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Murder of gay rights activist shows another Honduras crisis

Walter Trochez spent a lot time at Honduras police stations and morgues: he was the HIV-positive gay activist who got the call every time a transgender sex worker was murdered on the streets of Honduras.

His phone rang often. Human rights advocates say up to 18 gay and transgender men have been killed nationwide — as many as the five prior years — in the nearly six months since a political crisis rocked the nation. Activists say the spike illustrates a breakdown in the rule of law in a country already known for hate crimes.

Trochez is now among the victims. Last week, just days after he escaped a six-hour kidnapping ordeal, an unknown assailant fired at him from a moving vehicle, silencing one of Honduras' most prominent voices in the gay community. Trochez had also become a leader in the "Resistance Movement" that demands the return of ousted president Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, raising questions about whether his murder was related to hate -- or politics.

The next day, the headless and castrated body of a transvestite was found on the highway near San Pedro Sula.

"Walter was afraid," said Reina Rivera, director of the Center for the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights, known by its acronym in Spanish, CIPRODEH. "He was a leader in the Resistance, but we thought he was in a precarious situation because he was also HIV-positive and gay in a patriarchal, machista and homophobic society."

Prior to Tróchez's murder, CIPRODEH enlisted New York attorney David Brown to research the issue of violence against the LGBT community. Brown documented 171 acts of violence since 2004, including rapes, stabbings, beatings and murders. Brown tallies another 10 murders since Zelaya's June ouster, but activists in Tegucigalpa say they count 18. Brown said his number is lower because he only counts incidents that were clearly hate crimes.

A May 2009 Human Rights Watch report said there were 17 murders of transgender people -- many of them prostitutes -- from 2004 to 2008.

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