Report: US Should Act to Address Violence and Discrimination Against the Dominican Republic’s LGBT Community

Shawn-Gaylord-2013

Shawn Gaylord, Advocacy Counsel LGBT Rights, Human Rights First

Human Rights First released a report in December outlining the challenges to equality faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the Dominican Republic, and highlighting the vital efforts of civil society to combat these human rights challenges. The report titled, “Hope Will Prevail: Advancing the Human Rights of LGBT People in the Dominican Republic,” follows research trips conducted by Human Rights First in June and August 2015, and includes recommendations for how the U.S. government can better support the Dominican Republic’s LGBT community.

“LGBT people in the Dominican Republic face widespread discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia leading to acts of violence and lack of access to justice and services,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord.

“The most recent expression of hateful rhetoric espoused by a Dominican Cardinal toward the openly gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic and the attention that followed is illustrative of both the widespread homophobia in the country and the depth of U.S. influence. The U.S. government should harness this influence to bolster the important work of activists working to transform their society and cement full inclusion for LGBT Dominicans.”

LGBT Dominicans face a range of human rights concerns including violence, discrimination, lack of access to justice, impunity for perpetrators, and societal homophobia and transphobia. Certain domestic laws directly contradict the protections offered to LGBT people through the constitution, the domestic legal system, and international law.

Police regulations criminalize same-sex activity among the police force and marriage equality is constitutionally prohibited. The country also lacks comprehensive nondiscrimination and hate crime laws to guarantee the protection of all LGBT Dominicans. LGBT Dominicans also experience discrimination in accessing services including housing, employment, education, and healthcare.

In addition to detailing the challenges faced by the Dominican Republic’s LGBT community, the report outlines how civil society leaders have worked for decades to advance the human rights of all people, providing legal, healthcare, and other direct services to LGBT Dominicans and conducting domestic and international advocacy to call for enhanced legal protections for LGBT people and accountability for violations.

Recommendations in the report were informed by Human Rights First’s meetings with members of the Dominican LGBT community, civil society activists, Dominican officials, and the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, James “Wally” Brewster. Key recommendations include:

  • Secretary of State John Kerry should convene a regional dialogue with Caribbean government officials to discuss initiatives to counter discrimination and hate crimes against vulnerable groups, including members of the LGBT community.
  • Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry should convene a regional meeting of Caribbean civil society organizations advocating comprehensive nondiscrimination and hate crime laws and policies.
  • U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster should conduct regular follow-up with Dominican authorities on the investigation and prosecution of cases of violence against members of vulnerable groups, including LGBT people.
  • Congress should engage in legislator-to-legislator outreach with Dominican counterparts in support of civil society calls for nondiscrimination and hate crime laws.
  • The International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Bureau within the Department of State should incorporate diversity and human rights training, including on the rights of LGBT people, in all trainings with the Dominican police force.
  • USAID should fund NGO data collection on hate crimes in the Dominican Republic.
  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) should assist in the development of curriculum and instructor training on human rights and diversity for Dominican law enforcement, inclusive of the rights of LGBT people.
  • DOJ should assist in the development of mechanisms to document human rights violations and hate crimes, including violations against members of the LGBT community.

A recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Human Rights First revealed that a majority of Americans believe the U.S. government is not doing enough to address pressing human rights challenges. It demonstrated that only 31% of Americans believe the United States is providing enough support to advance LGBT rights worldwide.

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