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Guatemala Should Do More for LGBT People

Strengthen Protections against Violence and Discrimination

Protest against the “Life and Family Protection” bill in Guatemala City, May 1, 2019. © Daniel Villatoro

“We know where you live, we’re going to kill you.” Those words echoed in Ale’s mind long after she left Guatemala to seek asylum. The men who threatened her had phoned to extort her nearly every day for two months in 2018, calling her homophobic slurs and misgendering her. 

Ale’s case was one of dozens that Human Rights Watch documented in a report published in March 2021 on violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Guatemala. Perpetrators included public security agents, gangs, and the  general public. Human Rights Watch conducted the research in 2019 and 2020, but 2021 is shaping up to be just as dangerous for LGBT Guatemalans. The Human Right Ombudsperson’s Office reports that during the first month of 2021, at least five gay and trans people were killed in the country. 

Guatemalan authorities should prioritize LGBT people’s protection, but they are often part of the problem. In Ale’s case, when she reported the calls to the police, they responded with homophobic slurs rather than assistance.

Last month, Galilea Monroy de León, director of the transgender rights organization REDMMUTRANS, said police stopped her in the street while searching for someone accused of stealing a firearm. When Monroy asked for a female police officer to search her, an officer said, “You are a man, look at your genitals.” Shoved against a wall, Monroy explained that she is a human rights defender. A police officer said, “To hell with human rights.” REDMMUTRANS is calling for an investigation into this incident by National Civil Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Cases like Monroy’s are common in Guatemala, and many authorities’ anti-LGBT bias leaves LGBT people exposed to insidious levels of violence and discrimination. Congress should take meaningful steps to increase protections for LGBT people, including by passing Initiative 5674, which would address hate crimes and require the government to establish a comprehensive national plan to protect LGBT and intersex rights. It should also scrap the discriminatory “Life and Family Protection” bill and stop harassing authorities for supporting LGBT rights.

Monroy says she is committed to getting justice for the discrimination she experienced so that other trans people do not face a similar fate. It is time that Guatemalan authorities join her in that fight.

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