Washington, DC. November 30th, 2018. The LGBTIQ community has been traditionally discriminated against, however, since the human rights crisis started in Nicaragua last April, the violations of their human rights have worsened. According to activists who spoke with the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality), this community has suffered from discrimination and harassment in a more targeted and systematic way in recent months.
“Being gay or lesbian in Nicaragua, especially in this context where violence is more socially justified, puts us in a more vulnerable condition,” says Alex, a 25-year-old gay man who lives in a small city in northern Nicaragua. According to the young activist, they’re vulnerable “not only because we don’t agree with a totalitarian political system, but because we are considered sexual deviants.”
Alex adds that “in the street, they will not only attack you because you’re ‘Blue and White’ but they will also call you a ‘Blue and White’ faggot or a ‘Blue and White’ lesbo”.
He is one of thousands of citizens who joined the peaceful protests that at first demanded the annulment of reforms to the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute. The movement took the streets demanding justice and respect for human rights after the brutal governmental repression that has left as of now at least 325 dead, more than 2,000 people injured, and hundreds of persons who are political prisoners. People call them “Blue and White” because they use the Nicaraguan flag as a symbol of protest.
“Since I started participating in demonstrations, I’ve been being persecuted and attacked,” Alex shares, adding that groups of government-aligned men continually pass by his house on motorcycles and shouting phrases like “coup-plotter” or “faggot, we’re going to kill you.” “They put a lot of emphasis on my identity and my sexual and life choices”.
Francisca, a lesbian woman who prefers to omit her real name, explains that before the crisis, the LGBTIQ community had made significant progress regarding respect and equality. “But in these times of crisis, many things in which we had advanced, have receded,” she remarks.
Just like Alex, Francisca participated in the civic demonstrations. Soon after, she began to receive threats and was victim of an intense intimidation campaign through social networks.
“They threatened me directly, they told me things like ‘this is the dyke,’ or ‘look, we know where you live, get ready,’ or ‘we’re going to show you what a man is, maybe that’s how you will get well.’ They even sent lists on WhatsApp and Facebook saying I was pro-abortion and a crazy feminist.”
This situation, plus a telephone call in which she was warned that her capture was imminent, forced Francisca to flee her home. “I’ve been away from my house for almost five months, missing my family, missing everything I left there. I had to leave only with a backpack,” she stated.
Francisca now lives in a different city with her girlfriend. But the fear of being imprisoned is constant. Alex’s situation is similar. According to the activist, those who decided to stay in Nicaragua must live “practically in hiding.”
“I’ve been away from my house for almost five months, missing my family, missing everything I left there. I had to leave only with a backpack”. A 33-year-old lesbian woman.
On October 13th, the Nicaraguan Police prohibited any type of mobilization that was not authorized by that institution. One day later, a group of 38 citizens and activists were arrested by police officers for carrying out a sit-in without having requested such permits.
“We are in greater danger since there are no longer mobilizations. The State and its repressive machine have a greater ability to find you, look for you, and do anything with your life. Repression, arrests, and extrajudicial executions, including those for LGBT defenders, are more focused now,” explains Alex.
Transgender women have also suffered different types of aggression. “There are cases of transgender women who have been kidnapped by the police or paramilitary forces, who have been savagely assaulted, beaten, and left lying in the streets”. The aggressors threaten that the attacks are a demonstration of what will continue to happen to the ‘Blue and White’ people, says Dámaso Vargas, a 25-year-old transgender woman and activist from Managua.
One of the forms of protest that Dámaso exercised was abandoning the public education system. She was a senior high school student this year. “I disagree with everything that’s happening and for me, leaving school is also a way of saying that I will not continue to validate a State that is not really doing the work it should be doing,” she affirms.
Additionally, there are four trans women who are currently imprisoned in the men’s penitentiary system of La Modelo for having participated in the civic demonstrations, according to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH, for its initials in Spanish).
A case that has been broadly reported by national media is that of Victoria Obando, a 27-year-old trans woman and former student at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua), who barricaded herself in her university as a way of protest. She was arrested in late August and the authorities now accuse her of several crimes, including terrorism, murder, fire, kidnapping, armed robbery, and carrying out death threats.
“Victoria says they strip her in front of the rest of the inmates, policemen boo her and tell her things like ‘people who stay here are virile man, machos,’ knowing that we don’t want to feel that way and we don’t feel that way,” explains Dámaso, who says she feels powerless and sad in the face of such a situation.
Sexual violations have also become a form of repression. CENIDH has registered 12 cases of men and women who were victims of sexual violence during illegal detentions or kidnappings committed by parapolice men and police officers.
“Those are very terrible testimonies that currently can’t be brought to justice in this context precisely because there are no institutions that can investigate the authorities,” explains Wendy Flores, a lawyer at CENIDH, during the conversation “Women resisting repression” which was organized by DeHumo last week.
In the same conversation, Tania Sánchez denounced that a man tried to abuse her sister, Kisha López, a trans woman imprisoned in La Modelo. “Kisha defended herself and hit him with a broom in the ribs, because she says that regardless of what she is, they have to respect her,” Sanchez said.
For indigenous communities, belonging to the LGBTIQ population results in a double factor of vulnerability, according to a gay Miskitu man who prefers to identify himself as Arturo.
“Many people of different sexual orientation who are in the universities have been persecuted, have been watched over, because they (government-aligned people) fear that this issue that is happening in the western part of the country can start here also among young people,” says Arturo, a 35-year-old attorney.
According to the activist and lawyer, in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua “the crisis is not only 7 months long.” He says that the situation of persecution “has remained throughout time due to the same exclusion and discrimination that the State powers have imposed on the indigenous communities.” And he provided the example that since 2013, 23 people from the LGBTIQ community have been murdered. “Persecution of this community is in the background of the crisis,” he reveals.
Arturo himself affirms he has been attacked and threatened on social networks, both for his sexual orientation and for “being a defender of human rights, specifically for promoting the collective rights of indigenous people.”
Their work will continue
Although human rights violations in the current context of crisis in Nicaragua are not exclusive to the LGBTIQ community, the activists who spoke with Race and Equality insisted on the need to make visible their problems and challenges.
As Alex mentioned, “the actions that we take every day, the meetings, the mobilization strategies, the contents spread on social media, the demands of our political prisoners, mainly those who belong to the LGBTIQ community, that is our motivation.”