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MADRE and Partners Advance LGBT Rights in Haiti

On January 1, 2013, two men were beaten and mugged outside their home. They were targeted because their attackers thought they were gay. On February 10, 2013, a group of men carrying knives, machetes, bottles and metal sticks returned to the scene. The gang called the two men "faggots, " threw bottles at them, and threatened to burn their home down. The two men called the police.

The first police officers refused to enter what they termed an "at risk" zone. Meanwhile, the gang members increased their threats, saying they would "kill one of them." The two men called the police again, bringing officers who fired shots into the air. Hearing the shots, the gang yelled, "You called the police. We're going to kill you now." But instead, they fled. The police told the two men to grab their belongings and abandon their home.

Discrimination: Pervasive and Normalized

Discrimination and violence against Haiti's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are common. Diversity in sexual orientation or gender identity is still taboo in the mostly conservative society.

Haitian organizations that work with LGBT people tell MADRE that prejudice and discrimination against LGBT individuals has become normal and violence against them is widespread.

Lesbians are targeted with "corrective rape." In these assaults, rapists claim to "correct" lesbians' sexual orientation through forced sex.

A preacher in Cap-Haitien called three transgender people attending a friend's funeral "demons in the church." He later contacted the police and had them arrested.

Radio stations with wide audiences play songs with lyrics like "kill the gays" and "gays are guilty of the situation in Haiti." Church leaders and journalists continue to preach that gay men and other LGBT "sinners" caused the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti by bringing on the wrath of God.

Political, religious, and media figures with heavy influence in Haitian society perpetuate widespread discrimination that is a one of the major causes of the violence LGBT people routinely experience.

Forced into the Shadows

LGBT individuals in Haiti do not feel safe admitting their sexual orientation or gender identity. They fear discrimination and rejection from their families, close-knit communities, and deeply traditional religious cultures. They also fear violence.

As in other places, LGBT Haitians who are not "out" often feel alienated from family and friends, and LGBT people who are "out" are often rejected by and separated from family and friends. As a result, many LGBT people have weakened support systems, making them more vulnerable to violence and harassment – both from strangers and people they know. LGBT service providers receive regular reports of targeted physical attacks from family members and neighbors.

In one recent case, an openly gay man died from injuries sustained after his close neighbor sexually assaulted him. In another instance, a woman reported harassment in her neighborhood with calls of "here comes the lesbian." One night two neighbors physically assaulted her, forcing her to flee her home. Three people broke into the house of a man they knew was gay and threatened him if he did not leave the neighborhood.

Impunity Perpetuates Violence

People attack and discriminate against LGBT Haitians without consequence. Police, prosecutors, judges and lawyers lack training or sensitivity on LGBT issues and are often, like so many others, personally prejudiced.

Recently, when a husband was accused of murdering his wife, the judge dismissed the case after learning that the victim was a lesbian. Very few Haitian lawyers are willing to represent LGBT individuals out of fear or their own prejudices. Attorneys willing to take these cases struggle at every level of the justice system.

Haitian law demands equality and safety for its citizens and generally follows international human rights standards. But Haitian law does not explicitly provide protections against violence and discrimination for LGBT people.

LGBT Movement Gaining Momentum in Haiti

Under the constant threat of violence, activism around sexual orientation and gender identity rights in Haiti has developed cautiously. During the past three or four years, small grassroots organizations have begun to speak out about LGBT rights, at great risk to their own safety.

MADRE is working with local human rights groups across Haiti, including FACSDIS, SEROvie and KOURAJ. We are calling on the government to recognize LGBT people as protected classes and ensure equal protection of the law to all its citizens, develop an anti-discrimination task force with a special focus on preventing and addressing violence and discrimination against LGBT people, and initiate trainings to promote sensitivity to LGBT issues among government employees in the health, justice and other sectors.

MADRE is honored to partner with brave LGBT grassroots activists, who risk their lives daily to secure human rights for all.