Hope will Prevail: Advancing the Human Rights of LGBT People in the Dominican Republic
Human Rights First traveled to the Dominican Republic in June and August of 2015 and spoke to activists, Dominican officials, and the U.S. Ambassador about the state of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the country. Despite systematic violence and discrimination against LGBT Dominicans, activists are working to advance the human rights of LGBT people through direct services, advocacy, and efforts to transform societal attitudes. The arrival of openly gay U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster in 2013 opened dialogue. The United States should take the opportunity this opening represents to bolster its support for civil society and take concrete actions to advance the human rights of LGBT Dominicans.
LGBT Dominicans face a range of human rights concerns including violence, discrimination, hate crimes, lack of access to justice, impunity for perpetrators, and societal homophobia and transphobia. Some sections of Dominican law explicitly protect segments of the LGBT community, including youth and those living with HIV/AIDS. The Dominican Constitution purports to protect all Dominican citizens from discrimination and this protection necessarily extends to members of the LGBT community. International instruments to which the country is party have also been interpreted to protect the LGBT community.
Nonetheless, certain domestic laws directly contradict the protections offered through the constitution, the domestic legal system, and international law. A police regulation criminalizes same-sex sexual activity among the police force and the Dominican government does not allow same-sex marriage. The country also lacks comprehensive nondiscrimination and hate crime laws. Transgender people also lack legal recognition of their gender identity. Despite legal obstacles and vacuums, pending legal changes and initiatives show promise for change if enacted and fully implemented.
LGBT Dominicans face the threat of violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Transgender people are particularly vulnerable to violence and civil society groups have documented dozens of cases of possible hate crime murders of transgender women since 2006. Many transgender women feel forced into sex work given their limited opportunities and marginalization. In this context, they are even more vulnerable to violence. Lesbians and transgender people also face the threat of gender-based violence and so-called “corrective” rape.
LGBT Dominicans also experience discrimination in accessing services including housing, employment, education, and healthcare. Many LGBT Dominicans—and transgender people in particular—do not visit hospitals and health centers given prior experiences of ridicule and stigmatization by healthcare professionals and administrative staff.
Activists denounce the police’s complicity in many cases of violence and discrimination against LGBT Dominicans. Members of the police force have been responsible for arbitrary arrests of LGBT Dominicans and violence and extortion of those in custody. Institutionalized homophobia in the police force and police involvement in violence and discrimination against LGBT people create serious obstacles to justice for LGBT Dominicans. Many do not report violations due to lack of trust in the police and justice system. In many cases, impunity is the norm.
Members of the LGBT community also face societal homophobia and transphobia. Prominent religious leaders and certain religious groups vocally opposed Ambassador Brewster’s appointment. Many used his arrival to speak out against the LGBT community. Activists note that the political power of the Catholic Church and the negative discourse of some prominent religious leaders contribute to lack of will among politicians to support the human rights of LGBT people. Nonetheless, activists note that media coverage of Brewster’s arrival and leaders’ reactions have ultimately opened dialogue and raised the visibility of the LGBT movement.
Civil Society Activism
Civil society activists have been working for decades to advance the human rights of LGBT people. They provide legal, healthcare, and other direct services to LGBT Dominicans. Local activists and organizations also conduct domestic and international advocacy to call for enhanced legal protections for LGBT people and accountability for violations. Many others engage in media and other campaigns to counter societal homophobia, transphobia, and stigmatization of LGBT people.
U.S. Action: Transforming Dialogue into Change
The arrival of Ambassador Brewster spurred important dialogue on the human rights of LGBT people, one that continues even two years after his appointment. The U.S. government should seize this opportunity to implement policies that further support LGBT activists. U.S. actions to combat violence and discrimination should support civil society efforts around comprehensive nondiscrimination laws and policies. This report includes recommendations to U.S. policymakers, lawmakers, and agencies to bolster civil society through technical support, financial assistance, and increased dialogue and interaction with activists and Dominican government officials.