Guatemala + 3 more

The impact of violence on LGBTI people in the North of Central America, September 2019

Originally published


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people face discrimination, human rights violations and persecution across the world, particularly in societies where their sexual orientations, gender expressions, identities, or bodies do not fit the established cultural norms1. This discrimination is particularly severe in the North of Central America (NCA), where LGBTI people are disproportionately impacted by the high levels of generalised violence. A comprehensive overview of the ongoing violations is difficult to obtain, due to the lack of disaggregated data collection and various barriers impeding people from making official reports. However, the available existing evidence shows that LGBTI people face rejection from their families, communities and wider society, and additional barriers in accessing basic services such as health and education, as well as employment. As reported by LGBTI rights organisations, this is exacerbated by the absence of a protective legal framework, the guarantee of basic rights, and persecution from criminal groups and state actors.

For many affected people, the only available coping mechanism is internal or cross-border displacement, and seeking asylum in the United States or Mexico (although not all those who are forcibly displaced seek asylum and many are unaware of their right to do so). International protection mechanisms exist for LGBTI persons, under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees2 (with most qualifying as ‘a determined social group’) and the principles of Yogyakarta3 which establish the right to seek and qualify for asylum for people escaping persecution related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

The governments of the three NCA states have been reluctant to design and implement measures guaranteeing protection, assistance and access to justice for LGBTI people. The progress that has been made towards guaranteeing rights has been obtained largely through the advocacy efforts of LGBTI organisations. In contrast, the humanitarian sector has little capacity to provide a differentiated response to the specific needs of LGBTI people, especially those displaced.

This snapshot analyses the main risks for LGBTI people in the NCA, particularly in the context of criminal violence. It highlights: an overview on access to basic rights; the main agents of persecution; the latest available data on human rights violations; the situation of displaced LGBTI people; and the main actions that states and the humanitarian sector must focus on in order to meet the needs.

Key Messages

  • LGBTI people in the NCA face structural, family, community, criminal and state violence, and a lack of legal protection.
  • Human rights abuses are underreported in official registries. At least 243 homicides were registered by civil society organisations in the last 5 years.
  • These different forms of violence impede access to education, employment and basic services. In El Salvador, only 50% of displaced LGBTI people studied beyond primary school.
  • Displacement is a protection coping mechanism. 88% of LGBTI asylum seekers from the NCA suffered sexual and gender-based violence in their countries of origin.