Nestor Hernandez, gay activist and founder of the organization Honduras Diversa, shares with Latina Republic his vision of a safe, equitable, and inclusive Honduras – and his personal experience receiving homophobic attacks and threats.
Hernandez alleges that he and his organization were targeted in February by members of Honduras’ national police for posting online about the death of Keyla Martinez in police custody.
He sees it as essential to provide safe spaces – both physical and virtual – for LGBTQ Hondurans who aren’t protected by any anti-discrimination laws, leading many of them to leave their homes in hope of refuge in another country. Hernandez, who sought refuge in Spain in 2019, returned to Honduras after 9 months to be an “agent of change” in his community.
Hernandez is also the digital strategist for Reportar Sin Miedo, Honduras’ first LGBTQ-focused publication.
Latina Republic: What’s it like to be an LGBT youth in Honduras?
Nestor Hernandez: As youths we are the main victims of violence throughout the country; as LGBT people we’re segregated, discriminated against, attacked, threatened and assassinated for not complying with heterosexual and fundamentalist society.
We’re victims of state, social and cultural violence; the media always sensationalizes politics to maintain their high ratings at the expense of LGBT people; religious leaders constantly perpetuate hate speech saying that homosexuality is a sin, that you’ll go to hell for being gay, that you’ve got a devil inside of you.
At the political level none of the parties are interested in making legal changes that would result in stopping the violence that LGBT people fall victim to. We never know what might happen to us. We don’t know if we might be alive today and tomorrow we could be dead, because of all the disappearances and attacks that happen in this country. The Lesbian Cattrachas Network (La Red Lesbica de Cattrachas) has recorded 373 hate crimes against LGBT people since 2009 – people killed for being different from the norm imposed by the patriarchal system.
LR: I was fascinated by a phrase you used in an interview with El Pais – you said: “Coming out of the closet in Honduras exposes you to being killed; and not doing it, by suicide.” Could you elaborate on what you meant by that?
NH: Most of the time coming out of the closet in Honduras is synonymous with being thrown out of your house by your parents, being sent to a psychologist, or having a priest or minister perform an alleged exorcism to free you of your supposed demons. It also means being the victim of violence within your family, and potentially the cruel and inhumane treatment could lead you to suicide. Because here it’s criminalized to be who you are, it’s a sin to be openly LGBT – but at the same time if you’re a narco trafficker or an assassin, a womanizer, or machista, you’re applauded by an extremely hypocritical society.
LR: I imagine that it’s practically impossible to register how many people commit suicide specifically due to their sexual orientation or gender identity?
NH: Yes, especially because more often than not the family tries to hide the reason why the person committed suicide. In the cases that I’m familiar with it’s often been their friends, rather than their relatives, that report everything to us. The families never ask for help in how to be allies. Our life is almost like the film Prayers for Bobby.
LR: What conditions were you facing that led you to seek refuge in Spain?
NH: More than anything it was because of a series of threats, being pursued, and the assassination of my family members – given that the new modus operandi of criminals is to attack the people that you love the most and in many cases that means targeting people’s family members.
And not getting any response from the state’s justice system – the national mechanism of protection didn’t do anything for my situation. In 2019 the stress [of the situation] led me to ask for help from international organizations – the LGBTI organization ALDARTE in the Basque Country referred me to The Basque Country’s Program For the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
I was going to be there for six months, in a temporary shelter system with two other people from Colombia, where we met with different Basque Country government institutions, with the media, and led conversations about the situation our countries in the Global South are facing.
After I returned to Honduras in October El Pais published their article [about me]. I was living with my parents again and for a second time I was threatened and attacked – people gathered outside of my parent’s house shouting through megaphones, “Get out of there chicken [culero], we don’t want chickens here!”
It’s all recorded on video, and once again I asked for help from the protection mechanism for Human Rights Defenders – they gave me a negative response saying that the facts weren’t there. In short what I’m trying to say is that people needed to have hit me, they needed to have shot at me, they needed to kill me – before the mechanism could be activated.
Then on February 17 we received threats from anonymous profiles on [Honduras Diversa’s] social media pages and on my personal accounts [allegedly] from national police officers. They also hacked our organization’s Instagram account, and wrote saying that we had to stop writing about the case of Keyla Martinez – [a 26-year old nurse] who was assassinated by national police officers [in police custody] in Intibuca, Honduras.
Through social media Honduras Diversa had the most impact [in creating awareness] nationally and internationally, and then on February 17 they began to threaten us. We reported all of this to the national protection mechanism, but at the same time we didn’t want to cause a scandal or give any visibility to what happened, because we didn’t want to turn ourselves into protagonists.
Because our goal was to demand #JusticiaParaKelya (Justice For Keyla). In this case criminal networks within national security agencies tapped our cellphones and computers because they knew our IP locations. In my case [I believe that] government agents actually wrote to me saying they knew exactly where I was living (providing the exact address of my home), and that I was the one making all of the publications.
[Hernandez’s situation has since improved and he is living in a safe location].
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LR: Why did you decide to return to Honduras from Spain, given the threats you were facing?
NH: Because I’m a Human Rights defender in love with the fight – my entire life is dedicated to wanting to change a system that historically has oppressed me. I returned because I don’t like the country where I live and I think that as an agent of change I can promote changes – like Mahatma Gandhi says, “we’re the change that we want to see in the world.”
