UMKC student shines light on risk to gay community in Honduras

12/01/2013 9:20 PM

12/01/2013 9:20 PM

Two years ago, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, “Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

Clinton’s statement captured an important shift for the U.S.: How countries treat homosexuals would be considered in foreign policy decisions. A 24-year-old economics major at the University of Missouri-Kansas City is holding the United States to its word.

Melissa Stiehler returned from Honduras on Sunday. She was an official observer for the country’s presidential election, which was declared won by the ruling National Party. That outcome has been acknowledged by the State Department.

But Stiehler says she documented fraud in the election and rampant homophobia that has resulted in killings. Stiehler said problems included uncounted ballots, payment of cash and food for votes and intimidation through military police, who have been given more power since Manuel Zelaya was ousted as president. Zelaya’s wife ran as the candidate of the new Libre party. She was declared the second-highest vote-getter behind Juan Orlando Hernandez, an outcome Stiehler disputes.

The leftist Zelaya fell in a 2009 coup. The resulting instability has helped drive a horrendous statistic for the Central American country — the highest per capita murder rate in the hemisphere. At the same time, the gay community was also becoming more organized and vocal, supporting opposition to the new government. The political upheaval has given cover for homophobia so emboldened that more than 100 GLBT people have been murdered since 2010, according to reports. Some of the bodies were mutilated. And transgender people are often targeted for attack. Yet few of the cases have been prosecuted.

Attitudes unacceptable in the U.S. are at play, such as the excuse that an autopsy couldn’t be performed to prepare a murder case for fear that the victim had HIV.

Stiehler wants more people to understand what life is like for GLBTQIA Hondurans, similar to the risks that have been publicized in Iran, Russia and Uganda. Stiehler uses the broader acronym for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex (anatomy not exclusively male or female) and ally or asexual. She organized a group called Honduran Equality Delegation to oversee the effort, bringing 15 observers from several U.S. cities to the Honduran election.

“Politics goes hand in hand with the protection/acknowledgment of rights,” Stiehler wrote in an email while still in Honduras.


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