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HomeCentral AmericaEl SalvadorLGBTQ Rights Under Threat in Bukele's El Salvador

LGBTQ Rights Under Threat in Bukele’s El Salvador

Hand in hand, Fiorella Turchkeim and Andrea Ordonez attend a makeshift mass for LGBTQ people in the garage of a house in El Salvador’s capital. Here, the couple say, they do not fear discrimination in a society they feel is becoming increasingly hostile to sexual diversity under President Nayib Bukele.

Under a crucifix hanging below a row of rainbow flags, about 15 members of the LGBTQ community chant, receive communion and listen to passages from the Bible.

“It’s a safe space where I can go with my partner, be welcomed without being judged,” Turchkeim, a 30-year-old psychologist, told AFP of the “respite” from rising intolerance.

Bukele has adopted an ever-more socially-conservative approach since his re-election in February to a second five-year term thanks to his brutal war on criminal gangs. Before he was elected the first time in 2019, Bukele claimed to support the demands of the LGBTQ community.

Now, he describes them as “unnatural, anti-God, anti-family,” said Luis Chavez, the gay pastor at the Santa Maria Magdalena Community church, which was set up a few years ago and operates out of an NGO-owned house.

Last month, Bukele fired 300 culture ministry employees for promoting what he said were “agendas” incompatible with his government’s vision of what constitutes a “traditional family.”

Days earlier, the ministry had approved the presentation of an LGBTQ play at the National Theatre, which was abruptly cancelled after its first performance.  LGBTQ people increasingly find themselves “in a vulnerable situation,” Chavez said.

Diversion tactic

Shortly after his re-election victory, Bukele, along with Argentina’s right-wing President Javier Milei, attended a gathering of conservatives in the United States that applauded former president Donald Trump.

The same month, El Salvador’s education ministry withdrew all references to alternative gender perspectives from school textbooks — a move criticized by human rights groups. Bukele is entering “this small club of ultra-right mega-reactionary politicians,” independent Salvadoran anthropologist Juan Martinez said.

In February, the health ministry eliminated a facility for people from the LGBTQ community to receive HIV/AIDS prevention services “free from stigma and discrimination,” activist Aranza Santos said.  “Religious discourse is a tool that many politicians have used to hide other important things that are happening in our society,” said Chavez.

“So I believe that we are simply being used to make the population look the other way, and leave aside the real social problems that exist in the country, the increase in the cost of the basic food basket, the problems of state corruption,” added Chavez.

According to the Organization of Salvadoran Women for Peace, 2023 figures showed that eight out of 10 LGBTQ people in the country suffer “discrimination based on their sexual orientation” or preference.

In 2021, Bukele ruled out changing the constitution to allow same-sex marriage or elective abortion. And the following year, according to Human Rights Watch, El Salvador suspended its membership of a UN body working on protecting LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination.


Turchkeim and Ordonez, a 30-year-old pharmacist, have been partners for two years — but their families do not accept their relationship “To avoid problems,” Ordonez said, they do not show affection in public in the Catholic majority country.

A few years ago, she recalled, she was excluded from a church choir after the director described her lesbianism “an aberration.” “It was a shock to discover there was no room for me,” Ordonez said.

According to Grecia Villalobos of the Comcavis Trans rights group, the government and a conservative part of Salvadoran society “want to deny our existence.””We have to raise our voice, demand and fight for our rights,” she said. But the fight may be a long one.

Turchkeim and Ordonez plan to marry next year but will have to travel to Costa Rica — where same-sex unions have been legal since 2020 — to do so.”We would like it to be here, but of course… it’s very difficult,” Turchkeim said.

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