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Anti-LGBT persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras

US barriers to asylum block path to safety.


HRW (07.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/33Urlfc – The governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have failed to effectively address violence and entrenched discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, leading many to seek asylum in the United States, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Yet policies by the administration of US President Donald Trump have made it almost impossible for them to obtain asylum.


The 138-page report, “‘Every Day I Live in Fear’: Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and Obstacles to Asylum in the United States,” documents violence experienced by LGBT people in the three Northern Central American countries collectively known as the Northern Triangle, including at the hands of gangs, law enforcement officials, and their own families. Human Rights Watch found that Northern Triangle governments fail to adequately protect LGBT people against violence and discrimination, and that they face major obstacles if they attempt to seek asylum in the United States.


“LGBT people in the Northern Triangle face high levels of violence that their own governments appear unable or unwilling to address,” said Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “For some LGBT people in the region, seeking asylum in the United States is the only hope of safety, but the Trump administration has blocked them at every turn.”


Human Rights Watch interviewed 116 LGBT people from the three countries. Some described violence by family members, leading them to flee home as young as at age 8. Others described bullying and discrimination that drove them out of school. Many said family rejection and discrimination led to economic marginalization, particularly for trans women, and poverty was likely to increase the risk of violence.


LGBT people sometimes face violence and discrimination from the very law enforcement agents charged with keeping them safe. Carlos G., a gay refugee who traveled to the United States from Honduras in 2018, said that gang members there shot him, telling him: “Today you’re going to die, faggot.” He was afraid to report the incident to the police, who had previously harassed him for being gay and demanded sexual favors. Carlitos B., a non-binary person from Guatemala, fled after their brother assaulted and threatened to rape them. When Carlitos reported to the police, they laughed at Carlitos’s gender expression.


Pricila P., a trans woman from El Salvador, said police forced her off a bus and beat her. “One of the police officers grabbed my testicles and squeezed,” she said. “He said, ‘You’re realizing you’re a man because you feel pain.’ He said that I would become a man by force.” She fled to the United States in 2019, after gang members assaulted her, abducted her gay friend, and warned her that she would be next.


Both Honduras and El Salvador have passed hate crimes legislation in the last 10 years, but neither country has convicted anyone on hate crimes charges. In a landmark ruling in July 2020, a court in El Salvador convicted three police officers of murdering Camila Díaz, a trans woman who had been deported in 2018 after attempting to seek protection in the United States, but a judge dismissed hate crimes charges against them.


None of the three countries has comprehensive civil law protections against discrimination, Human Rights Watch said. While Honduras outlaws employment discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, activists said they know of no cases in which the law had been enforced. In Guatemala, a pending Life and Family Protection Bill could be used to justify discriminatory denial of services on “freedom of conscience” grounds.


Given the persecution that many LGBT people face in the Northern Triangle, the US government should rigorously protect their ability to safely enter the United States and apply for asylum. Instead, the US government has increasingly closed doors to them with a series of policies that restrict access to asylum and that narrowly interpret the refugee definition in ways that exclude LGBT people from protections they previously enjoyed.


In March 2020, the US government entirely closed its land borders to asylum seekers based on the pretext of Covid-19, leaving them to suffer persecution in their home countries or be stranded in Mexico. In June, the US Departments of Justice and Homeland Security proposed a major regulatory change to the US asylum system that would severely restrict LGBT people’s ability to be granted asylum by barring asylum on the basis of “gender.” In September, the Justice Department issued yet another regulation that puts asylum even further beyond their reach, tightening time limits on asylum applications and allowing immigration judges to introduce their own evidence into asylum cases, even if such evidence reflects biases such as anti-LGBT prejudice.


These policies followed other severe measures the Trump administration has taken to prevent asylum seekers from ever reaching the United States and to limit their access to asylum if they do, including family separation; prolonged detention; the “Remain in Mexico” program; an expedited asylum review process allowing for little or no contact with lawyers; an attempt to bar asylum seekers who transited through third countries before arriving at the US border; and a policy of transferring Salvadoran and Honduran asylum seekers to Guatemala, where they lack effective protection. Among the asylum seekers affected by all these measures are LGBT people, who may be particularly at risk of violence and discrimination in northern Mexico.


