The Dirt Fights Back

Reinstating Transgression:
Emerging political economies of queer space
American University, Washington DC April 17-18, 2010

Adrienne Pine PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
American University,
Washington DC

The Dirt Fights Back: “Street cleansing,” sexuality and the writing on the wall about Honduras's invisible genocide

Through the circular logic of neoliberal crime control, extrajudicial assassinations have played a central role in justifying Zero Tolerance crime control policies enacted over the past decade in Honduras, which have in turn resulted in increased extrajudicial assassinations. These killings, many of which are carried out by private security guards and off-duty police and military officers, have exceeded 10,000 in the past decade, making Honduras (hovering around 50 violent deaths per 100,000 population) one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Elsewhere, I have argued that these killings function according to a genocidal logic, targeting specific “excess demographics”—in particular poor unemployed young men who are excluded from the feminized neoliberal labor market and labeled as gang members. Such killings are popularly refered to as “street cleaning” in Honduras. And while in absolute numbers the largest identifiable group of victims is poor young men regardless of sexual identity, proportionally, the LGTB community in Honduras—especially trans women (called travestis in Honduran Spanish) and gay men—has been the group most clearly targeted for extermination. A May 2009 Human Rights Watch report titled “Not Worth a Penny” states that between 2004 and 2008 at least 17 travestis were killed in public places, often after being subjected to sexualized torture. None of these crimes have led to a prosecution or conviction.

The statistics cited by the Human Rights Watch report are shocking, but the violence faced by the LGTB community since the June 28, 2009 coup d’etat is more shocking still. In the eight months since the post-coup Opus Dei-led regime was installed, another 17 travestis and gay men have been assassinated, targeted specifically for their sexual identity and leadership role in the resistance movement against the de facto government. “We have been in resistance since long before the coup,” gay activist Héctor Licona stated, “The coup d'etat has turned us into easy prey, we are the most vulnerable sector of the Front.”

The Honduran de facto government's policy of extermination of trans women and gay men represents a much-intensified continuation of the neoliberal crime control project (originally brought to Honduras by Rudolph Giuliani) to remove young poor men labeled as “gang members” from society. The de facto government’s invisible genocide is assisted by the mass media, owned by the same individuals who financed the coup. On September 16th, the day after a massive resistance march on Honduras’s Independence Day, the La Tribuna newspaper printed a “funny side note”—a photo of two trans women marching next to various members of the LGTB community. Four days after their photographs were published, Jorge Miranda “Salomé” and Carlos Reyniery “Sayda” were killed by gunfire in a neighborhood in the north-coast maquiladora city of Choloma. In its brief mention of the murders, La Tribuna declared, without providing any evidence, that the murders had been carried out by other members of the LGTB community.

Because members of the LGTB community in Honduras have been organizing and fighting the injustice and entrenched homophobia of state institutions for so long, it came as no surprise that they would become natural leaders in the fight to restore Honduras to civilian democratic rule, in spite of the similarly entrenched homophobia of the left. Through their participation, they have challenged members of the Resistance to examine their own participation in structures and ideologies of oppression even as they fight their common enemy, the militarized religious state. When Walter Tróchez, a young gay man who was an HIV-AIDS educator, human rights monitor and resistance leader was gunned down last December, the entire movement mourned. Gilberto Ríos, a leader of a Los Necios—a political youth group that Honduran feminists have described to me as particularly heteronormative and patriarchal—wrote the following:

Hoarse cries of women, men that walk in curves, multicolored flags. Men or women? No, neither one nor the other. Human beings with the sexuality they feel, no prejudices, no labels. They discovered freedom of sex and sexuality, they march asking for democracy and a little respect for their intimacy and decisions. They exceed us in diversity, discipline and courage. With them, Walter Trochez releasing political prisoners, denouncing abuses, fighting in the frontline against brutality. Tortured, he goes back to the streets and falls to the bullets approved by [U.S. ambassador] Llorens in his yearly budget.

Drawing on Mary Douglas's notion of dirt as “matter out of place,” in this paper I examine the state praxis of “cleansing” potentially revolutionary queer subjects from the public space. I also analyze how the rhetorics and practices of an invisible genocide, carried out by an Opus Dei regime that explicitly extols the virtues of purity and submission, are being subverted by the dirty subjects themselves. Lesbians, gay men, travestis, and bisexuals march as an LGTB community, side by side with the other organizations comprising the Resistance. Speaking as the community with the most to lose, they have forcefully argued that underneath the vacuous but lethal conversations about sexual morality lie neoliberal policies impoverishing all the people of Honduras by selling off public land, water, and mining rights. They demonstrate to the wider public the link between homophobia and other forms of repression, and inscribe their dissent as text—as graffiti on public walls, in articles published in 'zines and blogs, on banners and on protest signs, forcing Hondurans on the left and right into a public conversation they never imagined (or, in many cases, wanted) to have.