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  • LGBTQI Asylum Seekers Face Many Obstacles


The Associated Press

Fabu Olmedo is so nervous about clubs and restaurants in Paraguay that before a night out she often contacts one to make sure that she’ll be let in and won’t be attacked or harassed.

Olmedo doesn’t know if she can go out in public safely because daily life is hard for transgender people in the capital, Asunción. Now, a new group of allies in Latin America is trying to make life better by changing minds in this socially conservative and often highly religious region.

Founded in 2017, the Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children lobbies governments to eliminate prejudical laws and better enforce existing bans on violence and discrimination.

It’s a difficult fight that will require patience and a years of effort but the mothers are working together to help others in their position, and function as a refuge for LGBTQ children whose families are not as supportive.

Members of the Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children during a march in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Nov. 5. Natacha Pisarenko / AP

“It’s all about recognizing the strength and power that we have as mothers to accompany our kids and help other families,” said Alejandra Muñoz, 62, of Mexico City. Her son Manuel came out 11 years ago and suffered so much bullying at school that he spent recesses with the teachers.

“He’s constantly at risk of being yelled at or worse in the street because of his sexuality,” she said.

Olmedo, 28, said that in July she was barred from an Asunción nightclub with her friends.

“Many times they let you in but there are violent people inside,” Olmedo said.

The Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children held its first in-person meeting in early November in Buenos Aires, where they attended the annual massive gay pride march on Nov. 5.

“Our main battle is to make sure our children enjoy the same rights in all of Latin America,” said Patricia Gambetta, 49, the head of the Latin American Movement of Mothers of LGTB+ Children, which has members in 14 countries and the goal of expanding to all the countries in the region.

The work of the mothers is often made more complicated by the enduring power of the Catholic Church, which teaches that gay acts are “intrinsically disordered.” The increasingly popular evangelical faith also often preaches against same-sex relationships.

There are stark differences in the acceptance of sexual minorities across Latin America.

Argentina and Uruguay have been regional pioneers in marriage equality and transgender rights. Other countries in the region have yet to institute protections for the LGBTQ population.

Marriage equality became law in all of Mexico’s states last month. Honduras and Paraguay both ban same-sex marriage. In Guatemala, a conservative congress has repeatedly tried to pass legislation that would censor information about LGBTQ people. In Brazil, at the federal and state level there are bills and laws that either ban, or would ban, information about sexual orientation and gender identity, said Cristian González Cabrera, LGBT-rights researcher for Latin America and the Caribbean at Human Rights Watch.

And laws often fail to tell the full story.

“Irrespective of what legal regime a youth finds themselves in, prejudice and discrimination in the region continue to be commonplace,” González Cabrera said.


Vitinia Varela Mora said that her daughter, Ana María, decided to hide her lesbian identity after seeing other gay students bullied at her school in Tilarán, Costa Rica, which is about 124 miles (200km) from the capital, San José. She came out to her mother at 21.

In some countries, mothers who try to help their children deal with discrimination suddenly find themselves the subject of scrutiny.

Claudia Delfín tried to seek help in government offices for her transgender twins, who were facing bullying and discrimination in their school in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, when they were 16.

“They told me to go to church and look for a better path. They practically sent me to pray,” Delfín said.

Varela Mora of Costa Rica says it took her around two years to accept her daughter after the girl came out as a lesbian in what hit her mother like “a bucket of cold water.”

“There’s a lack of education, no one prepares you for this,” Varela Mora said. Now she tries to make up for that by supporting other mothers whose children have come out of the closet.

“It’s important for young people to feel they have a mom who understands them when they aren’t supported in their homes,” the 59-year-old woman said.

Groups of LGBTQ parents are “vitally important to show that regressive political projects do not respond to the needs of the region’s diverse communities,” González Cabrera of Human Rights Watch said.

Delfín said that she is one of two mothers in Santa Cruz who are activists fighting for their LGBTQ children. Elena Ramírez, Olmedo’s mom, also says that many trans children who are having trouble at home come to her for refuge.

“I’m a mom to all of them,” Ramírez, 66, said. “I know there are mothers that I will not be able to convince, but there are other children who really are in need.”

Gambetta says that all the mothers in the organization effectively end up training each other in their monthly virtual meetings.