“The governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras need to stem rampant anti-LGBT violence and ensure that laws and policies protect LGBT people from persecution, including by police,” Ghoshal said. “As long as LGBT people continue to experience threats to their lives and safety based on their identity in their countries of origin, the US should welcome them with open arms, rather than slamming the door on them.”

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Woman wins UK legal fight over unlawful deportation to Uganda

Court of appeal dismisses Home Office’s case against lesbian asylum seeker known as PN.


By Diane Taylor


The Guardian (28.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/3deq8CE – The Home Office has lost a case in the court of appeal against a 27-year-old lesbian asylum seeker it was found to have unlawfully removed from the UK and was forced to fly back to the UK in the summer of 2019.


The ruling on Monday follows a seven-year battle for the woman in her search for a place of safety.


The Home Office removed the woman, known as PN, from the UK in December 2013 under a system that operated at the time called detained fast track. That system was subsequently found to be unlawful. More than 10,000 cases were decided in the period when this system was operational but PN was the only person the Home Office was ordered to fly back to the UK.


After returning PN to the UK the Home Office went to the court of appeal to argue that her removal to Uganda was not unlawful. Had the Home Office won its case PN would have potentially been at risk of removal to Uganda for a second time. But Monday’s ruling has given her the green light to continue with her asylum appeal.


The court also found, in response to an appeal lodged by PN, that most of the time she spent locked up in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire was unlawful. As a result she will be in line for substantial damages from the Home Office.


PN welcomed the ruling. She said: “I feel so happy for this decision. When you are fighting so long for something it feels like you will never win and that is very frightening. This journey has not been easy and it is amazing to win against the Home Office who have put me through so much torture – I was waiting for this day to come.”


Following her enforced return to Uganda PN was forced to live under the radar and conceal her sexuality. She said she was gang-raped in her home country, which led to her becoming pregnant and giving birth to a son who is now 18 months old.


She added: “When I remember what I went through in Yarl’s Wood it makes me feel really bad – I don’t want to think about it because it makes me so upset. Although I am so happy for this decision it cannot take those memories out of my mind; my mind is already damaged for life.”


Karen Doyle of Movement for Justice, which has supported PN throughout her case, said: “This decision is the culmination of almost seven years of struggle for PN, for our fight to bring her back after her unlawful removal under fast track.


“It is a victory for PN, for the movement, for all those who suffered under fast track and for LGBT asylum seekers who are routinely disbelieved. She has shown incredible courage and will to survive under the most difficult of circumstances, she is an inspiration to so many.”


Sulaiha Ali of Duncan Lewis solicitors, who represented PN, said: “The Detained fast track process saw the detention of thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers who were survivors of rape, torture and other serious harm.


“Despite their vulnerabilities, they were placed in an accelerated system which prevented them from having the necessary time to prepare their complex claims and were often disbelieved by those considering their claims because of this.


“Although the high court has repeatedly confirmed that this process was structurally unfair and unlawful, the secretary of state continues to challenge these findings in individual cases.


“We are pleased that the court of appeal has now rejected these arguments in PN’s case, and hope that the Home Office will now take steps to fairly process her asylum claim in the UK.”


A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the outcome of this case which relates to a removal almost seven years ago. As the Court of Appeal has acknowledged, this removal only happened following a number of legal challenges by the individual, all of which failed at the time. We will consider the judgment carefully, including whether or not to further appeal.”

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42% of Iranian LGBTI are victims of sexual violence and rape, new 6Rang report finds

62% of Iranian LGBTI experience one or more forms of violence perpetuated by their immediate family; nearly 30% of them experience sexual violence and more than 77% of them physical violence; close to 38% of them are under pressure for forced marriage.


