June 28 is an important day for members of both the LGBTQ community and the Honduran working class. The first is the anniversary of the 1969 “Stonewall Riots” in New York City by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). And the second is the anniversary of the 2009 military-led coup d’état that ousted populist Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales from office and led to protests by the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular (National Popular Resistance Front—FNRP).
Zelaya, who came into office as a member of the center-right Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) in 2006 but moved closer to the Left throughout his tenure, was arrested by the military and forcibly exiled to Costa Rica on June 28, 2009 after proposing a referendum that would enable voters to approve a constitutional assembly.
Though these events may appear unrelated—apart from their shared anniversary—they have produced one common result: a greater awareness of human rights violations and the mobilization of grassroots protest movements.
And while LGBTQ groups in the United States have made a number of legislative gains since 1969, Honduran activists—and LGBTQ activists in particular—have just begun their fight for political, social and economic justice.
Between 1990 and 2005, there were 25 reported murders of Honduran LGBTQ community members. Since 2008, however, more than 116 murders have been reported by the Asociación para una Vida Mejor (Association for a Better Life—APUMIVEH), which shut down in December 2013 after its employees received death threats. Only 35 of these murders have been investigated by federal authorities, six suspects have been charged, and none have gone to trial.
In December 2009—a few months after Zelaya’s ouster—FNRP member and gay rights activist Walter Orlando Tróchez was kidnapped by four masked men. They interrogated Tróchez about his involvement with the anti-coup movement, and although he escaped, he was shot and killed by gunmen in police uniforms a week later, according to witnesses. Activists denounced the murder as evidence of the resurgence of state-sponsored death squads in Honduras.
Erick Alexander Martínez Avila, a journalist, FNRP member and LGBTQ activist, was found strangled to death in May 2012 after being abducted by unknown men wearing masks—two weeks after the FNRP’s political arm, the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE) selected him as the first gay candidate to run for a National Congress seat. Several other members of the FNRP and LIBRE have experienced a similar fate.
“The coup d’état was our Stonewall,” LGBTQ activist José “Pepe” Rodolfo Palacios said in a November 2013 interview. “We are not going back.”
In addition to LGBTQ activists, Honduran journalists have also been targeted for their political beliefs. In March 2010, three journalists (Joseph Hernández Ochoa, David Meza Montesinos and Nahúm Palacios Arteaga) were killed within a span of two weeks—Palacios had been critical of the 2009 coup and Meza had exposed police corruption, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
An Indigenous Lenca activist protesting the construction of the privately-owned Agua Zarca dam in Río Blanco was also shot and killed by Honduran military officials last July.
Honduras currently has the world’s highest murder rate, with 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people in Honduras in 2012, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports, citing gang and political violence produced by rampant economic inequality.
Despite the November 2013 election of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández—whose victory was contested by opposition parties for alleged electoral fraud—anti-coup leaders have received overwhelming popular support.
Xiomara Castro, former President Zelaya’s wife and LIBRE presidential candidate, led the polls just before the presidential election, earning 29 percent of intended votes in a September 2013 CID-Gallup survey, while Hernández was just behind her with 27 percent. Castro’s platform was explicitly anti-coup, anti-poverty and pro-LGBTQ. LIBRE also managed to elect 37 new representatives to the National Congress in the last election.
Overall, while the murders of journalists, LGBTQ and Indigenous activists in Honduras constitute an alarming suppression of human rights, oppressed and marginalized communities in the Central American country are receiving more attention from organizations like the UNODC and CPJ. With this added attention, the struggle to transcend Honduras’ crime, poverty and rampant corruption may gain more ground.