LGBT Activist Shot, Witness in Danger
December 21, 2005
Fear for Safety:
Sulma (legal name Kevin Josue Alegria Robles)
Other transvestite sex workers in Guatemala City
Other members of the Organizacion de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA, Integral
Sexuality AIDS Support Organization (OASIS)
Paulina, aged 22 (legal name Juan Pablo Mendez Cartagena), OASIS worker
Transvestite sex worker Sulma (legal name Kevin Robles) was shot in the head, allegedly by police, on 17 December, and remains in hospital in a serious condition. Another transvestite sex worker was killed in the attack. As Sulma witnessed the killing, the attackers are likely to attempt to silence her, but the authorities have not responded to requests to give her protection.
In the early hours of 17 December Sulma was in Zone One of Guatemala City, at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and 11th Street, with another transvestite sex worker, Paulina (legal name Juan Pablo Mendez Cartagena). Four men on motorbikes, who witnesses say were in police uniform, ordered them to stop, and then shot them. Paulina was hit twice in the head: she died minutes later. Sulma was hit three times but survived, and is in a serious but stable condition in hospital. She can only speak with difficulty, as one of the bullets reportedly smashed all her front teeth.
Several other transvestite sex workers witnessed the shooting, but are reportedly too scared to give testimony, fearing police reprisals. Police have reportedly been patrolling the streets near the shooting, in an apparent effort to intimidate the witnesses. Since 1999 Sulma has been member of, and worked as a volunteer for, the Guatemala City-based Organizacion de Apoyo a una Sexualidad Integral frente al SIDA, Integral Sexuality AIDS Support Organisation (OASIS), which works on the prevention of HIV/AIDS and provides support to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people. Paulina had started paid work at OASIS in 2004 and since then had only occasionally had to make money as a sex worker.
OASIS has requested police protection for Sulma in hospital and the Human Rights Ombudsman's office has reportedly requested protection from the Interior Ministry. However, to date no protection has been provided.
The LGBT community in Guatemala regularly faces attacks and threats. Transvestite sex workers have been particularly vulnerable to attack. Police officers are often allegedly involved, raising fears of a clandestine policy of "social cleansing" within the police force, intended to drive sex workers off the streets. According to OASIS, this year seven transvestite sex workers have been killed on the streets of Guatemala City. Police have intimidated OASIS members many times in an attempt to stop them from carrying out their legitimate work of promoting the rights of Guatemala's LGBT community. In May 2003 two men attempted to kidnap OASIS director Jorge Lopez, but he managed to escape from the car they had forced him into. OASIS has often publicly condemned the police for abuses against male, female and transvestite sex workers.
In June 2005 Guatemala's Evangelical and Catholic Churches proposed a law that would prevent same-sex couples from marrying. Since then, the number of threats and attacks against the LGBT community has increased. On 7 October transvestite sex worker Michelle (legal name Juan Manuel Villa Soto) died after she was so severely beaten that her head was crushed.