6Rang (16.09.2020) – http://6rang.org/english/2681 – In its report, Hidden Wounds: A Research Report on Violence Against LGBTI in Iran, 6Rang surveyed 230 individuals over a 3-month period. The findings revealed the realities of living in Iran as an LGBTI individual, observing 15% have been victims of sexual violence at school or university, 30% of them have been victims of sexual violence by their peers, and more than 42% of them have been victims of sexual violence in public spaces.


Of the participants, 68% of them indicated that upon experiencing violence, they “rarely” or “never” have or will seek assistance from the judiciary. More than 19% of the participants have been victims of violence and abuse by the police or the judiciary. 29 people have reported being arrested by the police because of their diverse sexual orientation or gender identity. After arrest, more than 28% of them experienced physical and verbal violence and 13% of them experienced sexual violence.


“The results of this survey show that sexual violence and abuse in the family and in public spaces, workplace and educational settings are usually silenced without punishment and accountability for the perpetrators,” said Shadi Amin, Executive Director 6Rang. “This community is even more deprived of the protection of the law and the judiciary than women, and conversely, if they go to the police, they can be subjected to compounded violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, or face criminal charges.”


Of the 230 individuals surveyed, 90% live in Iran. Almost half were between the ages of 18-25, with the second most prominent group being 25-35-year olds making up almost 30%. Just over 15% were under 18 and only about 5% over the age of 35. Nearly 15% of this survey was conducted at the beginning of this year and there was no participant who had not experienced some form of violence in the past or continuously until present. Close to half of the participants reported have been a victim of verbal, physical, or sexual violence in school or university. Furthermore, 18% of participants reported experiencing abuse perpetrated by educational facilitators on a regular basis.


The report, Hidden Wounds: A Research Report on Violence Against LGBTI in Iran, portrays a wide range of forms of violence that LGBTI people experience at their workplace, public spaces such as sport centres, and amongst friends and colleagues. 66% of the participants said they never or very rarely confide in medical professionals when experiencing abuse, while 53% described their families as being unreliable and unsupportive. 73% of the 230 respondents admitted to having considered suicide to some extent.


“This situation is a stark reminder of a lack of an up-to-date community of psychologists, psychoanalysts and counsellors who can rely on freedom of expression and shows the responsibility and importance of having such institutions in a society. Lacking these will continue to damage the LGBTI community in a different way everyday” said Shadi Amin.


Hidden Wounds report shows that structural and domestic abuse and violence against LGBTI in all aspects of society continues to target their lives and human rights. LGBTI people also feel that they are not supported by family members, the legal system or healthcare professionals.


Read the full version of Hidden Wounds: A Research Report on Violence Against LGBTI in Iran here.

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‘My spirit broken’: Mexicans battle to ban conversion therapy

In Mexico, LGBT+ people often are subjected to conversion therapy aimed at trying to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, but now lawmakers want it to stop.


By Oscar Lopez


Thomson Reuters Foundation (17.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/32maakF – When she was 15 years old, Paola Santillan was raped by two men who claimed they would “take the lesbian” out of her. She kept the experience a secret for 10 years.


“I lived that stage of my life in confinement. I lived it in fear, with uncertainty, with the promise of having my spirit broken,” the 27-year-old said. “Everything changed in that moment.”


Santillan is one of an untold number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Mexico who have undergone traumatic experiences aimed at altering their sexual orientation or gender identity in what is known as conversion therapy.


Widely condemned by leading medical groups, including the World Psychiatric Association, conversion therapy can range from psychological counseling to religious practices and even sexual abuse in an effort to change someone from gay to straight.


Official statistics on conversion therapy in Mexico are not widely available, but mental health experts and rights activists say the practice is widespread.


“This has become fairly normalized in our society,” Ivan Tagle, director general of advocacy group Yaaj told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Up to six out of every 10 young people who come to Yaaj have endured conversion therapy, he said.


The United Nations has called for a global ban on the practice, but worldwide, only a handful of countries – Brazil, Ecuador and Malta – have nationwide bans.


