PBI-Honduras has been accompanying the LGBTI organization Arcoíris since 2015. Donny Reyes, the current coordinator since 2016, was also the coordinator between 2006 and 2008, and one of the organization’s founders some 15 years ago. Donny has participated in PBI-organized speaking tours in the U.S. and Europe, most recently at a gathering in Brussels to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, offering a good opportunity for us to speak with Donny and learn more about the history of Arcoíris and Donny’s own story.
The association, which now has around 110 active members and 600 volunteers and beneficiaries, was founded in the Obelisco park in Comayagüela (near Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras) by ten people who wanted to establish a house that would open its doors to all gay, lesbian and trans people. They were all part of the Grupo Prisma, but this group was no longer enough. They wanted to invent something bigger. Something new. In one way or another, being a member of the Grupo Prisma was a huge step forward in the personal journeys of those people who went on to create Arcoíris. For Donny, this internal journey took place after another kind of journey altogether, some years earlier.
Donny grew up in a village where there was no running water or electricity, and where he gained experience with grassroots organizing as part of the “club de amigos en acción,” a group of neighbors who would meet in the village to burn trash, clean, and organize other neighborhood activities. Later he became involved in the student movement in his school. Maybe this desire and energy to mobilize came from his mother? “I guess so,” admits Donny, whose mother had been involved in the small-scale producers’ movement, and later defended the rights of women maquila workers.
In 1991, at the age of 16, Donny decided to leave his home in the village of Choloma, near San Pedro Sula, in the north of Honduras. “I did not want to make them [his parents] feel that shame,” he confesses, given that he had often heard his father say that “he would be ashamed to have a gay son.” He left, believing at the time that he would “never return; for my family it was as though I had died.” First he travelled to Mexico and then one year later to the United States. On this journey he tried to earn a living as best he could. He did all kinds of work. After four years in the States, he returned to his country. He didn’t like it, but he wanted to keep studying and become the mayor of his town. He felt a calling to be engaged…
But fate had different plans for him, and Donny stayed in Tegucigalpa, working for a publishing house. One day, the publisher was producing materials for a meeting of sexual diversity organizations. Donny could not take his eyes off the agenda, he couldn’t stop thinking about it, but he couldn’t talk to anyone about his sexual orientation. Even so, he wanted to know who was organizing the event, so he hid a packet of materials before they were delivered, and later that day he said to his manager: “we’ve forgotten this, I’m going that way, I can drop it off.” And that was how he got an invite to the meeting, which was taking place the following weekend, and how he met Grupo Prisma and discovered the organized LGBTI community. Donny made contacts and above all, “became who he really was.”
Who he was also included being a member of his own family, which “you can’t get away from”, he says. So, although he decided to stay in Tegucigalpa, he started regularly visiting his family. The subject of his sexuality was never touched upon. Once again it was an unforeseen event that would change Donny’s life. In 2005 he was invited to a forum in Spain about marriage between same-sex partners. Without knowing, Donny appeared in the Honduran press and his family saw the articles.
Donny’s family, and especially his mother, immediately became involved in the movement. Donny invited his parents and his eight brothers and sisters—Donny is the fifth child—to Arcoíris workshops to bring them closer to the LGBTI movement. His parents are now part of what they call “la red de familiares de diversos” (the diverse people’s family network). Throughout the years, they have built a good relationship, and he receives a lot of support from his family.
How important this support must be, when you are constantly being attacked. When asked about the most impactful moment in Donny’s life he quickly says: “When I was arrested.” That was in 2007; he was locked up for eight hours in a cell. Raped and abused, physically, sexually and emotionally, he says. Vulnerability. How vulnerable you must feel when “those people who should be keeping you safe instead do the opposite,” Donny confides.
The desire to keep moving forward is also reflected in the history of Arcoíris. The decision to become a pioneering LGBTI organization by integrating into their work a human rights perspective, and to a certain extent moving away from the struggle against HIV, reduced the funds available to the organization and its members had to support themselves by taking on other work. During this period, Donny worked as a teacher in a secondary school, which was far from his initial dream of becoming a tailor, or social work, his area of study.
Donny says that what makes him happy nowadays is the energy he gets from joining together with others, gaining recognition for what they have achieved, the 15th anniversary of Arcoíris, feeling that they have participated in the creation of a holistic health system for the LGBTI community… “and because I am still alive today.”
Over time, he has used his role in Arcoíris, first and foremost, to listen to young people who have been rejected by their families, and who have been physically and psychologically attacked, those who share similar stories to Donny’s. And that is what keeps him here, in this work, which he dedicates himself to 24/7. He has a message for those who question at every opportunity the rights of people from the LGBTI community to exist and live their lives: “We are here, so get used to it!”