Spain seemed almost perfect to me, I loved it, I met people very special in my life, I even fell in love with one of them; Spain showed me both the weakest and strongest versions of myself. But I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than to be here standing in the fight – but at the same time with one foot in the grave. Often we need to risk our lives and you don’t get any type of legal support or interest from the state. I want to transform and deconstruct the society we live in to create one that’s more just, diverse, and equitative.
LR: While you were in Spain did you meet a lot of other LGBTQ people from Honduras?
NH: I asked the Basque program to let me meet with LGBT Hondurans that were seeking asylum or that had asylum so that I could get to know their experiences and stories beyond simply why they had left the country;I got to know about five [of them]. But in December of last year I met a lot more when the organization that works with immigrants and asylum seekers in the Basque Country started a campaign called “stories with a lot of weight” (historias con mucho peso) – that makes visible the weights that immigrants carry, like the story of Kimora who shared that just the fact of being part of the LGBT community limits your access to work.
So often people say that “five thousand Hondurans arrived, or five thousand Hondurans are seeking asylum in Spain, or fifteen thousand people are seeking asylum at the border with the United States from migrant caravans. But they only say the numbers – they don’t tell the stories behind those numbers. How many people had to turn back because they fell off of the train and broke their leg? How many people were kidnapped by organized crime?
How many women have been kidnapped or been victims of rape? How many people were kidnapped and killed because their families couldn’t pay the ransom to free them? Nobody tells those stories – they tell how many arrive, but not how many were left behind.
LR: What are some of the strategies that you’ve developed to protect LGBTQ youth in Honduras? In other words, what’s the change you want to be in the world?
NH: We work to create visibility and community – something that’s historically been missing in Honduras’ LGBT collective. We call out all acts of discrimination and expose politicians that promote hate speach. Right now we’re trying to fund a shelter for LGBTQ youth that have to leave their houses because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, basing it off of Casa Frida in Mexico City.
We need support networks at the international level from LGBT people that want to collaborate, to be able to maintain the center. Currently we have a network of contacts with organizations that provide services to people that are victims of violence, and in cases of forced displacement. We accompany them, and help them with reporting cases of human rights violations and violence against LGBTQ people.
Right now we’re creating safe spaces on social media and reporting pages or profiles that make publications against LGBT people. [A few weeks ago] we reported a media company called MixFM, that creates entertainment content that promotes discrimination and violence against LGBT people.
LR: How do you make sure that while you’re visibilizing the LGBT community you aren’t also inviting more homophobic threats or attacks?
NH: Our strategies are different from the campaigns that other organizations use – other organizations basically ask you not to discriminate against them – “don’t discriminate against me for being gay,” “we’re all equal,” – no. In contrast we try to build an internal community – telling our own community you’re important, you’re valuable, you deserve to be respected – working from the inside.
Because if we don’t work from the inside we won’t be able to work externally. So we need to create a community, a help network. And that’s exactly what’s been happening on social media – when a homophobic person comments something thirty people come and debate their argument. The youth is learning, and they’re the agents of change that perhaps can only do a little right now, but it’s all we can do because of the pandemic.
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Members of Honduras Diversa paint a street with the colors of the rainbow to create visibility.
LR: What’s your role in collaborating with Reportar Sin Miedo?
NH: I help give them the spotlight from an LGBT and inclusive decolonial perspective. I make publications and create content – images, videos – that can have an impact on society. I create communication strategies that can effectively transmit diverse and participative journalism, that’s at the same time informative and has a humanistic focus – not like the sensationalist focus that’s typical in the Honduran press.
LR: Could you elaborate more on the difference between traditional Honduran journalism and Reportar Sin Miedo? Why is Reportar Sin Miedo important?
NH: It’s important because it’s a humanistic publication – what we’re trying to do is humanize stories, more than just reporting “they killed five people for this and that reason.” We don’t say “they killed a transexual.” I’ll give you an example of a typical Honduran headline: “They killed a man dressed as a woman in the streets.”
What Reportar Sin Miedo tries to do is tell the backstory – why does that person need to have justice? Why doesn’t the country’s system give justice to 91% of hate crimes? It’s just that – transforming the traditional sensationalism and victimization [of the mainstream media] into something more humanistic, and telling a story – without re-victimizing the victim.
LR: Could you explain to me what the “disforia of thought” means to you?
NH: It’s something I’ve recently started to work on – I published an article in Reportar Sin Miedo where I worked out what I think it could be from my own experience. What I’m trying to focus on with the disforia of thought is basically the rejection of how we manage emotions related to our mental health. It’s the rejection of the way of thinking in the collective unconscious we were created with – the machista, patriarchal, misogynist, LGBT-fobic, racist, and colonial collective unconscious – and changing it to a much more critical way of thinking.
A way of thinking that tells us what type of agents of change we’re going to be in the world or in this society. What role are we going to play as conscious and de-constructed people? It’s something that I want to finish writing or refining with the help of other people that might know more about philosophy and social anthropology, and to be able to put together a full theory, of what the disforia of thought could be, as a rejection of this collective unconscious that we were built with, deconstructing it, and reconstructing ourselves as people.
To learn more about Honduras’ LGBTQ population – both their resilience and their struggles – Hernandez recommends this documentary:
Dashiell is a graduate of Reed College where he studied Latin American and Peninsular Spanish literature. At Latina Republic, Dashiell elevates the voices of activists and organizers that work to promote human rights and immigrant rights throughout Mexico. His work contributes to the organization’s mission of breaking stereotypes and bringing attention to underreported stories throughout Latin America.