Tuesday, December 18, 2018
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A tumultuous year for the LGBTI community
Gabriela Read
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Organizations call for legal recognition of sexual diversity rights.

Thalía Almendares, President of the organization Trans Siempre Amigas (TRANSSA), jokingly tells Latinamerica Press that she has never worked in a place other than that organization and that her resume would be thrown away by any bank upon realizing, from her picture, that she is a trans person.

Her statement is preceded by grim statistics that are softened by her laughter. Perhaps she laughs because she has been lucky. A Mar. 2013 poll by the Amigos Siempre Amigos Volunteers Network (REVASA), of people who serve in organizations that defend gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersexual (LGBTI) persons, showed that 60 percent do not have a steady job, that the highest rate of unemployment is recorded among trans, and that most are involved in sex work due to lack of access to formal jobs.

Later, Almendares recounts a painful fact. In January of this year, one of her friends, an activist and health promoter who was about to graduate as a bio-analyst, died due to HIV. Her example illustrates other statistics presented recently by the Human Rights Observatory for Vulnerable Groups (ODHGV), created in Sept. 2013 and which has received dozens of discrimination cases against trans persons who suffer physical violence and other forms of mistreatment by police agents, employers, and health service workers.

The ODHGV is particularly worried about the 50 discrimination cases in the health sector that have been recorded since its inception. The reports are categorized under the issues related to treatment (18 percent), sexual orientation and gender identity (16 percent), and malpractice (13 percent), among others.

TRANSSA also takes new cases related to incarcerations and denial of fundamental rights as well as 25 hate crimes since 2009, of which only one was prosecuted.

Homophobic declarations
The fact is that 2014 has been very tumultuous for the LGBTI community in the Dominican Republic. Various events have led the media to cover the issue of human rights for this group, and not precisely for the achievement of their demands.

January was characterized by multiple homophobic declarations from the main representative of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, who was angered because of the appointment of James “Wally” Brewster, a well-known gay activist, as the US ambassador in the Dominican Republic.

In February, the Dominican ambassador to the Vatican, Víctor Grimaldi, sent a letter to Pope Francisco in which he denounced an alleged plot between the United States and the LGBTI community to “dethrone” the Cardinal.

That same month, LGBTI persons regretted that the Dominican State, through Ambassador Radhys Abreu, tried to deny before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), any discrimination against this community and released a Shadow Report for a periodic annual review that was presented during the 13th session of the UNHRC in which various cases of violations of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans citizens are cited.

Last, in March the Vice-President of the Republic, Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, introduced in Congress the Family Code, a law that specifically denied same-sex couples fundamental rights such as opting for assisted fertilization and adoption, among others, and which President Danilo Medina temporarily withdrew.

“In the last 10 years there have been improvements in certain aspects,” recognizes Denisse Paiwonsky in statements to Latinamerica Press. The LGBTI activist who works with Women and Health Collective, cites various examples. “Now the state includes sexual diversity in its human rights reports, something that had never been done. There were violations that the state committed continuously and systematically before, such as the constant closure of gay clubs and bars, that are not done anymore or happen less frequently.”

However, she considers that “there is no significant improvement at the legislative level.” On the contrary, “there are tremendously strong indications of hostility that political actors of all parties have in regards to sexual diversity rights.”

Ambassador Grimaldi’s letter, which had no effect, and the Family Code, to the best of her knowledge, are indicators of what decision-makers think.

Antidiscrimination Law
Despite everything, the LGBTI community is optimistic. While in 2010 the community lost the battle to include no discrimination for sexual orientation or gender identity in the latest reform to the Dominican Constitution, in February of this year a multisectoral council that seeks to pass an Antidiscrimination Law was formed. In addition to the LGBTI population, the law includes other traditionally excluded groups, such as sexual workers and marginalized youth, among others.

 “What we learned from that experience is that we have to make the necessary synergies to be included [in the law]. For example, now our strategy is the following: without us there is no law. Anyone who joins the council must understand that if [they] attempt to remove the LGBTI community then there is no Antidiscrimination Law,” said Deivis Ventura, a REVASA member, to Latinamerica Press.

“This law would be a step closer to reaching an ideal society free of stigmas and discrimination. After it is approved, [we] have to work hard to educate members of our judicial system and the population in general,” said Rosanna Marzán, member of the organization Dominican Diversity, which is part of the LGBTI Coalition that supports this project.

Leonardo Sánchez, member of the gay group Amigos Siempre Amigos, is also willing to highlight other achievements:  “Having up to 18 different groups working with the bare minimum throughout the last decade, getting recognized the right to public demonstrations, [and] having celebrated seven Gay Pride caravans, three mass concerts and four film festivals are a sign that citizens have been opening up, that they realize that we exist and that we are here claiming our rights.”
—Latinamerica Press.


Gay Pride Caravan, an important public event for the LGBTI community. (Photo: Orlando Ramos)
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