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Guatemala—Vote in Peace

Less than a month remains before Guatemala’s September 6 general elections with a wave of regular protests on the heels of multiple high level corruption investigations. 

Against this backdrop, the IRI Central America team is implementing trainings for journalists and grassroots groups across the country to discourage violence, especially against marginalized groups.

This week I called program officers Diego Palma and Yadira Paiz López in IRI’s Guatemala office to get a report on a special program—Más Inclusion, Menos Violencia —that we’re implementing with the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) on behalf of USAID.

“Let me call you in a second,” Diego shot back. He was in the middle of booking a flight for a Colombian Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) and human rights expert to come to Guatemala to meet with our partners—transgender and lesbian women, along with gay male civic groups. When they returned the call, they had some glum news regarding the 15 LGBTI groups with whom we work. “They feel they cannot go and vote, as they were humiliated in public the last time. So, they simply prefer not to turn out,” Yadira said. Only a few months into our collaboration with Guatemalan LGBTI partners and the dynamics of discrimination are becoming fully apparent to CEPPS partners.

Changing attitudes is not easy, especially regarding marginalized groups and their right to participate in civic life.  Help is supposedly at hand, as with victim’s services desks at local police stations charged with helping all Guatemalans (regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity) when harassed or attacked in the street. However, an all too common response is to tell the victim “What you suffered is a consequence of your lifestyle.” Helping gay and transgender Guatemalans overcome these experiences and work together on a common advocacy agenda to enable them to participate in the upcoming elections and in daily civic life is the core of our current CEPPS program. Typical activities help educate Guatemalans on sexual diversity and the range of experiences covered by the term LGBTI. Among them, we train journalists to be gender sensitive and inclusive in electoral coverage and regular reporting.

In fact, IRI’s 10-week Political and Electoral Journalism Program has helped reporters become change agents for social inclusion. At the start of the module on gender perspectives and sexual diversity, many of the journalists were uneasy, even reluctant to participate. The main exercise, which called on them to write down the words they use when they talk about gay and transgender people, led to an open discussion about how people refer to one another and recollections of times they faced discrimination. They were visibly moved as they realized how word choices, often made unwittingly, can impact fellow citizens and perpetuate exclusion from politics and daily life. The journalists are now working on articles that reflect their learning experience.  

Posted by

Sara Danish

Program Officer, Latin America and the Caribbean Division