When Aura Hinestroza talks about her life, she divides it in two chapters: “The Aura who was happy, and the Aura who came after,” Hinestroza said.
Eighteen years ago, Hinestroza was working as a journalist in Chocó, a western region in Colombia. She got a tip about the FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, fighting in the area. But when she went to track the story down, it was a trap. She said she was raped, beaten and left for dead. And she said it was because she's a lesbian.
After decades of civil war, Colombia is trying to build peace between civilians and former guerilla fighters known as FARC. As of 2017, the Colombian government has paid out about $3 million as reparations to 730,000 victims. That's out of about 8.6 million people who have registered as victims, so there is a large backlog of cases. But activists say one group is being overlooked: members of the LGBT community.
Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution law states that victims of the conflict, whether they were hurt by rebels or by the state, may have a right to monetary reparations. First, they must make a declaration of victimhood with the governmental department called La Unidad para las Víctimas.
Alejandro Lanz, founder of Temblores, an organization for LGBT rights, said others in the LGBT community fear coming out to authorities.
“Many people prefer and opt not to register as LGBT with the state for fear of not being recognized as victims,” Lanz said, explaining that people fear the government will discriminate against them if they identify as LGBT. He added that some LGBT people in the past experienced violence by government officials, military and rebel fighters, making them reluctant to look for help.
Lanz said he helped interview transgender women in the capital of Bogota, and many told him that they had been physically abused by police and had been displaced by violence in the country.
“The large majority of the transgender women who were victims of the armed conflict did not know that they had the right to reparations, nor how to go about asking for them” Lanz said.
In 2013, the Colombian government began a program to identify and address the issues the LGBT community faces.
“In Colombia, there is still a lot of discrimination against the LGBT community, which prevents them from accessing their constitutional rights,” said Sandra Ángel, who is part of the government’s advisory team on gender issues.
Of the 8.6 million people who have filed claims, only 2,000 self-identified as LGBT. Ángel acknowledged that figure is low and could reflect the fact that LGBT people fear the stigma or discrimination they might face.
However, she said, LGBT people do have the same right to resources from the government. After a claim is filed, a representative investigates and interviews the victims, and a decision about compensation is made.
“Every violent act has a certain monetary figure assigned to it, and when victims declare crimes against them, each one has an economic amount, it’s all in a table,” Ángel said.
And while the government has announced how many victims have been compensated overall, it has not broken that down to show how many people from different victim groups, like people in the LGBT community, have received compensation.
Hinestroza is registered as a victim of the armed conflict and filed her claim three years ago.
“There are supposed to be resources for people like me,” Hinestroza said, “but so far I haven’t seen anything.”
The International Women’s Media Foundation supported Sarah Hayley Barrett’s reporting from Colombia as part of the Adelante Latin America Reporting Initiative.
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