June 3, 2014

“Rights Are Won Only by Those Who Make Their Voices Heard”

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected public official in California, professed that “rights are won only by those who make their voices heard.” When championing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) issues, exchange alumna Lizeth Martínez of México amplifies voices for equal protection under the law.
During her 2012 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) exchange, which focused on LGBT rights, Lizeth Martínez saw how civil rights could be defended through legal action. When she returned home, Lizeth founded the nonprofit organization, Derechos Humanos Integrales en Acción (DHIA A.C.), as a direct result of her IVLP experience. Through her nonprofit, Lizeth deftly maneuvers the politics of Chihuahua State to challenge marginalization and discrimination in the city of Ciudad Juárez. Of her exchange, Lizeth fondly notes, “My IVLP experience inspired me to start my own nonprofit organization, DHIA A.C. This was a lifelong dream of mine, but I had always been scared. IVLP showed me that I could take a chance and do something for myself while helping my community.”

To ensure that all people are permitted to marry in her state, Lizeth requested a writ of amparo, a civil rights revision, to protect constitutional rights.  She was able to prove that the state law prohibiting same-sex marriage was unconstitutional because it violated the Mexican Constitution.  Thanks to Lizeth, the legal revision led to the first marriage of a gay couple in Ciudad Juárez on February 13, 2014.

Last year, DHIA A.C. received a grant from the Rosa Luxenburg Stiftung Foundation to develop a regional directory of organizations and LGBT groups. Through her work, Lizeth has formed incredible bonds with other human rights organizations and activists, including fellow exchange alumni. Lizeth has worked with IVLP alumni in Mexico on social media campaigns that promote tolerance and inclusion. Each May, she assists with promoting the National Campaign Against Homophobia, and throughout the year she works on cultural events such as movie and photo exhibitions to promote diversity, respect, and awareness about problems faced by the LGBT community. Lizeth also provides pro-bono legal counseling to same-sex couples seeking marriage. By removing the financial hardship of legal fees, Lizeth makes same-sex marriage accessible, which encourages couples to exercise their right to marry. 
Each month, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports program alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Lizeth Martínez is this month’s outstanding alumna, and her work will be recognized throughout June on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official alumni website which serves more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.