Broward News

Gay Honduran Seeks Refuge in Hollywood

Italo Morales is on the run. The 27-year-old from Honduras is trying to scrape up the cash to sneak through the border from Mexico to El Paso, Texas. After that, he plans on speeding through the southern United States on his way to Florida.

He's headed to Hollywood — home for the past ten years — where he will almost certainly be arrested once he arrives. The reason Morales is so adamant about staying in Florida is that he doesn't feel safe in his home country. Since he was 17, Morales has been seeking political asylum because he is gay.

Growing up, Morales felt "unloved by his family and the people around him," his boyfriend, Santos Quintilla, told New Times in Spanish. His childhood and adolescence were marred by verbal abuse and beatings. His face is scarred by knife attacks.

"People like Italo don't do well in places like Honduras," says Quintilla, who started dating Morales in high school. "They get beat up and sometimes killed."

In 2005, Honduras constitutionally banned same-sex marriage and adoption. For Quintilla, that was enough. Morales followed him to Broward County and took a job at a Colombian fast-food restaurant. Life was simple. As his boyfriend describes it: "Basically what his life consisted of was going to work and coming back home and maybe the occasional weekend outing."

Meanwhile, as the two refugees forged a peaceful existence together, the situation was fomenting back home. Honduras has — by far — the highest rate of homicide in the world, according to the United Nations. And its history of violence against gays in particular has only escalated since the 2009 constitutional crisis that led to the exile of then-President Manuel Zelaya. A coup led to a suspension of civil liberties and the imposition of curfews. In the four years that followed, about 80 gay, lesbian or transgendered individuals have been tortured, killed, or both — some even at the hands of the country's police.

Since 1994, the U.S. has allowed people to seek asylum for their sexual orientation, which meant Morales was allowed to stay in the United States so long as he wore an ankle bracelet. But on March 10, he was asked to visit Immigration Court in Miami, because the battery on the device was running low. One week later, he was sent back to Honduras.

Immigration Equality New York, which runs an LGBT asylum program, has taken on Morales' case. Spokesperson Diego Ortiz said that of 407 open cases, 24 are from Honduras. The country is tied with El Salvador (and second only to Mexico) for the Latin American country with the most applicants.

But as Morales defiantly heads back toward Florida, his attorney, Nicolas Olano, worries about what will happen. "If he comes to my office, I have to basically take him to immigration officers," he says. "I explained that to him."

But even if he gets sent back to Honduras again, Olano thinks his case is strong. His job is to prove that there is more than a 50 percent chance his client could face harm there. He thinks that shouldn't be too hard.

"It's a very good case, according to case law," he says. "He's terrified of being sent back to Honduras."

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.