Walter Trochez played pivotal role in bringing queer issues to fore in Resistance
Walter Trochez, a well-known 27-year-old queer democracy activist in Honduras, knew he was taking his life in his hands when he began a militant campaign to document and publicize 16 murders of LGBT Hondurans since the illegal June 28 coup d’etat that overthrew the country’s elected president and unleashed a reign of terror on civilian opponents.
And on the evening of Sunday, December 13, Trochez himself became the 17th victim of this post-coup wave of homo-hating murders, when drive-by gunmen, believed to be members of the state security forces, riddled his body with bullets and snuffed out his young life.
Trochez was not only beloved as an LGBT rights and AIDS activist, he was also a prominent active member of the National Resistance Front, the loose coalition of civil society organizations and citizen activists opposed to what Trochez called the “military-business-religious” coup d’etat, and his public insistence that the murders of queers were the responsibility of the same forces behind the coup cost him his life.
According to Adrienne Pine, an expert on Honduras who is assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, DC, and a senior research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, and who is in daily contact with the Honduran resistance and queer community, “Walter’s death has impacted the resistance more than most of the other victims of the regime because he played a key role both as a member of the resistance against the coup d’etat, but also within the resistance, challenging members of the resistance movement to confront their own homophobia and recognize solidarity in their shared struggle against the military-religious dictatorship.”
She added, “Thanks in large part to Walter, the LGBT movement is no longer the kid sister of the Honduran left; it is now front and center.”
Pine spent a portion of each of eight years in Honduras researching her recent book, “Working Hard, Drinking Hard: Violence and Survival in Honduras” (University of California Press), which portrays the daily lives and struggles of urban Hondurans in a country dependant on “the vast economic footprint in and ideological domination of the region by the United States.”
In an exclusive interview with Gay City News via e-mail from Honduras, LGBT activist Gabrie Mass, a 36-year-old architect and a friend of Trochez, spoke of his murdered comrade.
“I met Walter through his activism on behalf of the community of people living with HIV/ AIDS, as he himself had the disease,” Mass wrote to this reporter in Spanish, adding: “We became closer friends through our work in monitoring and raising awareness in the police stations and jails of the city [Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.] We have had to get so many of our friends and compañeros out of jail or help them to file complaints against the aggressions they suffered at the hands of the police and civilians because of our sexual identities and public gender expression.”
Mass described Trochez as “a good man who intensively prepared to be able to carry out his role as a human rights defender, which he did in a very humanitarian way. His work with us was admirable, in that he never stopped fighting and was full of energy — happy, dynamic, and always focused on learning and preparing himself to collaborate better with everyone.”
Mass said that the overwhelming majority of the Honduran queer community is opposed to the regime installed by the coup d’etat. “The entire LGBT community has created a coalition in resistance against the coup and the political-military regime now in power,” Mass wrote, because “it is understood that we have lost all our protections, including the most basic right — the right to life.”
According to the Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH, the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights in Honduras), which has been documenting human rights abuses and state violence against citizens since the June coup, on December 4, just nine days before his murder, Trochez was kidnapped by four masked men who beat him. The assailants threatened to kill Trochez because of his participation in the anti-coup movement and his insistence that the forces behind the coup had responsibility for the murders of LGBT people.
CIPRODEH reported that Trochez was kidnapped “by four hooded men who drove a gray pickup, without plates, presumably of the DNIC,” the national criminal investigation directorate. The group noted that several months earlier Trochez had complained that a vehicle with a similar description had been staking out his house, surveillance that forced him to move.
“On that day, the kidnappers told him they knew him well and they were going to kill him,” CIPRODEH reported. “They hooded him, insulted him, and began to interrogate him about the Resistance, asking for information about its leaders and its movements. At that time, he managed to escape alive, and the next day he filed a complaint with national and international authorities.”
In the widespread outpouring of grief in Honduras over Trochez’s murder, the statement released by the country’s most important and widely supported youth organization, Los Necios, which does grassroots organizing in neighborhoods all over the country, is particularly moving.
“We met Walter fighting; we quickly saw within him an indisputable leader in the defense of human rights,” said the Los Necios statement, adding, “As a member of the gay, lesbian, trans, and bisexual community, he became a leader in this struggle at the core of the Resistance against the coup d’etat, a struggle which for Honduran youth is paramount.”
