San Francisco resolution supports LGBT El Salvadorians
by Heather Cassell
LGBT El Salvadorians are set to receive a huge boost from San Francisco's Board of Supervisors this month.
The city's leaders, at their July 8 meeting, are expected to adopt a resolution calling on the newly elected government of the Central American country to respect and uphold the rights and protections of its LGBT community.
Last week openly gay San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, District 9, introduced the resolution to support LGBT Salvadorian rights at the board's June 24 meeting. Co-sponsoring the resolution are Supervisors John Avalos, District 11, and Scott Wiener, District 8, who is also gay.
Salvadorian LGBT community leaders and solidarity workers worked with Campos' office to craft the resolution. It addresses three key issues the local queer community, in particular the transgender community, are fighting for: non-discrimination and hate crimes laws, investigation of violence against LGBT people, and voting rights.
It's not illegal to be gay in El Salvador, and the government has made advancements with creating a division to address LGBT rights issues and protections in health care for LGBT people and people living with HIV/AIDS. Yet enforcement and violence against LGBT people continue to be an issue.
The supervisors' resolution also comes at a time when there has been a tremendous influx of people escaping Central America, many from El Salvador, due to civil unrest and violence as has been reflected in media reports within recent weeks.
President Barack Obama mentioned the issue - particularly regarding the estimated 90,000 Central American children fleeing the region - during his address to the nation June 30 about pushing through immigration reform.
While the issue of unaccompanied children - primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras - seeking refuge in the U.S. from violence and being recruited into gangs has received mainstream media attention, LGBTs have also been escaping the country, according to advocates.
The flood of Central Americans fleeing their homeland due to civil conflict and violence is reminiscent of the mass exodus during the 1980s. That flood of Central Americans led to San Francisco opening its Golden Gates and embracing thousands of asylees and refugees - LGBT included - and launched the city's sanctuary movement and policy, said Campos and Salvadorian advocates.
Today, nearly 50,000 Salvadorian people call the San Francisco Bay Area home, according to Campos.
At the same time there's been a massive migration north to the U.S. and south to Costa Rica, there is also hope in El Salvador, according to Lariza Dugan-Cuadra, executive director of the Central American Resource Center.
President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, 69, a former guerilla commander was sworn into office June 1, followed by his newly appointed administration. Ceren is the first former guerilla leader from El Salvador's long civil war to lead the country after a narrow victory and a runoff election. Among his key platforms in the campaign were championing human rights, making political changes to fight corruption, ending the gang violence in his country, and working closely with the U.S.
"This new government was elected on the promise of promoting civil rights and it seems that, even though they talk about that, they are not doing anything around LGBT rights," said Campos, who believes it's important to send a message to El Salvador's new government. "We can't talk about civil rights without talking about LGBT rights and doing something about the mistreatment and the abuse and the violence that is happening against members of the LGBT community in this country."
Bringing LGBT Salvadorian issues home
LGBT Salvadorian issues came to the attention of Campos, 43, who is running for a California state Assembly seat this fall and is originally from Guatemala, earlier this year when San Francisco-based Salvadorian solidarity workers invited him to visit the Central American country.
Campos couldn't attend the trip, but he sent Carolyn Goossen, one of his legislative aides, on the weeklong fact-finding mission to El Salvador in January. Goossen, a 35-year-old bisexual woman, traveled with members of the Central American Resource Center, ALDES/LGBTI Justice Clinic, SHARE Foundation and representatives from several other San Francisco-based solidarity organizations.
The group met with local Salvadorian LGBT community members. The delegates and local LGBT community leaders discussed the top issues the Salvadorian LGBT community, especially the country's transgender community, faced while observing the country's elections.
Goossen's memory of the people she met is still vividly fresh as she described the transgender women activists as some of "the bravest women" she's ever met.
She was impressed with their bravery to "not only to be who they were, but to fight for their community," said Goossen, who noted that people would throw bags of urine and glass at LGBT demonstrators when they took to marching through the streets for their rights.
She was also struck by the women's stories of being victims of attacks with no follow through by authorities to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice, as well as being discriminated against in employment, health care and housing.
They are also not able to vote due to the gender they want to be identified as doesn't match their legal documents, said Goossen, therefore authorities deny them their right to vote.
An estimated 149 LGBT Salvadorians have been reportedly murdered between 1999 and 2013, but there could be many more unreported and uninvestigated murders of queer Salvadorians, according to multiple Salvadorian LGBT organizations and advocates.
Yet, "they would continue on and live as who they are," said Goossen.
Standing in solidarity
Four years of reporting and advocacy and regular delegations to El Salvador appear to have not made an impact on progress for LGBT rights in the country.
It's not due to a lack of government efforts and policies, said Ana Montano, a staff attorney at the AIDS Legal Referral Panel, who originally is from El Salvador and heads up the ALDES/LGBTI Justice Clinic. It is because of the deeply religious and machismo culture, she said, that LGBT issues remain very taboo.
Montano has been returning to her homeland for the past six years several times a year working with local LGBT community leaders and advocating on behalf of LGBT rights in the country from the states.
During a trip to El Salvador at the beginning of June, LGBT activists told her that more members of the community have been leaving the country due to the violence. The Sexual Diversity Directorate, under the Social Inclusion Secretary, hasn't been as effective as hoped for due to lack of funding and education about LGBT issues, she said.
A shadow report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to the United Nations in partnership with Salvadorian LGBT rights organizations in 2010 - followed by reports conducted by the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the UC Berkeley School of Law in 2012 and the Solicitors' International Human Rights Group in 2013 - all describe similar situations brought to Campos' attention.
The Salvadorian LGBT activists were equally inspired to learn about Campos and to know he was standing up in solidarity for them, said Goossen.
The stories Goossen brought back prompted Campos to champion the resolution with the assistance of Salvadorian LGBT activists and San Francisco-based Salvadorian advocates.
"It was really just disconcerting for me to hear [discrimination and violence against LGBTs] was still happening in [that] country," said Campos about discussing what Goossen experienced and witnessed during the trip.
The resolution continues San Francisco's tradition of standing up for human and LGBT rights at home and around the world.
"It's important given the connections to that country to send a message to that government that the rights of LGBT people need to be protected," continued Campos, pointing out that it's consistent with San Francisco's tradition of standing up for civil and human rights locally, nationally and globally.
"It's really about the city of San Francisco continuing to play a leadership role in promoting LGBT rights and human rights throughout the country and the world," said Campos about introducing the resolution.
Hope for El Salvador
Campos, Goossen and other advocates are hopeful that the new Salvadorian government will listen due to Ceren's history of advocating for human rights, and the policies and administration currently in place protecting LGBT Salvadorians.
It appears it will. Goossen told the Bay Area Reporter that after the B.A.R. called the Consulate-General of El Salvador in San Francisco, Campos' office received a call. Consulate officials told Goossen that once the resolution passes they will forward it onto the appropriate heads of departments and state.
A representative of the Consulate-General of El Salvador forwarded the B.A.R.'s questions to representatives in El Salvador, but a response for comment wasn't received by press time.
Campos' office plans to continue putting pressure on El Salvador's new government through solidarity meetings and raising LGBT issues on an ongoing basis, Goossen said.
"The new government is addressing a large number of issues," said Goossen, well aware of the fact that since the country's LGBT community is small, its issues could easily get lost in the fray of larger issues. "This is something that we as advocates and members of the queer community need to put pressure on them so that this becomes a priority."
To contact the El Salvador Consulate, write to 507 Polk St #280, San Francisco, CA 94102; call 415-771-8524, or email email@example.com.
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