The MSMGF Speaking Out Initiative for HIV Advocates finds its voice in Honduras and Central America: Part 2

June 16, 2014

 

By Kieran Kennedy

 

The Speaking Out Initiative is run by MSMGF and focuses on addressing the health and human rights needs of MSM. It aims to support HIV advocacy efforts and leadership at the grassroots by training MSM and transgender people to protect their rights.


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Edwin Hernández (ASPIDH-Arcoiris), is a gay and transgender advocate from El Salvador. S/he participated in the Speaking Out training that took place in La Ceiba Honduras in February 2013. Edwin began her advocacy in 1995 when many from her community were dying of AIDS and violence against gay people was at a very high level. Like other participants, Edwin was impressed by the practical orientation of the Speaking Out training and the inclusion of dynamic fieldwork: “The workshop puts to the test the actual tools necessary for activism, how we could make actual changes to legislation. It was spectacular. We went out into the street and worked with others.”  

 

Edwin described how the Speaking Out training emphasized the need for written plans to tackle the various human rights issues faced by LGBT people in El Salvador. Written plans have facilitated a more thorough and effective response to violence directed towards gay and trans* people. S/he and other activists have been able to achieve greater visibility for the murders of LGBT people by completing a plan for documentation and denunciation in both domestic and international forums.

 

Edwin has become a lot more systematic in her approach to advocacy in the wake of the Speaking Out training. For example, in the 2012 election held for parliamentary deputies, the only action taken on behalf of transgender rights was a press conference that did not garner a response from any of the political parties. In February 2014 during the presidential election, Edwin and other advocates attempted a different approach. S/he and other advocates spearheaded a thorough analysis of their approach for the promotion of transgender rights. They decided to seek a written commitment from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal that transgender people would not be prevented from voting by homophobic election officials who rejected their identity papers. They orchestrated a coordinated advocacy campaign involving letter-writing and radio and television appearances. They succeeded in securing a statement defending the rights of trans* people to vote from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. This statement was broadcast nationally and no judges publicly came out against the statement – a significant step toward the human rights of trans* people in El Salvador.

 

Advocates including Edwin are now seeking amendments to the electoral code at the national level to enshrine protections based on sexual and gender identity. Members of the LGBT community were official observers in the recent elections. The positive statement of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal is an encouraging sign that these efforts will ultimately be successful. Edwin summarizes what s/he learned about effective advocacy from Speaking Out: “Write a plan, describe actions, and then take them.”

 

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The MSMGF Speaking Out Initiative for HIV Advocates finds its voice in Honduras and Central America

May 27, 2014

 

By Kieran Kennedy

 

The Speaking Out Initiative is run by MSMGF and focuses on addressing the health and human rights needs of MSM. It aims to support HIV advocacy efforts and leadership at the grassroots by training MSM and transgender people to protect their rights.

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Marco Polo Yáncor (Colectivo Amigos Contra el Sida) is a Guatemalan gay man who became politically active on behalf of LGBT rights when he moved to Quezaltenango city in 2005. He describes himself as someone who can be easily identified as gay. Consequently, he was the target of stigma and bullying growing up in Guatamala. The lack of sexual orientation and gender identity protection legislation in Guatamala propelled Marco Polo to learn more about his rights as a citizen and to help empower others. As a result of his activism, his sexual identity is a matter of public knowledge to his immediate and extended family. He counts himself fortunate that he has been able to introduce his partners to his family and to participate with them in holiday celebrations like Christmas.

 

Marco Polo spends a lot of his time helping to build a stronger, more unified LGBT community in Guatemala. He helps organize “noches culturales” where members of the LGBT can share talents such as singing or playing an instrument. While these get-togethers are fun and supportive, they also provide a space where people can begin to address human rights issues. When he learned about the Speaking Out training, Marco Polo was drawn to it as an opportunity to gain a broader vocabulary and tools for his political activism. He participated in the 2013 training in La Ceiba, Honduras.

 

For me, Speaking Out was an empowering experience that helps me do my activist work more confidently,” Marco Polo reports. The exercises in the workshop he attended helped him see how to claim a space for LGBT people in the public sphere. For example, because of advocacy by Marco Polo and others, language recognizing and protecting LGBT people was added to city regulations in the municipality of Quezaltenango.

 

Marco Polo asserted that Speaking Out not only strengthened his character and confidence but also afforded him the opportunity to connect with a group of LGBT activists across Honduras and Central America. “By doing exercises with activists from Nicaragua and El Salvador, I recognized that we have many issues in common,” he says. The shared human rights issues across the region sparked the idea of a Central American support network of LGBT organizations. The leadership for this network would come from the region. As local activists take ownership of this process, MSMGF can continue to help support what they envision.

 

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