a rainbow bracelet around his wrist, Pepe Palacios is smiling. He’s sipping a
mocha on a snowy Milwaukee Monday, not alarmed by the amount of snow that has
hit the city today, something he rarely sees at his home in Honduras. His trips
through Atlanta, Chicago, and up Interstate 94 don’t seem to have taxed him at
all, and he remains calm as he explains the events that have brought him to
Pepe Palacios on-air at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio. (photos by Gary Cozette)
He uses the
word “murder” so often that nearby coffee drinkers look over in alarm. In the
past three and a half years, violence and unrest have besieged Honduras and its
LGBT activists in particular – people like Palacios. The turmoil began on June
28, 2009, the day a military coup ushered President Manuel Zelaya from his home
and onto a plane bound for Costa Rica – all before he had a chance to change
out of his pajamas.
the military government, LGBT organizations allied with other social groups to
form the Honduras National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) and a political
party called LIBRE. Its candidates, who are sometimes gay or transgender, have
proven themselves to be legitimate competitors in Honduran elections.
same time, violence against LGBT citizens, especially transgender women, has
skyrocketed. “From 1994 to 2009, the reports say only 20 LGBT were killed,”
says Palacios. “In the three and a half years (since the coup) we have had 89.”
first of these killings happened on the day of the coup, and since then,
shadowy opponents have assassinated gay and transgender political candidates
and journalists. Palacios and other activists speculate that police forces, or
someone linked to them, are responsible.
has noticed the rise in deaths and the U.S. State Department advised the
Honduran national government to look into the crimes. Few, however, have been
investigated, and Palacios is in the U.S. asking for help.
the country’s LGBT groups are also launching a campaign against bullying and in
favor of sexual education in schools. “It’s not the time to ask for struggles
just related to the LGBT’s, so we’re not interested, for now, in equal
marriage,” he says. “There are some other things that need to be included in
the platform. For example, we don’t have a non-discrimination law. We need
that. Hate crimes don’t exist in the penal code.” Palacios and other activists
are pushing for additional penalties for hate crimes against LGBT members or
now, Palacios is seeking out Americans who would be willing to observe the
country’s November elections. LIBRE fears the current government or military
could launch yet another coup if their candidates fare poorly.
afraid of putting himself in the spotlight and becoming the next target. “We
have talked about it many times,” he says. “We don’t care. If you stick back,
they win. They want us to be scared. We can’t stop now. We don’t have time to
think about it.”
conservative Catholic culture in Honduras, many voters are less than receptive
to LGBT candidates. Palacios’ own mother disapproved of homosexuality, though
he still considers himself lucky. In the final days of her life, she asked if
he was happy with the life he was living, he says, as if that was all that
the coffee break by shoving his rainbow bracelet into the sleeve of a heavy
winter coat, and he heads out into the snow.
stop: A presentation at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center at 7 p.m. tonight.