On December 17th2014, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) launched its first consolidated Overview of the violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Based on the IACHR’s mandate to monitor the human rights situation in the Americas, the Rapporteurship on the Rights of LGBTI persons documented acts of violence against these persons during a period of fifteen-months (between January 1st 2013 and March 31st 2014). Gabriel Alves de Faria was a Fellow and consultant lawyer at the LGBTI Rapporteurship of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC, during this documentation period.
Among the striking findings in Overview report, one received special attention and entitled the press release for the Overview- the lack of data collection. Since 2008, seven Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly Resolutions on sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression were unanimously signed by all OAS Member States. As one of the recommendations, States agreed to produce data on violence against LGBTI persons, with a view of fostering public policies. However, with a few exceptions, States have failed to comply with it.
Data collection is essential to draw attention to the issue and is the first step to human rights implementation. Without collection, data analysis is not possible. The lack of official information on the situation of LGBTI persons, particularly in regards to the violence faced by them for being and expressing who they are, contributes to the invisibility of the issue, to the inertia on elaborating public policies and, moreover, gives society a message of passivity and consent to the human rights violations, including the right to life and the right to physical and mental integrity.
Public data collection requires political will from specially those who are part of decision making process. Given that heteronormative and cisgender norms are understood by the majority as normal and mandatory and, per consequence, everything different than that may be abnormal or wrong, the situation and human rights of LGBTI persons are constantly diminished by the legislative, executive, judiciary and public opinion. These two norms are so impregnated in the roots of society to the extent that it becomes hard for many to understand the importance of assessing the situation of LGBTI persons and creating special policies aimed at fighting for the protection of their human rights.
“We accept their lifestyle, but why would they deserve special protection?”
In this sense, the Overview issued by the IACHR, together with a detailed registry of each act of violence, is an attempt to bring visibility to this situation and to the constant abuses faced by LGBTI people. This is good practice that needs to be replicated by States in order to create official data on the issue. Moreover, the launched report should be used by both States and civil society organizations for the elaboration of strategies based on specific needs and challenges highlighted throughout the Overview.
From a regional human rights body perspective, a challenge derived from the lack of official data is the risk to punish those States who do have mechanisms in place to collect data, such as Brazil, or have an organized civil society movement monitoring the violence against LGBT persons, such as Colombia. The disparity in data collection may give the false impression that LGBTI persons are more endangered in these countries than in the others that do not generate information. Out of the 35 OAS Member States, the Commission did not receive information of a single case of violence against LGBT or I persons in 10 countries. Some States admit the lack of data collection, but others would enforce the idea that acts of violence against LGBTI persons are inexistent.
In regards to the process of compiling and analyzing the gathered data, it is important to explain that, besides the contribution of some States, the Registry report relied on different daily sources of media and monthly and/or annual reports from local and international civil society organizations. Besides regular communication through the Permanent Missions, States had the chance to send their contribution by completing a questionnaire that was prepared and sent by the LGBTI Rapporteurship. This questionnaire was created to serve as a fundamental source to the first Report on the situation of LGBTI persons and violence expected to be launched this year.
As for the drafting of the Overview, all the information was processed and analyzed by the LGBTI Rapporteurship team, which was composed of three full time lawyers, with the guidance, constant feedback and revision of the Rapporteur on the Rights of LGBTI persons, Commissioner Tracy Robinson, who is the former President of the IACHR, besides the inputs and approval of those in head of the Executive Secretariat of the Commission. During the exercise, the team received information of extremely violent cases, accompanied by disturbing pictures. However, the daily data collection and analysis over a long period of time was crucial to indicate patterns of the violence against LGBTI persons in the region.
In regards to the content of the registry and overview, some information that was previously collected, such as general violence against LGBTI persons without apparent discriminative elements, ended up being removed. The registry focused on acts of violence where the abuse of human rights based on the sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression was clear and direct. The high levels of cruelty present in these acts are the main indicators of the violence based on prejudice present in these cases (usually referred as hate crimes).
