Guatemala occupies an important place in the current controversy over US immigration policy. Along with its neighbors, El Salvador and Honduras, the Central American country is highlighted as a source of mass migration through Mexico to the US border.
For lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Guatemalans, like others heading north, the journey results from historic international meddling in the resource-rich country which has propped up despotic governments that have used social division to maintain control. Today, there is a flourishing civil society in Guatemala seeking to create the economic and social opportunities that will allow marginalized Guatemalans to remain in their home country.
Visibles was established in 2017 by Luis Eduardo Barrueto “with the purpose of igniting a public discussion on the situation of LGBTI persons in Guatemala and Central America, and promoting institutional changes to guarantee their human rights and to foster wider social acceptance.”
Visibles early work has included promoting public debates around issues relevant to the LGBTI community — equal marriage, the right to gender identity, promoting safe spaces for LGBTI individuals in business, and improving access to rights (health, education) for LGBTI groups. “To do this, we have participated in and organized discussion panels, as well as more informal talks and events in Guatemala City’s cultural centers and bookstores. We will also bolster our webpage to provide resources to LGBTI communities seeking legal and medical counsel with professionals respectful of their identities. At present there is a lack of systematic knowledge and information on LGBTI issues in the country, and we have set out to fill that void,” says Luis.
Growing pressure from street gangs recruiting boys and girls, sex trafficking and increasing religious intolerance of LGBTI people, the pressures are great to increase social inclusion and rights or leave the country.
Luis’ transition from his training as a journalist to leading an advocacy organization was a logical choice. “Unlike many of my fellow citizens, I had access to education and have a decent job. My family was relatively tolerant of my homosexuality and I have a supportive community around me. But in recent years, it dawned on me that I had to use these advantages to create a more inclusive, safe country for other LGBTI fellows in my country.”
“In doing so, I have leveraged my past experiences, including exposure to other countries’ experiences in furthering LGBTI and other human rights. I have now started using the lessons I learned while visiting Denmark, the United Kingdom, the United States, Chile, and Argentina to figure out the best ways to advance the cause of equality,” notes Luis.
Improving the lives of LGBTI Guatemalans is a long struggle, but Luis’ knowledge of the gay rights movements global history is critical to the success he hopes for. “The LGBTI equality movement started organizing in small clusters — in New York, London, Buenos Aires, and the Netherlands — but their methods and discourses have traveled across the globe and have been adapted by local activists worldwide to pursue local change. That is part of what drives my actions every day.”