(From left) Paul Monge, from the office of David Campos; SHARE El Salvador Executive Director Jose Artiga; attorney Ana Montano; District 9 Supervisor David Campos; and CARECEN Executive Director Lariza Dugan-Cuadra meet to discuss a resolution calling on El Salvador to protect the human rights of LGBTI individuals. Photo Santiago Mejía

As thousands of people flocked to San Francisco this past weekend in celebration of the city’s 44th annual Pride parade, city leaders and civil rights advocates are building support for a resolution that would promote basic rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) citizens in El Salvador.

District 9 Supervisor David Campos introduced the resolution to the board of supervisors on June 24, calling on El Salvador’s newly elected government to protect the civil and human rights of its LGBTI community. The resolution will be up for vote on July 8, and if passed, will be presented to the government of Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, whose term commenced in June.

“It is really important to have international pressure put on newly elected government, and especially for that pressure to come out of the United States and specifically San Francisco,” said Campos. “[This city] has a long history of advocating for LGBTI and civil rights—we have a large Central American presence and Salvadoran community. El Salvador’s new government ran under the notion that it was going to protect civil rights— international pressure is crucial to hold them accountable.”

The resolution presented to the board identifies a list of demands made by El Salvador’s LGBTI community to ensure social and economic equality as well as safety. Among these demands, priority is given to drafting and implementing national anti-discrimination and hate crime laws, as well as initiating a law for gender identity and name change in regard to the transgender population.

Activists are also asking the new administration to reaffirm and strengthen Presidential Decree 56, originally signed by former president Mauricio Funes, which protects the LGBTI community from discrimination by government programs and civil servants.

With the LGBTI population ostracized and cast at the bottom of El Salvador’s society, some supporters of the resolution liken the persecution of these individuals to the human rights abuses and assassinations perpetrated by the death squads during the Salvadoran civil war.

“Thirty years later, we again have a death squad kind of situation, where members of this community are being kidnapped, captured, tortured—and everybody is looking the other way,” said Jose Artiga, executive director of SHARE El Salvador, a Berkeley-based organization that works to strengthen solidarity in the struggles of Salvadorans living in El Salvador and in the United States. “We are supposed to have a progressive government, but it is busy with many things and might be saying ‘ok, we’ll deal with this one later’—we are saying that it has to be now. It’s a friendly pressure.”

While homosexual relationships are legal in El Salvador, discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression is rampant, according to advocates, who attribute the ongoing persecution of this community to the lack of a national law that properly identifies and prohibits hate crimes.

“There are no statistics taken for LGBTI homicides…some of them aren’t even acknowledged because there is no such thing as a ‘hate crime’ in place,” said attorney Ana Montano, who is working to promote civil and human rights in El Salvador. Advocates have collected data on about 149 murders of LGBTI people from 1999 to 2013—but because the majority of these types of crimes go unreported, Montano believes this number to be significantly higher.

“A hate crime is not a social context, paradigm, or even part of the language. So whenever there is a killing of a gay man, they will say it’s a crime of passion and that will be the end of it. Sometimes family members don’t want to acknowledge that their son was gay (which) makes investigating a hate crime difficult,” added Montano.

With roughly 45 percent of El Salvador’s population living abroad, Campos believes that it is a social responsibility of those who have left to educate the greater community about violations of their human rights.

“Given that so many Salvadorans live outside of the country, I think its important for them to have a voice,” said Campos. “Besides the fact that they have ties to the country, there are economic benefits that come from the Salvadoran community in the United States—they contribute to that economy, and with that benefit comes some responsibility of following and protecting LGBTI and human rights in general.”

As the country transitions to a new and progressive leadership, activists championing El Salvador’s blossoming civil rights movement believe that the timing of the resolution—also sponsored by supervisors Scott Wiener and John Avalos—is key.

“We are getting ahead of the train in terms of all of the other great issues that (the new administration) has to deal with on the national agenda, which currently ranges from high levels of poverty to organized crime,” said Lariza Dugan-Cuadra, executive director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). “If they take a stand, we think a lot of really great things can follow.”