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Gender & Sexual Solidarity

Description: IRTF advocates for gender and sexual solidarity in Latin America. We focus on advocacy and amplify calls for justice for women and LGBTQ+ members who have faced oppression, abuse, or gender-based violence. Since the founding of IRTF, advocacy for those who have been oppressed and marginalized in Central America and Columbia. IRTF saw the need for advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community in Latin America to become more vocal and visible, as those who speak out become targets of human rights abuses. IRTF's foundation, following the 1980 rape and murder of the four U.S. women in El Savador—Maryknoll Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke and Cleveland's Jean Donovan and Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel—we have amplified calls for justice for women and who have faced repression, abuse, or gender-based violence. Further, since its founding by people of faith and conscience in 1981, IRTF has advocated for marginalized and oppressed groups of people in Central America (and in Colombia since 2000); therefore, in 2012 we expanded our coverage of gender-based violence to advocate for those experiencing sexuality-based violence as well.  As the LGBTQ community in Latin America becomes more vocal and visible, they increasingly become the target of human rights abuses—especially those who are political activists. 

Vision: IRTF envisions a world where Central American and Columbian women and members of the LGBTQ+ community have the ability to speak their minds without the threat of oppression by their community and government. By advocating and highlighting human rights abuses, important members of the LGBTQ+ community, and cross-border solidarity; the issues which need to come to light will. In 2012, the scope of IRTF’s solidarity work has expanded to include LGBTQ rights for people in Central America and Colombia. In March 2013, IRTF co-organized Ohio’s first-ever LGBTQ delegation to El Salvador.  Together with the LGBTQ Community Center of Greater Cleveland and Nueva Luz Urban Resource Center, IRTF took 13 LGBTQ persons and allies to stand with LGBTQ persons in El Salvador when they held their first-ever LGBT Rights Are Human Rights conference.  

Why the need for solidarity

  • Although it’s legal to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBTQ) in El Salvador, members of the sexual diversity community—especially transgender persons—suffer discrimination, harassment, assaults, torture and assassination
  • Impunity for human rights violators is the norm
  • Discrimination is most often found in education, health care, workplace


We—gay, straight, bi, trans, and allies—are at a crucial point in our nation’s history. LGBTQ people are being recognized as full citizens for the first time. In countries like El Salvador and Colombia, it is not illegal to be LGBTQ, but it is certainly dangerous and is not accepted in many families and social circles.

We can learn from and support each other. To strengthen the LGBTQ rights movement in Ohio, we are sharing with our friends in Latin America:

  • tactics and strategies (political, social media and other) to promote acceptance of members of the sexual diversity community
  • personal stories of coming out and the impacts on familial and other personal relationships
  • ideas on forming networks of support to help our families (particularly Latino families) become more comfortable with and welcoming toward their LGBTQ sisters and brothers

Some recent advances

  • President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador issued Decree 56, prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination in the public sector (rarely enforced) and creating Directorate for Sexual Diversity at the federal level (2010)
  • The United Nations passed an LGBTQ rights resolution (June 2011)
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described LGBTQ violence and discrimination as “a monumental tragedy for those affected and a stain on the collective consciousness” (March 2012)
  • LGBTQ groups in El Salvador organized the country’s first-ever LGBTQ conference, hosted by the Jesuit (Catholic) University of Central America and supported by the U.N. (March 2013)
  • LGBTQ groups in El Salvador were approved by the federal government to place their own observer teams at all elections to ensure that transpeople and others in the sexual diversity community do not meet discrimination at the polls (Feb 2015)
  • Same-sex marriage has become legal in some South American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay) and same-sex unions in others (Chile, Colombia, Ecuador). Marriage has also been legalized in some areas of some countries (e.g., legal in Mexico City and four states of Mexico)  
  • Sexual Diversity Offices are becoming more common at municipal (e.g., Bogotá) and federal (e.g., El Salvador) levels


Gay Games 9 (GG9)

In 2014, our Cleveland-Latin America LGBTQ Solidarity Committee enabled 15 athletes from Colombia and El Salvador to participate in Gay Games 9. The Committee

  • organized 5 events leading up to the Gay Games (GG9), attended by 550 people 
  • raised $15,000 to bring athletes and human rights delegates to Cleveland for GG9
  • brought a softball team from El Salvador and a volleyball team from Colombia to GG9, the first time either country had a team represented in the 32-year history of the international event
  • hosted 17 delegates: 10 from Colombia,  7 from El Salvador
  • hosted the only journalist from Latin America who covered GG9
  • marched in the GG9 opening ceremony with Bishop Martín Barahona of the Anglican-Episcopal Church of El Salvador


Current initiatives of the Cleveland-Latin America LGBTQ Solidarity Committee include:

  • partner PFLAG-Cleveland with mothers in San Salvador who are trying to start their own parent support group
  • connect faith congregation partners in El Salvador and Colombia with congregations in Ohio 
  • create cross-fertilization of issues by using IRTF’s partnerships to introduce LGBTQ leaders to leaders of other issue movements in their countries  
  • create alliances between LGBTQ groups in Latin America and LGBTQ groups in the European Union to start planning for Gay Games 10 (to be held in Paris, summer 2018)
  • create more cross-border ally associations, especially in professional groups 
  • provide economic support by purchasing handmade goods from marginalized LGBTQ persons who have difficulty finding employment 
  • advocate for the passage of hate crimes legislation that would include gender identity and sexual orientation
  • organize an emergency response network to respond when there is a crisis (e.g., unjust detention by authorities of an LGBTQ rights activist, serious harassment/threats to LGBTQ rights activists).
  • provide funds for legal defense when LGBTQ rights activists are criminalized 


How you can support IRTF’s cross-border LGBTQ solidarity initiative

  • invite us to make a 2-5 minute announcement about our efforts at your next meeting
  • connect us with LGBTQ caucuses of your professional associations or other groups
  • attend regular meetings of the CLE-Latin America LGBTQ Solidarity Committee
  • distribute flyers about our upcoming LGBTQ human rights delegations 
  • host a 30-min presentation: LGBTQ Rights and Challenges in Latin America and the US


For information on IRTF’s LGBTQ Solidarity initiatives and committee meetings, contact irtf[at]

Through education, advocacy, and action, IRTF amplifies the calls for justice from women and LGBTQ+ persons who have faced oppression, abuse, or gender-based violence.