The group continued, “Recently, he felt directly the fury of irrationality, the reactionary stupidity of the obsolete structures of power that sadly today exist in Honduras. The repressive forces that serve the businessmen and kill Hondurans kidnapped him and warned him that he should shut up. Walter, as was to be expected, said no. It was a relief to know that he bravely escaped from the grip of the beast, and was heartwarming to see him again in the streets this past Friday, December 11, when the force of the Resistance was felt in the streets. Of course the compañero Tróchez led the people’s march. Walter Tróchez was shot in cowardly betrayal this past December 13, giving his life for the pueblo as real heroes do.”
Asked by Gay City News why he thought Trochez had been murdered, LGBT activist Mass replied, “In the context of this political-military regime where there are no protections, I would put it this way: they are repressing the weakest link in the chain, hoping to give a warning about what we should NOT be doing as long as this regime is in power.”
Mass added that the assassination of Trochez “is really a warning for all those involved in reclaiming the human rights that have been taken from us — and this does not just pertain to Walter’s death, because as of today [December 20] they have taken the lives of 18 people in the LGBTI community in threatening and terrifying ways that have included the dismemberment of our travesti sisters, as in the recent case in San Pedro Sula.” (The “I” in LGBTI stands for “Intersex.”)
Mass was referring to the fact that, two days after the assassination of Trochez, the castrated and decapitated body of a young travesti in his early 20s was discovered in two plastic bags by a highway near San Pedro Sula, as the Honduran daily El Tiempo reported.
In Honduras, travesti is a term denoting a fluid male sexuality embracing both masculine and feminine elements and cross-dressing — or as Professor Pine put it to this reporter, “something akin to ‘chicks with dicks,’ and travestis frequently use masculine and feminine gender pronouns interchangeably to refer to themselves.”
The murdered travesti found at San Pedro Sula “was dressed in short shorts, a blouse, and was barefoot. His fingernails were painted. The body showed various knife wounds. They sliced off his genitals and his head was not found,” the newspaper said.
According to the Miami Herald, the 18 post-coup murders of LGBT people “is as many homophobic hate crimes as were recorded in the Central American country in the prior five years.”
Trochez’ friend Mass told Gay City News that the environment for Honduran LGBTs in the wake of his murder “is completely insecure. Our community walks the streets in fear and runs huge risks. Many of them are in hiding. It is dangerous to go out in public at certain hours, especially at night, in particular for trans and travesti sex workers and for people who, like Walter, carry out human rights monitoring and condom distribution in areas where the trans and travestis work.”
The reasons for Trochez’s assassination become clear if one reads his public declarations, like those in an Open Letter he released on November 16, just two and a half weeks before his kidnapping and beating by state security forces and less than a month before he was killed. In this Open Letter, in which he specifically named several dozen political and religious figures he considered responsible for justifying and encouraging violent human rights abuses and assaults on LGBT Hondurans, Trochez wrote of the “increase in hate and homophobic crimes promoted by the Honduran religious hierarchy in collusion with oppressive groups such as the Armed Forces, the National Security Secretariat, private enterprise, pro-life groups, and Opus Dei.”
Opus Dei is an ultra-conservative, secretive organization within the Catholic Church structure, founded in fascist Spain under the Franco dictatorship’s patronage, that has ties to rightist governments and politicians worldwide.
Trochez went on to say, “These crimes once again make evident the high levels of hate, stigmatizaion, and discrimination against sexually diverse people — what we call homophobia, lesbophobia, bi-phobia, and especially transgender-phobia — targeting those of us who have a sexual identity or orientation different from the conventional heterosexual norm. On the occasion of the loss of two more women friends this past week, we repeat, IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE to have had, in these last four months, in such a brief period of time, nine trans compañeras and gay compañeros murdered in such a cruel and inhuman manner, six of them in the San Pedro Sula sector and three in the city of Tegucigalpa.”
A list of the names of those murdered was appended to the Open Letter.
Trochez well understood the risks he was taking with such uncompromising public denunciations of the powerful. He closed his November 16 Open Letter with these words: “As a revolutionary I will be today, tomorrow, and forever in the first ranks of my people, all the while knowing that I may lose my life.”
But the shadow of the gunmen that fatally fell on Walter Trochez on December 13 can never eclipse the memory of his exemplary courage.
This reporter would like to thank Professor Adrienne Pine for multiple translation services in the preparation of this article. Pine’s blog, which contains the full texts of a number of Walter Trochez’s writings, articles and statements on his murder, and other updated human rights news from Honduras in translation, is at http://quotha.net/node/3. The Spanish-language web site of CIPRODEH (the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights in Honduras) is at ciprodeh.org.hn/. Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/.