International Day for the Fight against Homophobia and Transphobia

On May 17, the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia is celebrated around the world. Despite progress with legislation in Latin America, including the recently approved marriage equality law approved this past April in Colombia—part of a larger trend of marriage equality rights achieved in other countries within the region—and breakthroughs such as the recognition of gender identity and laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, much remains to be done to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people, especially in English-speaking Caribbean countries, where laws continue to criminalize consensual relationships between individuals of the same sex.

Today, May 17, the Gay Group of Bahia, Brazil, an organization which monitors violence against LGBTI people (and those who are perceived as such), have stated that so far this year 116 people LGBTI persons have been killed in the country. Most victims are trans women, and many of them of African descent. The violence perpetrated against their bodies is often brutal: their limbs are severed, they receive up to 30 shots, 30 stab wounds, their bodies are incinerated and burned.

But since the numbers do not reflect the magnitude of the tragedy, I would like to bring up the story of Veronica, a 25-year-old black, transgender woman who was tortured by police and prison officers São Paulo, Brazil in 2015. She was imprisoned for alleged attempted homicide and was brutally disfigured while in custody; they cut her hair and forced her to dress as a man. After the ordeal, she was made to sign a document denying that she had ever been tortured. However, after pictures of the beatings were published widely on social networks, she was taken to the Office of Policy Coordination for Sexual Diversity of São Paulo, where she opened up to what had happened. Veronica’s case has a happy ending, as the investigation against the officials that assaulted her is currently ongoing. Her case was also presented in a recent thematic hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington D.C.

The Commission has already spoken of the extent of violence in the continent, especially against the transgender population, and has made a number of recommendations in its report Violence Against LGBTI Persons published (in Spanish) in late 2015. The Institute echoes the Commission’s recommendations, and in particular we would like to highlight: the need for States to collect data regarding forms of violence and discrimination against the LGBTI population; to take measures to prevent torture carried out by State agents and to provide training for them; to design programs and policies to eliminate the stigmatization and stereotyping of LGBTI persons and to ask States to sign and ratify the Inter-American Convention against All Forms of Discrimination and Intolerance approved by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 2013 in Antigua, Guatemala.

The Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights works to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, especially against transgender people in Cuba, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Peru.

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