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Trans Salvadorian activist up for humanitarian award

by Heather Cassell

Transgender Salvadorian activist Karla Avelar is<br>nominated for the prestigious Martin Ennals Human Rights Award. Photo Credit:<br>Alturi.
Transgender Salvadorian activist Karla Avelar is
nominated for the prestigious Martin Ennals Human Rights Award. Photo Credit:

Transgender activist Karla Avelar has become the first-ever Salvadoran, and first transgender woman, to be nominated for a prestigious international award sometimes called the "Nobel Prize for human rights."

Avelar is one of three nominees this year for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award. The Martin Ennals Foundation choose Avelar due to her work defending LGBT rights, particularly transgender rights, in El Salvador despite the dangers.

"Karla has shown a great level of sacrifice and a creative approach to defending the human rights of the transgender community," said Michael Khambatta, director of the foundation, after announcing the nominees, reported Telesur TV.

El Salvador has the second-highest homicide rate in the world. Among those murdered are LGBT people, particularly transgender individuals, who are targets in the highly homophobic country.

At least 600 people have been victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in the country since 2004, according to Comunicado y Capacitando a Mujeres Trans, a group known by the Spanish acronym COMCAVIS, co-founded and directed by Avelar.

As recent as April 23, Avelar was threatened by three people who told her to leave her town or she would be killed. She moved two days later.

It wasn't the first time she's been threatened. In October 2016, a group of four men carjacked Avelar and demanded her cell phone and identification. The attack was followed in February by the murders of three transgender women in San Luis Talpa, a municipality in La Paz, roughly an hour south of San Salvador, the country's capital city.

Last month, Bianka Rodriguez of COMCAVIS told members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. that transgender people are often the targets of gangs and their own family members. She told IACHR members that several transgender women have fled El Salvador following the murders in San Luis Talpa.

The threats on her life don't deter Avelar.

"Although today I am in danger, and sure that my struggle is risky, my eagerness for justice and equity motivates me," said Avelar, reported the Washington Blade. "I will continue to push the state to accept reforms and legislation proposed by civil society to allow the LGBTI community to fully enjoy their human rights."

Avelar, who is HIV-positive, has taken great risks to stand up for El Salvador's LGBT community. She was the first person to publicly speak about being HIV-positive to raise awareness about the disease and fight for adequate health care for the LGBT community.

In 2013, Avelar became the first transgender woman to appear before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to denounce El Salvador for its discrimination and hate crimes against its LGBT citizens.

Avelar grew up in the streets and was forced into sex work at the age of 11. She was attacked by police and gangs and was imprisoned for four years for self-defense, reported Telesur TV. Salvadorian LGBT groups are currently fighting for a new law to recognize transgender identity and protect gender non-conforming individuals from hate crimes.

Avelar is one of three nominees for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, a prize given to activists who demonstrate great courage in working to protect and promote human rights around the world. The other nominees are Egyptian lawyer Mohamed Zaree and the FreeThe5KH from Cambodia.

Zaree is one of the central figures of the human rights movement in his country. The FreeThe5KH have been in custody for almost a year because of their work in the Cambodian Association for Human Rights and Development.

The Martin Ennals Human Rights Award will be presented at an October 10 ceremony.


Czechs launch marriage equality campaign

LGBT Czechs launched the "We Are Fair" (Jsme fér) campaign for same-sex marriage in the Czech Republic last month.

A coalition of LGBT Czech organizations and allies - Amnesty International, Logos Czech Republic, Mezipatra, Prague Pride and PROUD - have come together to form the Coalition for Marriage to press for marriage equality in the Eastern European country, according to an April 19 news release from the organizers.

"There is a growing number of countries in the world that make it possible for all to marry regardless of gender or sexuality," stated Adéla Horáková, an organizer with the Coalition for Marriage. "There are already a billion of people living in such countries, and the sky has not fallen in. We want to ask Czechs what they think."

Aleš Rumpel, an organizer with the Coalition for Marriage, agreed, stating, "We think it is fair for all of us to marry, and we ask Czech people whether they agree with us or not."

The campaign's focus isn't on tolerance or rights, Rumpel added, but on Czech values.

The organizers have planned town hall meetings in 11 cities to discuss marriage equality, starting at the end of spring and heading into Pride Month in June. The meetings will feature a variety of events from screenings of films to debates with local politicians and experts, according to the release.

"Marriage is about love. We all wish to experience life with the person we love. That's why we decided to organize an event for love and lovers," stated Czeslaw Walek of the Coalition for Marriage.

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Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell, or



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