Stemming HIV/AIDS in LGBT and Sex Worker Communities in Honduras

 

Stemming HIV/AIDS in LGBT and Sex Worker Communities in Honduras

October 1, 2007

Accounting for more than half of all Central American AIDS cases, Honduras has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the region. There is one community that is especially affected by this pandemic: the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people of Honduras. This is also one of the most ostracized and alienated groups in the country.

The Honduran LGBT community lives in a prevailing climate of harassment and second-class citizenship, in a conservative Roman Catholic country with a growing evangelical Christian population. Intimidation and discrimination are persistent: in 2003, Erick (Ericka) David Yáñez, a transgender 19-year-old, was shot and killed by a policeman. In August 2004, the Honduran government granted legal recognition to three gay rights groups, only to encounter a huge public backlash demanding that the rights of these groups be rescinded. In March 2005, the Honduran government officially banned gay marriage and adoption.

Along with Honduran sex workers, members of the LGBT community have also been hard-hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Infrequent and inconsistent use of condoms has contributed to the growing HIV/AIDS rates in these communities, especially among young people.

Asociación Gay Lésbica Bisexual Travestí Arcoiris in Honduras, an AJWS grantee better known simply as Arcoiris (“Rainbow”), was created in 2003 to combat the discrimination of the LGBT and sex worker communities and to advocate for HIV/AIDS treatment and protection. Founded by a group of friends, Arcoiris reaches out to what they call “the community of sexual diversity,” which includes, but is not limited to, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transvestite peoples, as well as sex workers. Arcoiris works with these vulnerable communities to address their medical and legal concerns. The organization is based on four main goals: the promotion of human rights, HIV/AIDS prevention, popular participation and political involvement.

Acknowledging the need for a safe and secure space, Arcoiris created the “Rainbow House,” a small rented home in Comayagüela. The Rainbow House serves as a center for training community leaders as well as a base for HIV prevention outreach and peer support. At the Rainbow House, Arcoiris conducts regular workshops in human rights. The workshops train young LGBT people and sex workers in human rights, focusing on issues such as conflict resolution, domestic violence, discrimination, and safer sex practices. Graduates go on to replicate the trainings among peer networks in Comayagüela’s LGBT and sex worker communities.

“Before, these youths suffered trauma in the streets and in their schools, leaving them emotionally and physically damaged,” says Alex Eduardo Sorto, General Manager of Arcoiris. “Now they know their rights and they have self-esteem; they feel good the way they are, and they fight for their rights.” Not only has self-esteem increased, but also condom use: one trainee reported to an AJWS program officer that he’d never worn a condom before coming to Arcoiris, but now does so regularly.

Arcoiris also conducts workshops for those who practice discrimination against LGBT and sex worker communities. Discrimination most frequently comes from the police and parents of members of these communities. “Unfortunately, it is a common situation in Honduras that when the parents… discover that their child is gay or lesbian, they throw him/her out of the house,” comments Sorto. “We have had talks and workshops with the parents of these youths to sensitize them, and now there is more acceptance in families with children that are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

As for the police: “Sometimes transvestite sex workers suffer assault by the police, so we hold workshops with the police,” says Sorto. “Instances of these assaults have declined, and our sex worker friends have told us that now the police treat them with more respect.” Unfortunately, the LGBT community continues to suffer from police brutality, and the one of the tasks that Arcoiris pursues is documenting such human rights abuses.

AJWS is committed to stemming HIV/AIDS through grassroots change and Arcoiris is a prime example of this type of innovative work. AJWS was recently recognized by Funders Concerned About AIDS as a top ten foundation giving 90 percent or more of its AIDS grants to international AIDS work.

HIV/AIDS cannot be eliminated if the communities most affected by the pandemic are ignored. Notes Sorto: “All people have equal rights. We are very proud of what we have accomplished in being an organization that is truly complete, in that we accept all different types of people. To have this integrated community gives us a lot of satisfaction and happiness.”