ILGA meets… Donny Reyes, Honduran human rights activist


In February 2016, Peace Brigades International issued an alert about the LGBTI community in Honduras, where at least 36 security incidents against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex persons have taken place in the last six months. Members of the Asociación Arcoiris have particularly been targeted, especially since their technical director, Donny Reyes, has been elected alternate member of the national council for the protection of human rights. We have interviewed him to learn more about the situation in a country where, according to the alert issued by PBI, “more than 200 members of the LGBT community have been murdered since 2009,” and “only 33 among these cases have been investigated upon.”

In August 2015 Honduras underwent its UPR and many recommendations about SOGI issues were accepted, but the situation seems to have gotten worse since then: last week PBI released an alert, speaking about 36 security incidents against members of Asociación Arcoíris only in the last six months. Five activists have been murdered, others had to flee the country. Can you reconstruct what happened during these last months? What, in your opinion, lead to this increase in violence against the LGBTI community in Honduras?

Since 2009, due to the coup-d’état, the institutions of the rule of law have become seriously fragmented and since that date, there has been a sharp increase in the constant violations of human rights, in particular against the LGBT community.

In Honduras, access to justice is inadequate for our communities, and in the last months what has happened is that, as a result of a non-functioning Public Ministry and a Supreme Court that has lost its legitimacy within society due to having acted outside the law, an atmosphere of immense impunity has been created, in particular against our groups. And if we add to this the fact that there has been a huge increase in sexual and physical violence and violations of human rights since the military police moved outside the law.

The deaths and attacks that appear in the PBI Alert are only a small collection of the many assaults and hate crimes against our communities.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Honduras over a century ago and a law prohibiting hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has been in the books since 2013: how can it be explained, then, that LGBTI human rights defenders are among the most targeted groups in the country? Has the attitude towards LGBTI people always been so brutal in Honduras?

The answer is simple, even if the results are terrible and painful for our community. That is to say that it is thanks to impunity, indifference and homo, lesbo, bi and transphobia that exists in the country and among the administrators of justice.

For them, we, the LGBT populations, don’t matter, and they are strongly influenced by fundamentalist religious groups that have significant power over the composition of the Government. And so, too, in the decisions that Government takes.

How did you become an activist for the rights of LGBTI people? Was there a specific moment that pushed you to become directly involved?

The truth is that I’m not aware of whether it was a conscious decision, however I realized that I was involved in the fight to assert our rights when I saw that the conditions of our health, work, etc, were being violated every day. Being in Arcoíris gave me the opportunity to understand that many other people are going through the same difficult situations as me and this made my commitment grow and became my reason to fight.

What kind of work is Asociación Arcoíris doing on a local level? Are you able to continue, despite the threats?

What we do in Arcoíris is provide space for comfort and support to the people, such as myself, who are victims of family, social and educational violence, etc. At the same time, we also develop processes for the empowerment of LGBT persons.

We believe that working for self-determination of people and their self-acceptance through processes of increasing their self-esteem contributes to improving the life of each and every one of us. We develop processes of political advocacy to lobby authorities and influence them to the extent possible.

The defence and promotion of human rights of our collectives are the fundamental cornerstones of our work, accompanied in the judicial field by due process and its support in cases of prosecution against LGBT persons. 

How can the international community support your work? And, on a local level: do you think the actual implementation of anti-discrimination laws, and of those protecting human rights defenders, could help you working and living in safer conditions?

The support of the international community through our experience is what keeps me alive, I am very sure of that as there is not a single public policy in the country that guarantees us anything, not even the reform of the Criminal Code in 2013.

Every initiative that is focused on protecting LGBT persons from discrimination would be very good since, as I mentioned, we have no laws to protect us. We, LGBT persons and human rights defenders, only have the guarantee of exile as a best case scenario, as has happened to many of our colleagues, or a stray bullet in the head. That said, giving up isn’t an option.

We don’t fight because we want to be martyrs, not at all, and much less do we seek to become cold statistics, we fight because of the wish to live with dignity, to have the right to live, love and be happy like any human being – we don’t ask for anything more.

These last months must have been particularly hard to bear with: what has given, and still gives you, the strength to go on with your work?

I think it is the pain itself that fills us with courage and enthusiasm to continue fighting, our tears at each of the funerals of our colleagues fill us with outrage and increases our strength and courage so that we can dream of a Honduras that is more just and that has opportunities for us.


[interview by Daniele Paletta, translated from Spanish by Helen Nolan]