“As mothers we have greater reach, we can raise more awareness,” Gambetta said. “When your family supports you, you’ve already won 99% of the battle.”

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BY Michael K. Lavers, The Washington Blade

A transgender woman who the U.S. deported to Honduras earlier this year has been murdered.

Reportar sin Miedo, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Honduras, reported a group of “hooded subjects” shot Melissa Núñez in Morocelí, a municipality in El Paraíso department in eastern Honduras, on Tuesday night.

Initial reports indicate Núñez, 42, died from a gunshot wound to the head.

Indyra Mendoza, general coordinator of Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist network based in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, on Thursday confirmed to the Blade that Núñez asked for asylum in the U.S.

Mendoza said she did not know on what grounds Núñez asked for asylum, but Reportar sin Miedo reported she had lived in Miami and had more than 20,000 followers on TikTok. Núñez, according to Reportar sin Miedo, became “a strong activist” for LGBTQ and intersex rights while in the U.S.

Mendoza told the Blade that Núñez in December 2021 returned to Honduras after she traveled through Mexico and Guatemala. Núñez tried to return to the U.S., but Mendoza said American authorities deported her back to Honduras in July.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights last June issued a landmark ruling that found Honduras responsible for the murder of Vicky Hernández, a trans sex worker with HIV who died in police custody hours after the 2009 coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya from power.

Zelaya’s wife, President Xiomara Castro, is among the Honduran officials who participated in a ceremony earlier this year during which the government publicly acknowledged it was responsible for Hernández’s murder. The admission the government reached with her family.

Violence and discrimination based on gender identity and expression nevertheless remains commonplace in Honduras. Vice President Kamala Harris is among the U.S. officials who have acknowledged anti-LGBTQ and anti-intersex violence are among the factors that prompt Hondurans and people from neighboring El Salvador and Honduras to leave their countries.

Camila Díaz Córdova, a trans woman from El Salvador who the U.S. deported, was killed in San Salvador, the Salvadoran capital, in January 2019. A Salvadoran court convicted three police officers of Díaz’s murder and sentenced them to 20 years in prison.

By Michael K. Lavers, The Washington Blade

Imran Khan is a gay man from Afghanistan.

An American soldier who texted him on Aug. 26, 2021, 11 days after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, told him to go to Kabul International Airport. Khan, along with a group of other LGBTQ and intersex Afghans and members of the country’s special forces, were able to pass through Taliban checkpoints after a mullah with whom they were traveling said they were going to their cousin’s house for a child’s funeral. The group of LGBTQ and intersex Afghans were able to enter the airport, but Khan and several soldiers who were members of the country’s special forces were outside the perimeter when a suicide bomber killed more than 180 people at a gate the U.S. Marines controlled. They returned after the attack, but were then forced to leave.

Khan was still in Kabul on Aug. 30, 2021, when the last American forces withdrew from the country.

Kabul Luftbrücke, a German group, on March 18, 2022, evacuated Khan from Kabul to Pakistan. Khan arrived in Germany less than a month later and now lives in Korbach, a city in the country’s Hesse state.

Khan’s partner and many other LGBTQ and intersex Afghans he knows remain in Afghanistan.

“I’m still hoping that an angel will come and will save their lives before the Taliban finds them,” Khan told the Washington Blade on Monday.

Khan is among the LGBTQ and intersex Afghans who have been able to leave Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country.

Dane Bland, the director of development and communications for Rainbow Railroad, on Monday told the Blade the Toronto-based organization has been able to evacuate 247 LGBTQ and intersex Afghans to the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Ireland.

A group of 29 LGBTQ and intersex Afghans who Rainbow Railroad helped evacuate from Afghanistan with the help of the British government and two LGBTQ and intersex rights groups in the country — Stonewall and Micro Rainbow — arrived in the U.K. on Oct. 29, 2021.

A second group of LGBTQ and intersex Afghans reached the country a few days later.

Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also the Hearst Foundation scholar, said he has helped upwards of 70 LGBTQ and intersex Afghans and their families leave the country.

“I know that there are some people who are still fighting to get people out, but now it has come down to a trickle,” Hirschberg told the Blade on Monday.

A Taliban judge in July 2021 said the group would once again execute gay people if it were to return to power in the country.

