Inclusivity, Diversity and an Equal Voice: Promoting the Involvement of LGBTI Communities in Local Development

Tyron AburtoTyron Aburto is a law student and coordinator of a local LGBTI rights group from the city of Bluefields on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. Living as an openly gay person can be extremely challenging in Bluefields, Aburto explains. In this region there is “double discrimination” towards LGBTI people — first because of their sexual orientation and second because of their ethnic identity. Bluefields and the surrounding region are home to large populations of Afro-descendant Creoles and native indigenous communities.

In the 1990s homosexuality was criminalized in Nicaragua by a national law which imposed a sentence of up to three years in prison for “anyone who induces, promotes, propagandizes, or practices sex among persons of the same sex in a scandalous manner.” This law remained in effect until 2008, when it was rewritten and the criminal penalties removed. Despite the decriminalization of homosexuality, there is still much discrimination and stigma against LGBTI people due to a lack of understanding and awareness. This is especially true in Bluefields with its large Creole and indigenous communities, where more traditional values prevail. Legally, same-sex couples are not eligible for the same benefits and protections available to heterosexual married couples. And despite some legal gains, a national law enacted in 2015 called the Family Code discriminates against same-sex couples even further by limiting marriage, partnerships, adoption and fertility treatments to heterosexual couples only.

The challenges to LGBTI communities are more than legal. Many people face the fear of rejection on a daily basis. They worry about being shunned by their families and their communities if they choose to assert their right to live openly. Aburto has witnessed first-hand young people being expelled from their communities. Seeing their suffering prompted him to become an agent of change and start promoting the rights of young people in the LGBTI community.

Bluefields pride parade

Supporting Inclusive Local Development

USAID Nicaragua through its Local Governance Program has been working with Global Communities to support local LGBTI organizations and leaders. They are addressing the issue on a local level by encouraging LGBTI communities to participate in the local development process, to make their voices heard and expand awareness with the wider community about LGBTI issues through dialogue, media and social mobilization.

In Bluefields, a radio program called “No Taboos” airs weekly and reaches out to not only LGBTI listeners, but to public officials and the wider community. Suyén Sánchez, communications coordinator, explains the benefits of the show. Youth can call in and share their experiences and ask questions. “What they ask the most is where they can go when their rights are violated, what to do and who can give them free advice.” She says there is a growing awareness and acceptance among listeners and public officials because of the program. Local groups in Bluefields are also lobbying the municipal authorities to adopt a public policy protecting the rights of LGBTI people in employment, housing, health care and other aspects of life.

For many young people, just being able to share personal experiences with other youth has profoundly impacted their lives. With support of the Local Governance Program, urban and rural youth have been brought together to discuss human rights, discrimination, inclusion, sexual identity and acceptance. The goal of these sessions is to empower young people and inform them of their rights so that they can be active participants in local governance and civic life. “Knowing the experiences of other young lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people strengthens and contributes to raising our self-esteem; knowing that we are not alone in the face of stigma and discrimination helps us out of the shell,” says Aburto.

In addition to promoting self-acceptance and self-esteem, the program is teaching them about the municipal development process, the role of government agencies and their role and rights as citizens. By becoming active and engaged citizens, they bring much needed LGBTI perspectives to the development process. The Local Governance Program is not just supporting LGBTI voices, but is encouraging women, youth, disabled people, indigenous communities and other groups that are often excluded from municipal dialogue to ensure local development is inclusive and successful at meeting all residents’ needs.

Aburto’s work in this area has made him realize that citizen participation is a right that people underestimate, and he continually stresses the importance inclusion of gender and LGBTI perspectives to achieve a more equitable and fair development process. He is already seeing the benefits of active participation by LGBTI people in local governance.

“I encourage young people: let’s not be afraid, we own our own destiny and we can make the change.” —Tyron Aburto

Tyron Aburto