Sexuality Policy Watch

IACHR Publishes Report on Violence against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Persons

December 7, 2015

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights today is publishing a regional report on the violence perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) persons or those perceived as LGBTI; persons with non-normative sexual orientations or gender identities and expressions; or those whose bodies differ from the socially accepted male or female standard. Some countries in the region have made significant progress in recognizing the rights of LGBTI persons, but there are still high rates of violence in all countries of the region. As the many testimonies included in the report show, this violence tends to be extremely brutal and cruel. Moreover, the everyday violence that affects LGBTI persons is often invisible, as it is not reported to the authorities or covered by the media.

The report focuses on violence against LGBTI persons as a complex and multifaceted social phenomenon and not just as an isolated incident or individual act. For example, violence against intersex persons is based on prejudice toward body diversity and specifically toward those whose bodies differ from what is considered male or female. The violence suffered by intersex persons for the most part is different from that suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) persons. Many acts of violence against LGBT persons—often known as hate crimes—are better understood as part of the concept of violence based on prejudice toward non-normative sexualities and identities. Different sexual orientations and identities challenge fundamental heteronormative notions about sex, sexuality, and gender. In this sense, violence and sexual violence against LGBT persons are used to punish and denigrate those who do not fit into these concepts because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. This violence also has a symbolic impact, as it sends a message of terror to the entire LGBT community.

The report addresses the varied forms of violence against each of these population groups. According to the Registry of Violence against LGBT Persons, which the IACHR maintained for a 15-month period in 2013 and 2014, gay men and trans women account for the majority of the victims of killings and acts of police abuse. Lesbian women and bisexual persons are particularly affected by intrafamily violence and sexual violence. Trans women, for their part, are the group most affected by police violence, especially in the context of sex work. In the vast majority of cases, they are caught up in a cycle of violence, discrimination, and criminalization which tends to begin at a very early age, because of the exclusion and violence they suffer in their homes, educational centers, and communities; this is reinforced by the lack of legal recognition of their gender identity in most countries of the region.

Meanwhile, the violence that affects intersex persons is very different. Intersex children are often forced to undergo surgical operations and procedures that, for the most part, are not medically necessary, for the sole purpose of changing their genitals to look more like those of a boy or a girl. These surgeries, which are irreversible in nature, tend to be done without their consent—on newborn babies or very young children—and can cause enormous harm to intersex persons, including chronic pain, loss of genital sensitivity, sterilization, trauma, and reduced ability or inability to feel sexual pleasure.

The report also analyzes how the situation of violence faced by LGBTI persons intersects with other factors such as ethnicity, race, sex, gender, migration situation, status as a human rights defender, and poverty. These groups can suffer an unending cycle of violence and discrimination caused by impunity and lack of access to justice. For example, there is a strong link between poverty, exclusion, and violence. LGBT persons who live in poverty are more vulnerable to police profiling and harassment, and therefore to higher rates of criminalization and incarceration. Likewise, LGBT young people generally have limited access to housing, which increases their risk of becoming victims of violence.

The vast majority of killings and acts of violence against LGBTI persons go unpunished. There are a number of obstacles standing in the way of access to justice for LGBTI persons and their family members; these include, among others, fear of filing complaints, underreporting of the problem, an inadequate approach to the problem by State agents, and flawed investigations. States’ failure to effectively apply due diligence to prevent, investigate, punish, and provide reparation for the killings and other violent crimes perpetrated against LGBTI persons is closely related to State agents’ prejudices and stereotypes toward the victims. When States do not carry out thorough and impartial investigations into violence against LGBTI persons—as in the majority of cases—this leads to impunity for these crimes; this sends a strong message to society that violence is condoned and tolerated, which generates even more violence and leads victims to distrust the justice system.

There is an inherent connection between discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons in the Americas. In this context, there is also a connection between discriminatory laws and violence. An example of this is the type of laws that criminalize sexual relations and/or other expressions of consensual same-sex intimacy, as well as non-normative gender expressions. Laws on sodomy, serious or gross indecency, and protection of “public morals” and “good customs,” among others, continue to be a serious problem in the majority of countries of the Anglophone Caribbean. Although these laws tend not to be enforced, their existence is used to hassle, persecute, harass, and threaten persons with different sexual orientations or gender identity or expressions, actual or perceived. These types of laws contribute to a context that condones discrimination, stigma, and violence against LGBT persons, reinforcing existing social prejudices.

The report also addresses the relationship between the right to equality and the right to freedom of expression. Specifically, the American Convention on Human Rights prohibits “any advocacy of…hatred” that constitutes incitement “to lawless violence or to any other similar action against any person or group of persons.” In the report, the IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression assert that advocacy of hatred that incites lawless violence against a group based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or body diversity is included in the types of expression prohibited by the American Convention.

In the report, the IACHR urges the OAS Member States to investigate and punish crimes and acts of violence against LGBTI persons with due diligence. Considering the large number of acts of violence and the brutality and cruelty with which they are perpetrated, the Commission recommends that whenever an investigation is opened, it should include the hypothesis that violence based on prejudice could be involved. In addition, the States should systematically collect statistical information on violence against LGBTI persons and on access to justice, so as to be able to identify the reasons behind the alarmingly high levels of impunity. The report also recommends that the States adopt broad measures to combat discrimination, prejudice, and social and cultural stereotypes against LGBTI persons. States should adopt preventive and educational measures to address and combat hate speech against LGBTI persons and repeal laws that criminalize non-normative gender expressions and sexual relations and other expressions of consensual intimacy that take place in private between persons of the same sex. The report includes more than 100 recommendations to the States to address and solve this serious problem.

The English version of this report will be published in the near future.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

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