A report that OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch released earlier this year notes a Taliban official said his group “will not respect the rights of LGBT people” in Afghanistan. The report also documents human rights abuses against LGBTQ and intersex Afghans, including an incident in which the Taliban beat a transgender woman and “shaved her eyebrows with a razor” before they “dumped her on the street in men’s clothes and without a cellphone.”

OutRight Action International on Monday told the Blade that it has had “at least one confirmed report of the killing of an LGBTQ activist, police searching for another and several more reports of extrajudicial killing and other forms of persecution that are difficult to confirm given the danger to political witnesses.”

“The U.S. and other governments that profess support for human rights need to do more to ensure the Afghan regime respects fundamental rights of all Afghans and help those in danger to reach safety,” said OutRight Action International.

Bland said Rainbow Railroad “absolutely” feels “governments, including the governments of the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, should be doing more to help LGBTQI+ Afghans fleeing the current crisis.”

Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford on Monday noted her organization’s LGBTQ and intersex Afghan clients who “survived unspeakable trauma, both as a consequence of sharia law and existing brutal homophobic practices” are “now safely resettled in Canada.” Crawford nevertheless added that Immigration Equality recognizes that “many more queer people are still at grave risk in Afghanistan.”

“The Biden administration must prioritize these LGBTQ Afghans as refugees in the United States,” said Crawford. “President Biden himself has expressed that the U.S. has the good will and capacity to take in vulnerable refugees, but he must back up those words with action.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday told reporters during a briefing that nearly 90,000 Afghans have been “evacuated or otherwise transported to the” U.S. since Aug. 15, 2021. Price also noted the U.S. has “facilitated the departure of some” 13,000 Afghans from Afghanistan since the last American troops withdrew from the country.

“There are a number of priorities, a number of enduring commitments we have to the people of Afghanistan,” said Price. “At the top of that list is to use every tool that we have appropriate to see to it that the Taliban lives up to the commitments that it has made publicly, that it has made privately, but most importantly, the commitments that the Taliban has made to its own people, to all of the Afghan people. And when we say all of the Afghan people, we mean all. We mean Afghanistan’s women, its girls, its religious minorities, its ethnic minorities. The Taliban has made these commitments; the Taliban, of course, has not lived up to these commitments.”

Price, who is openly gay, did not specifically refer to LGBTQ and intersex Afghans during Monday’s briefing.

Hirschberg said Canada, France, Germany and the U.K. have “come to bat” and “are really supporting getting LGBTQI Afghans out, along with others.” He told the Blade the U.S. has not done enough.

“We’re not seeing quite the eagerness from the United States, unfortunately,” said Hirschberg.

The Blade has reached out to the White House for comment on the first anniversary of the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan and efforts to help LGBTQ and intersex Afghans leave the country.

Ukraine overshadows plight of LGBTQ and intersex Afghans

Russia on Feb. 24 invaded Ukraine.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees notes more than 6 million Ukrainians have registered as refugees in Europe.

The European Union allows Ukrainians to travel to member states without a visa.

Germany currently provides those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing and other basic needs. Ukrainian refugees can also receive access to German language classes, job training programs and childcare.

Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim, an assistant professor of global studies at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia who is originally from Afghanistan, has helped three groups of Afghans leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it.

Munhazim on Monday noted to the Blade his family has lived in a Toronto hotel room for three months. Munhazim also pointed out the treatment that Ukrainian refugees once they reach the EU, the U.K., Canada or the U.S.

“Countries of course would claim they were not prepared, but we can see that it was a very racialized response,” said Munhazim. “The way they responded to Ukraine, they weren’t prepared for that either, but we know that these borders immediately started opening up, assistance was offered in a very, very humanitarian way to Ukrainians just because they had blond hair and blue eyes, which was not offered to Afghans or Syrians earlier when they were fleeing Syria.”

Maydaa told the Blade that countries had “this huge concern about LGBT people coming from Afghanistan.”

“It was related to, I believe, terrorism and all this prejudgment of Afghan people,” said Maydaa. “I also think this is playing a huge role when it comes to resettlement and international action.”

Maydaa, like Munhazim, also noted the different reception that Ukrainian refugees have received once they reached the EU or the U.K.

“They, especially in Europe and the U.K., feel they have more responsibility towards Ukraine,” said Maydaa. “[There was] all this racism on the news. ‘They look like us. They are blonde, green eyes, white skin, Christians.'”

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