San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Honduran Gays Decry Political Persecution

TEGUCIGALPA – In a smoky poolhall in a rough community on the edge ofthe capital, a server bustles about re-rackingballs, delivering drinks and flirtingwith the all-male clientele.His friends call him “Chin,” and hishigh heels, tight pants and painted-oneyebrows appear dissonant as he weavesaround the tough, beer-swiggingpatrons who shoot pool in this den ofmachismo.Behind his back, some of the customerscall him “maricón” (a derogatoryterm for homosexual), and argue the Biblesays homosexuality is wrong.But at closing time, rival groups competefor the honor of taking Chin out for adrink, apparently curious and fascinatedby his alternative lifestyle.“He’s got this homosexual defect,”explains Remberto, Chin’s brother andowner of the pool hall. “But the people lovehim.”WHILE many Hondurans claim tooppose homosexuality on religious orphilosophical grounds, in practice manyseem to be more accepting of gay culture,or at least of gay businesses, than theirrhetoric would suggest.On weekends, streams of wealthyHondurans pour into several high-endbeauty salons in Tegucigalpa that areowned or operated by openly gaymen.The sparkly, painted lips and long, polishednails of hairstylistsuch as Juan,in a slick beauty salonin Tegucigalpa’s fanciestshopping mall,ap-pears to lend legitimacyto the business,rather than frightencustomers away.DOWN the hill atthe National Congress,the mood isless tolerant.On Oct. 28, Congress passed a constitutionalamendment banning homosexualsand transgenders from marrying or adoptingchildren.Congressional president and 2005presidential hopeful, Portirio “Pepe”Lobo, spearheaded the amendment,which must be ratified next year tobecome law.Some argue the measure won’t precludelegalizing gay unions by anothername. But congressman Juan OrlandoHernández, secretary of the NationalCongress, said, “there’s no way” thatcould happen.PREVIOUSLY, gay marriage inHonduras was not allowed, and most leadersof the country’s gay community claimmarriage is not a priority for them. Theyare more concerned with basic rights andhealth issues, such as improved access toantiretroviral medicationsfor those whoare HIV positive.Ramon Valladares,of the GayCommunity of SanPedro Sula, claims allthe hullabaloo surroundingthe issue ofgay marriage isbecause of the generalpublic’s erroneousperception that Honduras’gay population is pushing for thesame rights as gay communities in moreadvanced countries, such as the UnitedStates or European nations.“We’re not looking for special rightsas gays, we’re just looking to get the samerights as everyone else,” Valladares said.The rights leader argues politicianssuch as Lobo are playing on voters’ homophobiato make a non-issue into a campaignstump leading up to the primariesnext February.CONGRESS also sent a letter toPresident Ricardo Maduro to urge him tostrip three gay-rights groups of theirrecently acquired legal status. A group of80 Evangelical pastors has announced itwill appeal the gay-rights groups’ legalstatus in the Supreme Court.The groups, “The Gay Community ofSan Pedro Sula,” the “Violet Collective,”and “Kukulkan” were granted legal statusin August, after they brought complaintsof repeated rejections before theInter-American Commission on HumanRights.Legal status gives them corporate benefitsunder Honduran law, such as the rightto own land, pay salaries and obtain taxbenefits.SOME gay leaders are arguing that thecongressional persecution of the gay communityshould offer pause to some of thelegislators who might not be in touch withtheir own sexuality.“What bothers me most is that scientificcalculations show that one in 10 peopleis gay or lesbian,” said Esteban Orozco,administrator of the Web site“That means that in our Congress of128 representatives, there are at least 10people with gay or lesbian tendencies whohypocritically voted in favor of this resolution,”he said.DESPITE some interest in gay culture,discrimination and hate crimesremain a serious problem in Honduras.Ricardo Figueroa, activities coordinatorfor the Violet Collective, claims hotels inSan Pedro Sula that used to host gay conferencesand events now refuse to do so forfear of damaging their image.He said he and other Violet Collectivemembers have received death threats sincethe group was granted legal status threemonths ago.Last year, in the northern economic capitalof San Pedro Sula, several gay men weremurdered – crimes the gay communityclaims were hate-driven. Two suspects havesince been jailed for the murders.Many members of the gay communityclaim their sexual preference and lifestyleoften hurts their chances of getting workor apartments for rent.“Peook at you like you’re the uglyduckling,” Chin said.

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