Diversidad Sin Fronteras: LGBTQI+ Asylum
Deciding to travel separately from the larger “caravan” for safety, a group of 80 people, mainly LGBTQI+ individuals were the first to reach the U.S. Mexico border in November. This group and many more LGBTQI+ community members currently at the southern border are facing difficulties with the asylum process, as well as in their daily experiences in detention facilities, holding facilities, and the many camps that have sprung up along the border in Tijuana and Baja, Mexico.
Asylum is granted to LGBTQI+ people because they fit into a “particular social group” that would face further persecution like a religious, racial or political group would. The asylum granting process for LGBTQI+ members of the current group of mainly Central American refugees is complicated as it forces individuals to prove their identities based on problematic legal definitions and western centric understandings of queer identity.
In Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, a region sometimes called the Northern Triangle of Central America, many LGBTQI+ people are fleeing persecution and violence. The individuals that have traveled from the Northern Triangle since March of 2018 to ask for asylum are leaving intensely violent situations in their countries of origin.
Shortly before her suspicious death in ICE custody within the United States, a trans woman named Roxana Hernandez was quoted by Buzzfeed saying, “Trans people in my neighborhood are killed and chopped into pieces, then dumped inside potato bags”. Though organizations are hard to come by in places like the one Hernandez fled, there are a few that struggle to advocate and create space for queer folks in the face of mass discrimination. One of those groups is the trans collective Colectivo Unidad Color Rosa of San Pedro Sula in Honduras, and Cattrachas, a gay and lesbian organization located in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. According to The Washington Blade, members of groups like these note that migrations have risen among LGBTQI+ people, and mainly with trans women since February of 2017. There are only a handful of organizations who are working hard to protect and advocate for LGBTQI+ individuals at the border and defend their entrance into the States. Organizations like Familia: Trans and Queer Liberation Movement works at both national and local levels to organize, educate, and advocate for the latinx community. Another one of these vital organizations is a group named Diversidad Sin Fronteras (DSF). This volunteer ran collective has been essential in collecting and distributing information and resources for trans and queer people struggling during their bureaucratic processes by connecting translators, legal advocates, and monetary donations to those in need. Day to day, DSF helps provide emotional support, sleeping bags, tents, food and sanitary provisions. They are the only LGBTQI+ advocacy group to have travelled the entire way with the “exodus” and have helped vocalize the group’s needs the entire length of the journey. They are maintained by donations from individuals, and fundraising events such as a few that have happened her in Portland.
On the 14th of December a group of Portland based organizers set up a benefit night, titled “Transfronteras” at the Portland Mercado off of Southeast Foster Rd. The benefit at The Portland Mercado raised $1,337 for Diversidad Sin Fronteras. Most of the donations were added to the commissary of trans detainees at the South Texas Detention Complex.
Among the speakers that night, Gustavo Torres, a member of the Latinx LGBTQI+ community and PCC student described some of the hardships facing LGBTQI+ Latinx people, as well as the direct influence of imperialism in Latin America on the struggle of this caravan.
Torres stated, “I think it’s necessary to have an identity, a Latin American identity, that can be used as a form of resistance used[sic] against imperialism. I can’t highlight enough that the reason why there is so much violence and poverty in Latin America is because of imperialism and capitalist exploitation by the global north and even by the elites of these countries. My main thing is to try to create a form of identity, a necessity to recognize that it’s more than race, there is a class aspect to everything. It is important to create community and solidarity across different ethnicities and races to destroy the main oppressive factor, which would be that capitalist imperialist system that has caused this poverty and violence and exploitation of people of the global south.”
I asked Torres to discuss what he thinks are some of the main reasons that LGBTQI+ people decided to flee.
“In Latin America trans women and gay men have some of the highest homicide rates in the world. Which of course is because of machismo culture which permeates in this society. So, many LGBT people try to leave, especially coming from such places as Honduras that do not have very good social nets or long time communities. There is that danger of being killed, of being persecuted.”
He cited a culture of Machismo as being one of the main reasons that women and LGBTQI+ people are fleeing, and continue to face oppression, “Latin america has a very long toxic relationship with machismo which was brought upon it by the Spanish and Portuguese, who brought these ideas of cultural machismo into a very gender diverse region. Machismo is really permeating. It has become something that is a major part of Latin American society. [It develops] very clear gender roles, so when someone goes against those, as they would say, they don’t really go well with that ever present machismo in Latino – especially in Mestizo – society. That’s a major factor in why LGBT people leave to areas with safer communities. Machismo doesn’t only have a social impact but a violent impact, the high death tolls of LGBT people, and especially of trans women in Latin America has to do with that very same culture. Also the endemic violence present in the Northern Triangle of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, caused by economic strife, helps breed that discontent. Really, being LGBT in Latin America can be tough. No matter where you go you can’t escape that machismo culture. It is something that hurts women and LGBT folks. But it is something that is being actively combated by leftist groups too.”
Out of all LGBTQI+ individuals from the Northern Triangle of Central America who were interviewed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 88% reported “sexual and gender-based violence in their countries of origin” according to a report by Amnesty International. Conditions for women, transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and genderqueer people from the Northern Triangle of Central America is severe, and as Torres stated, those conditions are the reason that the need to flee to the United States has become so dire.
The court cases for LGBTQI+ asylum seekers, like others, are being put into a state of uncertainty as the closure of the federal government has complicated court hearings across the board. As stated by DSF, support of the LGBTQI+ community is limited on the ground. They call on people to recognize that life for people at the border is hard, and “the every day is much more difficult than it appears in the media”. Organizations like the DSF are vital in giving daily aid to members of the LGBTQI+ community as they work to gain entrance into the United States.