in the march with us, had left the office to go home last month when a man on the bus started telling her he didn't want to see her on the streets, that he was going to put her in a black bag—which everyone here understands to mean they will chop you up into pieces (descuartizar). She got off the bus as quickly as she could, and switched buses twice more to lose him on her way home. But the next day the same man found her and said the same things, telling her he was going to kill her "porque le caían mal los culeros." Sandra, who was telling me about this, added "es que la gente no sabe diferenciar entre trans y gay." The organization was seeking funds to help Amaranta to move to a different place where she would be marginally safer, because in her neighborhood everybody knows where she lives and can point her out, but they haven't been able to find the money.

APUVIMEH is also the organization where Walter Tróchez worked until he was murdered, almost certainly by the same police who had abducted and tortured him days earlier. The new offices are named in his honor (as were the old ones):

I asked about the progress of Walter's case and they told me that not much had happened since they captured a young gay man supposedly responsible for the crime last April. Walter's colleagues don't believe that the chico is actually guilty, and say that he is being used as a scapegoat. They say there is evidence that the man, who himself has suffered abuses at Támara prison, was in Mexico at the time of Walter's murder. Apparently the state says there are three others who will be charged, and they're waiting to see, but don't have any faith in the process. A woman came for six months from the FBI, they said, but she disappeared the day they caught the supposed criminal and hadn't been seen since. According to Walter's closest colleagues and friends, themselves under attack with very little protection from a state that sets up military blockades to prevent people with rainbow flags from walking on public streets, "queda impune el caso."

At the march, APUVIMEH held a mock funeral procession for Walter and all the other victims of impunity and hate crimes against the diversity community, with two coffins, mourners, angels and Death.

The sign on this coffin reads: we demand access to justice.

Other organizations marched as well, including Colectivo Violeta, Arcoiris and Kukulcan.

Kukulcan put out these No H8 posters (a phrase that doesn't make sense in Spanish) encouraging people to denounce hate crimes against gay and trans people. This certainly resonates in the NGO world, but is not always the best tactic when the people to whom you are supposed to denounce are themselves the worst perpetrators of hate crimes. Still brave.

Almost all (if not all) the Tegucigalpa LGBTTI organizations are funded by HIVOS, which provided funds for the march and apparently also recently engineered a forcible collaboration (forzosamente hizo que se uniera) to address the infighting (and/or as one activist told me, porque tienen homofobia internalizada).

The Movimiento de Diversidad en Resistencia was there, chanting (along with allies from the movimiento amplio who marched in the back) "No a la homofobia! ¡Sí al socialismo!"

This damn flag kept getting in the way of my shots.

A favorite: Genitals don't fall in love; People do.

"¡Queremos pasar!" chanted the marchers.

Others cheekily retorted "queremos pisar," refusing to allow the hostile military presence to destroy the mood. A friend saw me scribbling in my notebook and said "Don't write that down!" In any case I seem to have lost the notebook in which I took all the notes for the march, so unless I find it and update this, this is just a photo-essay combined with notes from the subsequent interview.

In this photo, you can see the big firefighting truck that showed up blasting sirens and then hung around for a bit, apparently just there to help intimidate marchers.

Activists wheatpasted these Kukulcán wanted posters seeking those responsible for the murder of Erick Martínez Ávila. Folks I spoke with think the justice process is turning out to be a sham in his case like Walter's (I'll be looking into the details more in the coming weeks).

Facing the military roadblock, some argued with the military, others waited around for ten or fifteen minutes. It was clear we weren't going to pass.

Eventually marchers turned back to go past the starting point and up to Bulevár Suyapa for the march to the center. A few stragglers took longer to leave:

My neighbor Chiki posed for a fashion shot:

Marching toward Hospital Escuela:

The back end of the coffin had a sign that read "No more hate crimes":

There were only two kids at the march, which I can only assume was because people were afraid to bring there kids in case there was any police or military attacks—the few people I asked confirmed my hypothesis. I cropped this first picture so as not to identify the girl, who was marching with her mother:

And the other (this photo is borrowed from a much better photo collection):

The sky was ominously gray, and the air was heavy. We weren't a huge crowd, and between all that and the military blockade, I actually felt a bit scared.

But the flag dancing and baton twirling livened things up:

Outside Hospital Escuela:

Past the National Stadium where Juan Orlando held his empty inauguration in January:

...and past the mayoreo:

Down the hill to where the murdered bus driver was hanged last Fall in the terror campaign leading up to the elections:

...and up into the center. For the last part of the walk they were setting off so many firecrackers, and I started to get agoraphobic and left. But not before taking a couple shots of the victorious end of the march. Because making it from point A to point B in this country is no small victory, especially if you're walking while queer.

Final note...I didn't know where to fit this in. We started from Anubis, but there's another gay club in town called Tantra. Vicky told me trans women aren't welcome there, which bums her out because she likes the atmosphere better. She said: "No me dejaron entrar en Tantra porque no dejan entrar a trans, creen que todas somos trabajadoras de sexo y venimos a hacer disturbios. Sólo una vez entré pero me tuve que disfrazar de hombre...Yo hasta cierto punto entiendo pero digo que no deben generalizar, y a mí que ya me conocen..."