Hope and Backlash on LGBT Human Rights in the Dominican Republic

A gay couple arrested arbitrarily by police, a transgender man unable to get a job because of transphobia, and thirty-three transgender women killed since 2006 in possible hate-motivated murders. These are some of the people I heard about when I traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2015.

While these stories—and the larger homophobic and transphobic climate they illustrate—are disturbing, I nonetheless left with a sense of hope, inspired by LGBT activists’ efforts to transform their society.  Recently, I was reminded of the tenacity with which they advocate for human rights.

On January 5, 2016, a group of Dominican religious and civic leaders penned a letter to the Dominican government suggesting that U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster be ousted from the country. The group claimed the U.S. government and Ambassador Brewster are leading a “sacrosanct crusade for homosexuality.” They criticized Brewster’s openly gay status and his participation in events such as the July 2015 LGBT Pride Parade.

A coalition of Dominican LGBT activists and organizations responded to these leaders with an open letter. They asserted that “a democratic society cannot be based on discrimination against any one of its populations” and the country must strive toward “a society capable of recognizing the rights of all.” They outlined the daily violence and discrimination LGBT Dominicans face and called on these leaders, as well as Dominican politicians, lawmakers, religious leaders, and others to support the full inclusion of all segments of the population, including LGBT people.

In my meetings with some of these activists, they cited the historic political power of the Catholic Church and the vocal homophobia of religious leaders as an obstacle to the full realization of the rights of LGBT people. But as the recent open letter demonstrates, LGBT activists are working every day in defense of the rights of LGBT Dominicans. In addition to efforts to transform societal attitudes, they provide direct services to members of the LGBT community and engage in national and international advocacy, calling for enhanced legal protections for LGBT people and accountability for violations.

Human Rights First’s December 2015 report, Hope Will Prevail: Advancing the Human Rights of LGBT People in the Dominican Republic, highlights the challenges facing the LGBT community and the tireless efforts of civil society to turn the tide. The United States should continue to support their efforts. Human Rights First’s report outlines concrete steps the United States can take to bolster support for local activists. In doing so, the United States can play a key role in pushing for what the activists defined as a truly democratic society—one that is “capable of recognizing the rights of all.”

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Published on January 20, 2016

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