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Monday, October 22, 2012

Sexual minorities face mistreatment and violence on several fronts in El Salvador.

The LGBT community is especially vulnerable to the gang violence that has plagued a country long known to be “one of the most violent countries in the Americas.” A gay Amnesty International activist who works with LGBT people in Central America says that gangs pose a unique threat to sexua
l minorities “because as part of their initiation, some prospective members target gay people since they believe that the police will not investigate such murders.” 

The United States in its 2011 Report on Country Conditions suggests this point is sadly true. Salvadorian public officials and the police -- far from protecting sexual minorities -- are themselves agents of anti-gay violence: “public officials, including the police, engaged in violence and discrimination against sexual minorities” in El Salvador, notwithstanding that the law there “prohibits discrimination [let alone violence] on the basis of sexual orientation.” These findings are consistent with a 2010 report by several human rights organizations that detailed many “horrors suffered by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people there.”

To name a few of the horrors:

• In 2007, several people were murdered in El Salvador because they were perceived to be gay or a sexual minority, including two older teenagers whose disfigured dead bodies were thrown into a well; police suspect they were severely beaten to death by “at least 50 stones.”

• In 2008, six more people were murdered, including a volunteer for Asociación Salvadoreña de Derechos Humanos “Entre Amigos” (a Salvadorian Human Rights Association, commonly called “Entre Amigos” or “Between Friends”).

• In 2009, “the number of murders increased,” including a 17-year-old transgender sex worker who was kidnapped and tortured; her body “showed signs of “‘extremely violent trauma.’”

“Other instances include reports of lesbian women being raped by police officers, a gay couple being harassed by a neighbor who called them ‘AIDS carriers’ and threatened to kill them, and a nurse imploring a lesbian women to ‘repent for her sins.’” 

The United States recognizes that in the year 2011 alone “[t]here was widespread official and societal discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and access to health care and identity documents.” On the last point, “[p]ersons from the LGBT community state that the agencies in charge of processing identification documents, the PNC and OAG, ridiculed them when they applied for identification cards or reported cases of violence against LGBT persons.” All of the above instances of abuse are more troubling still when we consider that the overwhelming number cases “are neither published by the media, nor reported by the victims and/or their families and involve persons who have not publicly acknowledged their sexual orientation.” In other words, intense mistreatment and even violence against sexual minorities are well known and widespread but the reality is no doubt worse when you consider the many, many cases that go unreported.

It follows that coming out in El Salvador is extremely dangerous. Like the LGBT communities elsewhere in the Americas (see separate Posts on Gay Life in Mexico, Dominica, Honduras, and Brazil), many sexual minorities often face their first wave of hostility by family members, many of whom are religious and very homophobic due to the “machismo” mindset that is often associated with Latin America countries. LGBT Salvadorians are sometimes disowned and forced to survive on their own with limited means. Against a backdrop of isolation and struggle, they become especially vulnerable to gang violence as noted above.

There recently have been some public reforms and calls for much needed change, but life for LGBT Salvadorians at this point remains extremely difficult and far from safe. Accordingly, most LGBT El Salvadorians generally will qualify for asylum so long as they (i) submit a credible application with sufficient support, (ii) file within the 1-year deadline, and (iii) do not have a serious criminal record. Because El Salvador is one of the eighth countries that qualify for Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”), many gay Salvadorians who have missed the 1-year deadline may still qualify for asylum (see Post of September 27 on TPS). 

Anyone considering asylum should discuss his or her case with an experienced asylum attorney to better understand whether asylum is appropriate based on the particular circumstances of his or her case.

NOTE: The Post of August 28 entitled Basics on Gay & HIV+ Asylum that is pinned to the top of this Page also has been translated in Spanish using Google Translate (see Post of August 21) though I am not sure it translates well.

George Tenreiro
570 Broad Street, Suite 900
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Office: 973.339.7066; Fax: 973.741.2482
Admitted in New Jersey and New York


United States Department of State, “Country Report on Human Rights Practices in El Salvador,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2011), available at:

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “El Salvador: Situation of homosexuals, including societal attitudes and availability of state protection and support services,” 11 July 2008, SLV102872.E, available at: [accessed 20 October 2012].

The New York Times, “Gangs’ Truce Buys El Salvador a Tenuous Peace” by Randal C. Archibold (August 17, 2012), available at:

San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, “Raped and tortured in El Salvador, Juan flees abuse and finds angels in America” by Juan Fuentes (November 3, 2011), available at:

United Nations Human Rights Committee, “The Violation of the Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Persons in El Salvador” (October 2010), available at: