Gay rights in the Central American nation of Honduras took a hit earlier this week when Rene Martinez, one of the country’s most visible LGBT community members, was found murdered.
— Esteban Paulon (@epaulonlgbt) June 5, 2016
Rene disappeared from the streets of Honduras’ second-largest city, San Pedro Sula, after being ushered into an unmarked vehicle close to his home. His family reported the suspicious activity later that day, but Martinez was never seen alive again.
The 39-year-old had carved out a name for himself as one of Honduras’ go-to voices for the LGBT community, but it was a reputation that would be Rene’s downfall. In the official U.S. embassy response to his death, the institution was clear that it believed Martinez had been murdered, though it did not specifically state whether or not it was linked to his sexual orientation.
“On behalf of the people and the government of the United States, we condemn in the strongest terms the apparent murder of Rene Martinez. A leader in the LGBTI community in San Pedro Sula and a rising political figure in Honduras, his death comes as a great shock. We offer our condolences to his friends and family, and expect a full and thorough investigation into the circumstances of his death. The United States has already offered our assistance to Honduran authorities working to bring justice in this case.”
— Trending Deaths (@Obitolizer) June 5, 2016
That statement isn’t the only show of support coming from the United States following Rene’s murder. San Pedro Sula Police spokesperson Jorge Rodríguez told local reporters that the U.S. was providing a team of experts to aid in the investigation of Martinez’s death. Additionally, Colombia will be sending extra law enforcement to assist Hondruas’ efforts to find justice.
Other international bodies have also denounced Rene’s killing. The European Union (EU) has requested that a detailed investigation take place to get to the bottom of the violence that left Martinez dead. Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s special human rights representative, told local paper La Prensa that proper punishment was essential to prevent further crimes in the future.
“The only way to put an end to violence is to fight effectively against impunity.”
Within Honduras, many of the other local LGBT activists who’ve fought alongside Rene for gay rights are mourning the devastating blow to the country’s queer movement, reports The Washington Blade. Several activists have remarked that Martinez would have likely found himself in higher branches of government in the future, including Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute International Programs Director Luis Abolafia Anguita.
“Rene was a brilliant LGBT political leader in Honduras and a promising future political candidate.”
For a country with just 8 million people, Honduras has registered a high number of LGBT-related hate crimes — something Rene worked actively to curb. Since 2011, local human rights groups estimate that at least 170 gay men, lesbians and trans people have been murdered in the country. Broken down, that works out to about one killing every 10 days.
Latin America has seen a widespread change in attitudes toward gay rights over the last decade, but not even those strides have fully upended a culture of machismo and homophobia that permeate many of the region’s countries. Especially in the most conservative areas, violence is still very much an everyday threat for LGBT people.
Still, Latin America is also an LGBT success story in many ways. The work of people like Rene Martinez in Honduras have helped change it from being one of the most repressive regions in the world to one of the least. In 2008, Panama became the last nation to eliminate anti-sodomy laws, and several other countries now offer full recognition of gay marriage and transgendered people, reported Foreign Affairs.
[Image via Facebook and Max Whittaker/Getty Images]