This month, Queensland became the first state in Australia to outlaw conversion therapy, and in July, Mexico City became the country’s first jurisdiction to do so, with providers facing up to five years in prison.


But now supporters are pushing for Mexico to take the law nationwide.


A bill to ban the practice nationally was approved by Senate committees earlier this year, and lawmakers say a vote by the full chamber will take place next month.


“When I found out that these tortuous and inhumane practices existed … I decided work on the issue,” said Citlalli Hernandez, a senator with the ruling Morena party who has championed the bill.


If the measure is approved by the Senate, Hernandez said she hopes it will pass to the House of Deputies by November. Then it will need approval from the Morena-controlled lower chamber before moving to the president’s desk for signature.


‘A good Christian’


In a socially conservative country where the Catholic church is often critical of gay rights, LGBT+ issues are divisive and for many, being gay or trans in Mexico means enduring violence and discrimination.


According to a 2016 study from Yaaj, more than a third of Mexican LGBT+ young people had experienced psychological abuse, while a fifth had suffered physical violence.


Facing a life of difficulty, many young LGBT+ people seek out conversion therapy themselves or are forced into such treatment by their parents, according to mental health experts and rights advocates.


Conversion therapies are often offered by religious groups in Mexico, where 80% of the population identifies as Catholic. Many others are members of evangelical Christian churches.


“In Mexico it works because of the guilt … of not being a ‘good Christian’,” said Jonathan Silva, a psychology professor at the IBERO University who treats conversion therapy survivors.


Carmen Francisco, 33, said she started going to conversion therapy 10 years ago at an evangelical church because of the guilt she felt being in a relationship with another woman.


“Being a Christian … I felt bad, like I was doing something wrong,” she said.


At times, she said she thought the process was working, and she went four years without dating women.


But she paid a steep price, particularly when sessions devolved into exorcisms with her ‘therapist’ speaking in tongues.


“I would ask God to change me,” Francisco recalled. “I remember sessions where I would end up kneeling on the floor crying, and I even remember times when I would end up vomiting.”


According to Silva, many interventions take place at intense weekend religious retreats.


“Having three days where someone tells you that … your life identity is nothing more than a sin, a piece of shit, the scum of humanity, has very long-term implications,” he said.


Trans woman Jazz Bustamante said despite surviving an earlier experience with conversion therapy at a Pentecostal church, she went on a religious retreat at age 21 in her own “spiritual quest”.


Over three sleepless nights, Bustamante was told to write down her whole life story on pieces of paper.


On the final night, someone identified as a “godfather” took her aside for a ceremony with candles and incense, where she was told to burn every page and ask God for forgiveness.


The experience proved traumatic.


“The depression and anxiety attacks worsened,” Bustamante said. “There were emotional complications.”


‘The survivors’


LGBT+ people are also sent for conversion therapy at Mexico’s church-funded addiction treatment and rehabilitation centers, rights advocates say.


“They might not promote it in their advertising, but there are these networks for admitting people for (being LGBT+),” said Alex Orue, executive director of youth suicide prevention group It Gets Better Mexico.


In places with actual drug addicts and often administered by men, young LGBT+ people, especially lesbian and bisexual women and girls are “easy prey,” said Orue.


“There are many reports of these ‘corrective’ rapes.”


Mexico’s rampant machismo can make such sexual abuse seem permissible, mental health experts say.


“There is a certain ‘authorization’ for men … to impinge on the life and the body of a woman,” said Silva, the psychology professor.


But whether the intervention is sexual, psychological or spiritual, the consequences can be devastating.


“Everything points to a destruction of any possibility of an identity for a person,” Silva said.


For Santillan, after getting raped for being a lesbian, it took a decade before she could talk about it.


Now sharing her story and campaigning for a conversion therapy ban has given her new purpose.


“I made the personal political,” Santillan said. “Now it’s me who also listens to other testimonies and gives a voice to the survivors that we are.”

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