OPINION: Honduras must honour Vicky Hernandez’s legacy with real change for trans people

by Kerry Kennedy | @KerryKennedyRFK | Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
Tuesday, 28 June 2022 15:00 GMT

Transgender, Bessy, 31, gets ready to work on the streets of Tegucigalpa March 10, 2011.The U.S. embassy and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have requested the government to investigate the murders and safeguard the rights of the LGBT community, local media reported. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Honduras is standing at a pivotal moment - it is vital the state learns from its mistakes and creates a plan to protect LGBTQ+ people.

Kerry Kennedy is a lawyer and president of Robert F Kennedy Human Rights. She is the daughter of late US senator Robert F Kennedy and niece of the late president John F Kennedy.

For Vicky Hernandez’s family and the hundreds of LGBTQ+ activists and allies in Honduras waiting several hours in 100-degree San Pedro Sula, heat was a matter of relativity.

On the day Honduran President Xiomara Castro formally claimed responsibility on behalf of the state for Hernandez’s death, it had been almost 13 years since the trans activist’s murder on June 28, 2009.

Hernandez was shot dead during a state-imposed curfew in a crime that marked the beginning of a stark increase in violence against LGBTQ+ people.

More than 400 LGBTQ+ people have died in Honduras during those 13 years, according to NGO Red Lesbica Cattrachas.

What’s more, data collected by human rights organisations shows that Honduras has the world’s highest rate of murder for transgender and other gender-diverse people, with Brazil and Mexico following closely behind.

The majority of these murders appear to come at the hands of state agents, in what is disgustingly called ‘social cleansing’.

The May 10 act of recognition and responsibility for Hernandez’s death, as ordered by the Inter-American Court last spring, is undoubtedly an important first step, affirming what occurred. But more needs to be done, and quickly.

Two things are rapidly declining. One, is the health of Hernandez’s mother, Rosa – an unwavering voice in the fight for justice and for other trans women – who also is battling both cancer and lung disease.

But more broadly, the steep losses of democracy and human rights in the region, along with rampant corruption, rising violence, inequality, and poverty, all exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And Honduras could now be poised for real change after choosing democracy over autocracy on a global stage, after Castro made history last year as the country’s first female president, ending 12 years of National Party rule.

In the election, 68% of Hondurans showed up to vote - far more than in recent elections and enough to overcome the National Party’s political machine.

“We have turned back authoritarianism,” Castro told cheering supporters on election night, pledging to form a “government of reconciliation; a government of peace and justice”.

Castro is not responsible for Hernandez’s death, despite her heartfelt personal apology. Still, she has a unique opportunity to bring back the rule of law and a vibrant democratic future for her beleaguered, impoverished country.

The Inter-American Court’s decision in Hernandez’s case is three-pronged, combining the state’s recognition and responsibility with precautionary measures and reparations, all designed to effectuate systemic change.

As part of its verdict, the court ordered Honduras to implement measures designed to protect trans people, including anti-discrimination training for security forces, improved data collection in cases motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias, and protocol to guide administration of justice in such cases.

The state must also allow people to change their name and gender identity on identification documents and public records.

The government must provide financial compensation to the Hernandez family – money that could save Rosa's life and provide educational opportunities to Vicky’s niece, Tatiana, who dreams of attending college.

It is vital reparations are issued and a road map is put in place to protect LGBTQ+ people in Honduras, throughout Latin America, and in the rest of the world.

The time to publicly reaffirm Hernandez’s legacy is long overdue. Nobody should be discriminated against for determining who they are and how they identify.

As a member of an American family long involved in politics, I’ve come to intimately understand the vital component of political will to implement real societal change, both by the forces within a country and outside of it.

Honduras is a country that voted for dignity, truth, and progress in the last election. The international community must support this vision for the future to make lasting progress.

We must also remember the heartfelt words of Rosa, with the gratitude of justice and pain of justice delayed both audible in her voice:

“We should love our children for who they are because they come from the womb. No one has a right to take a life.”

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