Interview with Honduran gay resistance fighter Pepe Palacios

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Pepe Palacios is a member of the Movement for Sexual Diversity in Resistance (MDR), a Honduran lesbian, gay, bi and transgender organization. He is on the steering committee of the National Front of Popular Resistance, a broad coalition that opposes the current government, which took power in the 2009 U.S.-backed coup d’état that ousted elected president Manuel Zelaya.

Early this year, during a U.S. tour sponsored by Chicago’s Gay Liberation Network, Palacios publicized MDR’s campaign to demand justice for the 91 LGBT people who have been murdered in Honduras since the coup. Palacios was interviewed for the Freedom Socialist by Stephen Durham, a longtime gay activist and the Freedom Socialist Party’s U.S. presidential candidate in 2012.

FS — What is the history of the LGBT movement in Honduras, and what changes did the coup bring to the lives of gay people and their organizations?

PP — The LGBT movement started in the mid-’80s, largely in response to HIV/AIDS. These early organizations did remarkable work fighting HIV/AIDS in our community. They evolved from gay social clubs into NGOs, and focused on their own fight and weren’t aware of the other struggles going on around them by feminists, indigenous and Afro-Hondurans, union workers, and young people.

These NGOs became dependent on international development funds allocated exclusively to fight HIV/AIDS. As a result, even LGBT human rights demands were left out of their agendas.

In the beginning of Manuel Zelaya’s presidency, conditions for gays were similar to what they had been under previous rightist governments. But in 2008 the unrest that was sweeping across Latin America, the “socialist wave,” came to Honduras and Zelaya, too, shifted to the left.

Before the coup, President Zelaya asked LGBT organizations to support his campaign for a constitutional assembly. Most groups said yes, because Zelaya’s initiative offered an unprecedented opportunity to gain visibility and become part of a larger social movement that called for a new, inclusive constitution. So when Zelaya’s government was overthrown, LGBT people were in the streets from day one, demanding the restoration of democracy. That was our “Stonewall” — when we said “no more!”

FS — You are a co-founder of the Movement for Sexual Diversity in Resistance (MDR). How and why did your organization form?

PP — From its inception, the National Resistance Front invited LGBT organizations to join the steering committee. However, the coup regime responded with a wave of violence and 26 LGBT people were killed in seven months, including a well-known gay leader and resistance activist, Walter Tróchez. As a result, LGBT organizations decided to reduce their visibility and activism, and many abandoned their seats in the Resistance Front.

They didn’t understand that it was a historic and unique opportunity to finally advance the gay movement beyond its narrow focus on fighting HIV to a broader struggle for social justice and equality for all.

MDR was born “officially” in October 2010 by a group of LGTB activists who were socialists and resistance supporters. Many of us had been active in, or even founders of, gay NGOs. But when those agencies retreated, we decided to form a leftwing LGBT political organization. Our goal was to demand equal participation within the Resistance Front and to become a recognized voice that could fight for justice for all the hate crimes and assassinations against our LGBT community — but also support the struggles of all the social groups in resistance.

FS — Can you describe the role of MDR activists in the resistance movement against the current government of Porfirio Lobo and in the upcoming Honduran national elections in November?

PP — We have never recognized the current government, not just because of the coup, or the impunity with which murders of LGBT people continue; there are other reasons as well.

In 2004, when Porfirio Lobo was the Speaker of the House, he promoted a change to the constitution, which specified that marriage be between two persons of the opposite sex. He also called for reinstatement of the death penalty. One month later Porfirio Lobo won the nomination of his party with support from churches, conservatives, and the wealthy elite. However, Zelaya defeated him in the presidential elections the following year.

Last year the Resistance Front created its own electoral party and in the primary elections we had a gay man and a transgender woman running for congress. They didn’t win, but it was a major advance for the LGBT community. For the November elections the resistance presidential candidate is Xiomara Castro, Zelaya’s wife and the former first lady.

FS — The Obama administration says that respect for gay rights is now a factor in its foreign policy decisions. It has even sent FBI agents to Honduras to help prosecute cases of murder against gays — cases that the U.S.-backed government has refused to investigate. Can you explain this contradictory policy?

PP — For Obama, support for LGBT rights is synonymous with votes. He won the 2012 elections because of gay and Latin voters. So I’m not sure if Obama’s position is real and sincere. I think the FBI was sent down to work on gay murder cases due to pressure by human rights organizations, but also to protect Obama’s image among gay voters and to clean up the image of this repressive and homophobic government. The levels of violence in Honduras are the highest in the world: 85.5 murders per every 100,000 inhabitants.

The Obama administration said publicly that they were against the de facto regime that was installed, but we now know that the U.S. State Department knew about the plans to overthrow Zelaya. The plane that took Zelaya away first landed at the Palmerola U.S. military base in Honduras before proceeding on to Costa Rica.

FS — When you spoke at Columbia University in New York, I was impressed to hear you describe yourself as a socialist and feminist. How do you see those ideologies intersecting, and do many other gay and left activists in Honduras share your perspective?

PP — “If socialism is not feminist, there’s no socialism.” That’s not just a phrase, but also an absolute truth. Patriarchal culture has built a heterosexist and masculine society. If we don’t dismantle the patriarchy we can’t guarantee that we’ll have an equal and just society. So that must be one of the goals of any serious socialist movement.

Unfortunately, the patriarchy has permeated all social groups, even LGBT organizations, most of which are “G” organizations. They reproduce the machista culture: lesbians are treated as second-class citizens (as are all women in our society), and the trans population is treated the worst of all. Today there are few activists or leaders that share MDR’s socialist and feminist perspective, but our numbers are increasing.

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