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  HOME | Central America

Leave or Die, Options of the LGBTI Community in El Salvador

SAN SALVADOR – The violence and discrimination suffered by the LGBTI community in El Salvador is forcing its members to leave the country or die at the hands street gangs or security forces of a government quite willing to overlook murder, activists say.

EFE heard the news from Bianka Rodriguez and Roberto Zapata, human rights activists on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community in El Salvador, where more than 600 hate killings have gone unpunished.

El Salvador is one of the world’s most violent countries, as shown by a homicide rate from 50.3 to 103 for every 100,000 inhabitants, recorded between 2015 and 2018.

According to various social organizations, this murderous violence is also one of the factors causing forced emigration, among whose crowds of people looking for a safer life are members of the LGBTI community.

Figures provided to EFE by the Trans Communicating and Training Association (Comcavis-Trans), directed by Rodriguez, indicate that between 2018 and so far in 2019 no less than 151 cases of displacement have been recorded.

The main victims are trans women with 67.5 percent of the cases, followed by gay men with 17.2 percent.

Those responsible for this phenomenon are mostly street gangs and state security forces, whose homicide attempts, threats and injuring of people convince many of the targeted individuals to get up and go live somewhere else.

Added to this is the widespread impunity that has allowed more than 600 LGBTI citizens to be murdered since 1993, with gang members, police and the military as the principal perpetrators.

“Trans people are persecuted by security forces to exercise physical and sexual violence,” Rodriguez said.

She added that trans women are often victims of sexual slavery by the “mara” gangs, which force them to engage in illegal acts or pay a “sex fee,” which means having sex with no protection and no pay.

“We’re in a dead-end street,” lamented the trans activist, adding that victims “have to flee the country to find somewhere that acknowledges their rights” and to avoid becoming one more murder statistic.

Violence and impunity are not the only scourges that undermine the rights of the Salvadoran LGBTI community, given that the discrimination they suffer dumps them into a very poor economic situation.

According to Roberto Zapata, secretary general of the Amate Association, LGBTI people face “a number of barriers when going through the selection process to get a job,” given all the “prejudice that exists.”

Figures managed by his organization show that two-thirds of trans women suffer “some kind of job exclusion,” so that many of them “are doing sex work as the only way to support themselves.”

This situation, he said, has left part of this segment living on the edge of poverty.

“When poor economic conditions meet the social stigma we bear due to our gender orientation and identity, other phenomena occur, such as being forced to leave the place we live,” he said.

Sexual diversity organizations looked on with distrust when El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele took office last June 1, so that during the march on International LGBTI Pride Day, participants expressed their intention to take “not one step back” from the progress that has been achieved.

One of the first moves by Bukele,of the rightist Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA), was to eliminate the Social Inclusion Secretariat (SIS).

“We’re not asking for any special rights,” Rodriguez said, adding that all she hoped for was a life “free of violence, free of stigma, free from discrimination.”


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