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Hétéra Estimphil: Educator and activist for the rights of LGBTQI people in Haiti

In July 2013, various anti-homosexuality protests attacking the rights of LGBTI communities took place in Port-au Prince, Haiti. It was also that summer, Hétéra, a Haitian transgender woman, realized the extent to which her identity is misunderstood.  

“I don’t see myself as an abomination, I don’t see myself as a mortal sin, I don’t see myself as a mentally ill person, no! I told myself that I have to make people understand that I am a full-fledged person.”    

Hétéra was born into a Christian family whose religious beliefs, on the surface, opposed her sexual orientation and gender identity, but who nonetheless treated her with love and respect. The tension between her family’s beliefs and Hétéra’s identity were bridged through their shared belief in human rights. Although this common belief in human rights helped Hétéra and her family stay together despite their differences, this same bridge did not exist between the outside world and the LGBTI community in Haiti – as evidenced by the on-going protests in Port-au-Prince.  

Today, Hétéra is the President of Kouraj, a community organization advocating for and promoting the rights of homosexual and transgender people in Haiti, and the implementing partner for Equitas’ new project working to promote LGBTI rights in Haiti, Young Leaders for Equality. Working to strengthen the participation of young people in the promotion of LGBTI rights, and human rights more generally, the project contributes to the advancement of human equality and non-discrimination in Haiti. After receiving training from Kouraj, young leaders – both members of the LGBTI community and allies – will plan and implement concrete initiatives promoting the rights of LGBTI people in health, education, employment, justice and civic participation. The project will ultimately engage around 5,000 young people from all over the country in awareness raising and advocacy activities for human rights! 


A leader in the bourgeoning Haitian LGBTI movement, Kouraj that has successfully been able to mobilize existing LGBTI groups, foster the emergence of new groups and develop strategic alliances with civil society and state institutions. Kouraj quickly became a place of community and family for Hétéra, who felt a sense of belonging within the organization, and the work of human rights education and promoting LGBTI rights has become her purpose. Hétéra is also a gender specialist, a psychosocial coach and an educator. Her activism is inspired by the former director of Kouraj, Charlot Jeudy, and his words: “L’ignorance mène à la peur, la peur mène à la haine, et la haine conduit à la violence” ”Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hatred, and hatred leads to violence.” This statement informs all of Hétéra’s work toward the realization of LGBTI rights. 

Unfortunately, Haiti’s LGBTI community continues to face various forms ofdiscrimination and violence that have only gotten worse during the pandemic – as some Haitians blame the country’s LGBTI population for causing COVID-19.  Hétéra explains how discrimination and violence against the LGBTI community isn’t always so explicit – it often manifests in covert and complex ways, which makes combatting these issues challenging.  Hétéra explains that LGBTI individuals often face daily economic and institutional violence. For example, children whose parents are not supportive of their sexual orientation can cease to financially support them, depriving them of access to education, housing, and other basic needs. LGBTI individuals also experience institutional violence stemming from the fact that the institutions that are responsible for the protection of human rights can also be the most chronic perpetrators of human rights abuses against vulnerable communities. For example, there have been instances of police officers who are supposed to help transgender individuals facing harassment refusing to provide any help or support, allowing the harassment to continue without any penalty. Hétéra and Kouraj’s work challenges various and complex dimensions of discrimination and oppression that affect the LGBTI community on a level that is sometimes difficult to recognize but is incredibly impactful.

Hetera-DNC shot

Hétéra considers herself as a human rights activist and educator, arguing that the two are linked and that any activist will become an educator in time. Whatever role she is in, Hétéra’s determination and passion for human rights is undeniable.

“I am an activist, on gender-based violence, homophobic and transphobic violence, but I also make myself available to anyone who wants to be trained on certain notions of human rights issues. I advocate and educate at the same time.”    

Hétéra’s engagement in human rights led her to participate in Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) in 2018. The three-week training program equips human rights educators from diverse backgrounds with human rights knowledge, practical tools and skills, many of which Hétéra credits with strengthening her activism and reinforcing her work at Kouraj. Her experience at the IHRTP not only influenced her work, but it also impacted her personal life. During Hétéra’s childhood, she did not always have the language to create awareness on LGBTI issues and discuss her identity. Using terms she learned at the IHRTP enabled and empowered her to start these conversations. She is now able to more accurately refer to specific LGBTI issues and create awareness surrounding these topics with friends and family, as well as in her work at Kouraj.  

Human rights education is a powerful tool for creating change. It is how Equitas and Kouraj are strengthening the LGBTI movement in Haiti, and confronting the ignorance and misinformation underpinning homophobic biases and attacks. As both an educator and an activist, Hétéra continues to brings awareness to a multitude of intersecting issues to fight for inclusivity and equality in the interests of building a society where her rights, and the rights of the entire LGBTI population in Haiti, are respected and protected.  


Kouraj pou pwoteje dwa moun (Kouraj) and Equitas implemented The Young Leaders for Equality program and is co-funded by the European Union and the Ministère des relations internationales et de la Francophonie