Members of AIDS Action Now and Latinos Positivos held a vigil in Yonge-Dundas Square Nov 8 to protest the possible deportation of Herberth Menendez, an HIV-positive Mexican asylum seeker who has been living in Canada since 2007.
Menendez’ asylum claim was rejected and Immigration Canada is now conducting a “pre-removal risk assessment,” which is the last step before someone is deported.
About 40 people held candles and placards in the square to call attention to the homophobic violence faced by queer Mexicans. Demonstrators, some wearing face paint in the tradition of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, claim that 700 gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans Mexicans have been killed in hate crimes since January 2011.
Menendez, 30, says he was diagnosed as HIV-positive in Mexico four years ago. When his father found out that he is HIV-positive and gay, he threatened to kill him if he ever saw him again. He fled to Canada in June 2007, where he applied for refugee status.
“If my refugee claim is rejected by Immigration Canada, my life will be put at risk. Not only will I be taken away from my friends and chosen community, I will be taken to a place where I face extreme danger. My father as well as many homophobic people in Mexico have threatened my life many times,” Menendez says.
He also says HIV treatment in Mexico is inadequate.
“So many of my friends who were deported to Mexico don’t have access to medication, or they have access to just a few medications, not the whole package,” he says. “My dream is to be able to stay here in Canada with my friends and to continue to support many people in the same situation as me."
Since settling in Toronto, Menendez has helped co-found Latinos Positivos, a group that empowers and supports Latinos living with HIV in Toronto. He has been involved in several fundraisers and recently helped create an HIV-stigma-awareness campaign for Spanish-speaking people.
Immigration Canada has a record of denying refugee claims from queer people coming from Latin America, particularly Mexico, where gays and lesbians enjoy legal rights, including the right to marry in some places, but often face harassment and violence regardless.
“The government says that [Mexico is safe for queer people]. The reality and truth are different. Wherever you try to go, the real situation is hard,” Menendez says.