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Mónica María Leonardo Segura – “As a human rights lawyer I must be committed to ensuring dignity for all human beings”

Attorney specializing in human rights sheds light on the challenges facing LGBT* individuals in Guatemala, and the danger of being a human rights defender

Mónica María Leonardo Segura, an attorney specializing in human rights and the rule of law

Nicole Bogart | 03.07.2017

Mónica María Leonardo Segura is an attorney specializing in human rights and the rule of law, including HIV and LGBTI rights, focusing on countries affected by conflict. Her work directly impacts her home country, Guatemala, where LGBT* individuals face systematic discrimination over their sexual orientation and gender identity. Segura, a participant of the fifth annual Salzburg Global LGBT Forum – Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging – says this discrimination has become particularly dangerous for transgender women.

“There are reports of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, extortion, often committed by armed forces, namely the police or the army,” she explains. “LGBTI people, particularly transgender women, suffer from transphobia, lesbophobia, and biphobia, and it’s the basis of a dynamic that excludes them from their families, from school, and from society in general.”

That exclusion often pushes transgender women to no other recourse but to become sex workers, according to Segura, leaving them vulnerable to even further violence and to be more exposed to HIV.

“We see throughout the Latin American region, and Guatemala is no exclusion, there is a prevalence of HIV in one percent of the population. For transgender women it’s 35 percent,” she says. “For men who have sex with men it’s 18 percent. So we can see from those figures an example of that exclusion and violations of human rights.”

Segura works with organizations for transgender women to adopt legislation that would recognize their gender identity and autonomy, without subjecting them to physiatric evaluation or physiological tests, or requiring surgery. “It would only require a simple administrative procedure for their sex and names to be changed in official documents, as a means to have their gender identity recognized,” she says. This would allow transgender women to apply for jobs and pensions, open bank accounts, secure housing and generally “give them a way to express themselves.”

But human rights activists and lawyers also put their own livelihoods at risk to fight for the rights of others; a reality Segura is no stranger to. “I believe that there is a danger to doing human rights work anywhere in the world, no matter where you are. The more you become vocal and visible in your work, there is a greater danger for governmental forces, or homophobic [and] transphobic forces to attack you,” she admits. “It can seem counter-intuitive, but I think the more you speak, and the louder you speak, the better protected you will be.”

*LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. We are using this term as it is currently widely used in human rights conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as exclusive of other cultural concepts, contemporary or historical, to express sexuality and gender, intersex and gender-nonconforming identities.


Mónica María Leonardo Segura was a participant at the fifth annual Salzburg Global LGBT Forum – Home: Safety, Wellness, and Belonging. The session was supported by the German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth; the Archangel Michael Foundation; Open Society Foundations; Stiftung Erinnerung Verantwortung Zukunft; the Austrian Development Cooperation; UNDP; and Canadian 150. More information on the session can be found here: http://www.salzburgglobal.org/go/578.html

03.07.2017 Category: JUSTICE, LGBT, FACES OF LEADERSHIP
Nicole Bogart