Some findings concluded from the registry’s analysis are worth further discussion. Firstly, the Commission expressed its difficulty in asserting the sexual orientation or gender identity of victims. This happens because many of the victims were found dead and media or local officials did not take into consideration their self-identification. It becomes impossible to the Commission to confirm how the victim identified her/himself.
For instance, a bisexual person who was killed is often assumed to be a lesbian woman or a gay man because the circumstances of the crime suggested a homosexual element. Furthermore, many of the trans women were referred as “gay men on male clothing”. Similarly, some articles in the media would write about the killing of a gay man, but pictures would indicate that the victim was a trans person. In these cases, the best is to ask how that person identified her/himself and avoid stigmatising assumptions. By these findings, it is possible to conclude that the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity are still unclear and misused by media and public in general.
For example, in Guyana, media reported that “Two gay sex workers were found murdered… dressed in woman’s clothing and wearing a wig”. No mention is made of the gender identity of the victims.
Another systematic issue highlighted in the Overview report was the perception by a perpetrator that the victim had transgressed accepted gender norms. Some of the victims were killed just because of the fact that the perpetrator perceived them as LGBTI. For example, four years ago in Sao Paulo, a father who was hugging his son in public was brutally attacked by 7 men, because the family members were perceived to be gay couple. Such perception is frequently based on a discriminatory judgment of the victim’s gender expression. In a society where heterosexuality is mandatory, violence against LGBTI persons if often used either to undermine or to exterminate the different.
The IACHR reporting was never intended be an exhaustive compilation of all acts of violence that took place in the region. Many cases of violence against LGBTI persons are underreported. The main reasons for this include that victims are afraid of reprisals, reluctant to identify themselves as LGBTI because of stigma and discrimination, or do not trust the police or the justice system.
One of thee most striking figures in the Overview report is that life expectancy of trans women in the Latin America is between 30 and 35 years of age. Trans women constantly face double discrimination because of the interaction of gender and issues around their gender identity/expression and they are more exposed to violence, especially those related to sex work. Moreover, many would suffer triple discrimination because of their race. In this sense, States also fail to create data that take in consideration multiple forms of discrimination such as the aforementioned ones.
Besides the general invisibility of violence against LGBTI persons, the Overview report by the IACHR concluded that information about violence against trans men, bisexual persons and intersex persons is particularly lacking.
Finally, the Commission was able to present a clear narrative and good recommendations to States. Despite the huge legal and de facto differences in the region towards the rights of LGBTI persons, the LGBTI Rapporteurship was able to give an overall picture of the whole situation and tackle issues that are present in the entire region. This is an important first step. Without doubts, violence against LGBTI Rapporteurship, and the lack of data collection, are major challenges that all OAS Member States must address.
While the first regional Report of the IACHR on the violence against LGBTI persons is not yet published, the Overview is the most comprehensive analysis made to date by the LGBTI Rapporteurship. The expectation is that States comply with the recommendations and now civil society has another instrument to handle States accountable. Social change requires the participation of all, but States have the final responsibility of assuring the respect, protection and fulfillment of everyone’s human rights, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and/or body diversity.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Gabriel Alves de Faria is a Brazilian lawyer, LGBTI activist and human rights specialist who holds a Law Degree from the Federal University of Espírito Santo and is an E.MA Alumni 2012/2013. In his second semester at E.MA, he studied at Utrecht University, the Netherlands, and wrote his MA thesis on The European Court of Human Rights’ approach to the best interests of the child in LGBT parenting cases (published http://www.familyandlaw.eu/tijdschrift/fenr/2015/04/FENR-D-15-00002). Among other legal and social experiences on the human rights field, Gabriel has worked as a Researcher in Comparative Sexual Orientation Law at Leiden University and mostly recent as a Fellow and consultant lawyer at the LGBTI Rapporteurship of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC. He is now working on an independent project – a documentary on the situation of LGBTI persons in Southeast Asia. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .