March 08, 2016

Salvadoran Lawyer Strives for the LGBT’s Rights and Visibility

Systemic discrimination and hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members of the Salvadoran society did not sit well with attorney Sandra Bessy Ríos Torres. Time and again, she heard stories of mistreatment from members of the country’s LGBT community—including her relatives, friends and colleagues—and she wanted it to end. Yet, she was well aware that she couldn’t wish it away.


ABA ROLI is working to improve the capacity of local civil society organizations working to promote and protect the rights of the LGBT community.

Her involvement with human rights issues began when she was a law student and worked for the association advocating for the children that went missing during El Salvador’s civil war. While Bessy has been in private practice for the past 12 years, she is a columnist for the online newspaper El Faro and blogs on such issues as human rights, women’s empowerment and LGBT rights.

In 2009, Bessy founded the Foundation of Family and Friends for Sexual Diversity in El Salvador (known by its local name De La Mano Contigo, Spanish for Hand in Hand with You) to promote the rights of the LGBT. Ever since its launch, De La Mano Contigo has been carrying out public education activities to raise awareness of LGBT rights among the LGBT community, governmental and non-governmental organizations and the general public. The foundation also advocates for relevant legal reforms and provides legal services and informal counseling to subjects of discrimination and human rights violations. “These activities have been carried out thanks to the unconditional support of people who are interested in creating places that guarantee inclusion and respect for the fundamental rights of the [LGBT] community members,” says Bessy.

Since the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) began to implement a program that promotes the rights of the LGBT in August 2015, Bessy has been one of ABA ROLI’s closest partners. Supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, ABA ROLI’s program employs a multi-disciplinary approach that brings together criminal-justice and public-health institutions, as well as civil society organizations to advance the human rights of Salvadorans. Through the program, ABA ROLI works to increase the justice sector’s capacity to protect the LGBT community from violence and discrimination, and to boost civil society’s capacity to protect LGBT rights.

ABA ROLI has been supporting De La Mano Contigo’s efforts to enhance its institutional capacity, to clarify its goals and objectives, to draft its organizational regulations and to solidify its brand. Bessy says that the assistance has enabled De La Mano Contigo to gain name recognition. It has also allowed the foundation to begin the registration process with El Salvador’s Registry of Associations and Not-For-Profit Foundations. In addition, ABA ROLI is helping the foundation overcome the barrier of invisibility that haunts LGBT rights organizations and develop connections with other human rights organizations in El Salvador.

Bessy says that ABA ROLI’s support is encouraging and boosts her organization’s efforts. “[I hope our collective effort] will facilitate access to justice and increase investigations of hate crimes against the LGBT community,” she adds.

To learn more about our work in El Salvador, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org