Out In Public Gay And Lesbian Activism Nicaragua Essay
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Out In Public Gay And Lesbian Activism Nicaragua Essay
Public, Gay, Lesbian, Activism, Nicaragua, Essay
2000: I return to Nicaragua after being away for two years to find the capital city transformed with a new city center boa ting hotels, shopping malls and mul- tiplex c inema The movte Boys Don’t Cry is playing and it tory of sexual transgres ion in the U.S. Mtdwest ts meeting a favorable response, at least among those I talk to tn the progressive commumty.
Rita, a long-ttme AIDS activtst and self-proclaimed “dyke,” tell me he wtshes all the legislators in the country would see It and expand their notion of citi- zen rights to tnclude sexual minorities.
2002: “I’m neither tn the clo et nor on the balcony,” is the way that Carlos, a Nicaraguan in his early thir- ties, de cribes himself to me during Gay Pride week in June. We are sttting wtlh a couple of other men in the local gay bar they run, waiting for a panel dis- cussion to begin on lilY and safer sex practices.
Whi le Carlos is quite comfortable with his sexuality as a gay man and has a middle-class awareness of the globalized identity that “gay” confer . like many oth- ers in Managua ‘s LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual , rransgender) population he does not feel a need to proclatm hts tdenttty loudly.
2003: At a \veekly Sunday service of the gay Metropolitan Church in Managua. the young pastor named Alberto speaks of ”God’s love for everyone, rich and poor, gay, s.tratght. le bian and bisexual.” The doLen assembled men – including several I know as renowned drag queens, here wearing street clothes-and a couple of women pass a candle from one person to the next, saying “God loves you as you are.”
They take communion and Alberto gives thanks to the jomada, in reference to Gay Pride week, for allowing the LGBT community to speak out about human rights. They conclude their mass ” ith guitar music and flirtatious dancing on the patio.
A few Florence E Babb IS professor of anchropology and women’s scud- les ac che Umvers1ty of Iowa She 1s rhe auchor of After Revolutton Mapp1ng Gender and Cultural PolitiCS 1n Neohberal N1caragua (Unlvef’SICY of Texas Press, 2001)
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Lesb1ans and gay men marched publicly m Managua durmg che 1989 celebrat1on of the Sandimsta Revolution’s tenth anmversary
days later, some of these same individuals are pre- sent when I give a talk based on my re earch on les- bian and gay politics and culture in Nicaragua. The venue is Puntos de Encuentro (Gathering Poin ts), Nicaragua’s largest feminist nongovernmental orga- nizauon (NGO), and I am addressing the mall com- munity of activists and their allies.
The audience tncludes women and men who work in other NGOs such a Xochtquetzal, whtch offers services relattng to health, sexuality and AIDS. After I fintsh, a lively conversation ensues about \\ hether there IS truly
REPORT ON NICARAGUA AND EL SALVADOR
tions. particularly among men.
The public appearance of activists, who were both Sandinista and gay, marked a more
were well known in urban Nicaragua , in 1987, FSLN secu- rity agents called in and detained a number of gay men and lesbians whose more politi ca l sexual identification was viewed as a deviation.
something that can be called a “movement” in the country. Later, a reporter asks whether I would say that it is “normal” to be homosexual and whether human rights should extend to the homosex ual popu- lation. I don my anthropological hat for the occasion and assure the well-meaning man that homosexual s are normal and deserving of full rights to social inclusion.
These are a few of the many private and public responses to an increasingly vocal and visible gay and les bian presence that I have encoun- tered in N1caragua since 1989. As a fore1gn researcher and observer of the public emergence of an LGBT community and social movement since the Sandinistas lost the 1990 elections, I had expected to find some resistance to my participation in the charged discussion .
What I have found, to my sur- prise, is a passion for debating the local, national and transnational aspects of gay culture and politics with as broad and international a group as possible.
To understand the current context. however, one needs to look back at the c hanges that have occurred over the last 25 years. The revolutionary Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) government ( 1979-1990) provided an opportunity for disenfran- chised women and men to become players in the soc ial drama transforming much of the country in the 1980s.
Along with agrarian, health. education and legal reform. gender equality became part of the agenda. And the new constitu tion of 1987 included women ·s right under the rubnc of protecting the family ac; the ba<;ic umt of society.
The inclus1ve vtsion of the Sandinistas did not extend. however. to a non-heteronormative concep- tion of the Nicaraguan family and society. When les- bians and gay men began organizing in the second half of the 1980s, the Sandinistas were not prepared to extend their revolutionary vision to this new con- stituency by s upporting their call for social recogni- tion and civil rights.
As in other ocialist-oriented societtes, homosexuality was regarded as part of the “decadent” bourgeois past, and it met a chilly response from party militants. despite the fact that well-regarded Sandinistas were among those quietly organizing in Managua. Although same-sex rela-
If the silencing of the nascent gay movement in Nicaragua was effective, this changed by 1989, when some 50 Nicaraguan gay rights activists and their internationa l supporters marched openly to the Plaza de la Revoluci6n for the tenth anniversary celebration of the Sandinista vic- tory, capturing national and international attention .
They wore black T-shirts with hand-painted pink tri- angles, sy mbolic of gay pride internationally. Although the FSLN initially clamped down on gay organizing, this public appearance of activists, who were both Sandinista and gay, marked the beginning of a more open and outspoken movement along with a more tolerant public reception.
The Sandinista loss in the 1990 election signaled the entry of a cemrist government eager to reclaim U.S. support, peacetime relations and an end to the economic embargo. The consequent neoliberaJ cli- mate favored the return of some Nicaraguans who had left the country during the years of revolutionary government.
Among these were a number of gay “Miami boys” who es tablished businesses that included gay-friend ly bars and cultural venues. At the same time, Nicaraguan and internationalist activists began establishing NGOs to meet needs the state was no longer willing or able to address.
Whereas the Sandinista Health Ministry was by the end of the I 980s promoting AIDS education and making condoms widely avaHable. such proactive services became the providence of NGOs in the sub- sequent decade. Centers operated by lesbian and gay activists. often feminist in orientation, provided not only services but also a base for a gay community to form.
Not coincidentall). the NGOs were catalyzing agents for the first Gay Pride celebrations in the country. The year 1991 marked the separation of many femini s ts from the Nicaraguan Women ‘s Association (A MNLAE) and also the first public Gay Pride event. Several hundred people, both gay and straight, gathered at a popular cultural center for a film showing of the gay-themed Torch Song Trilogy followed by a panel discussion of homosexuality and human rights .
The audience responded with passion- ate testimonies of experiences in family and society, endor ·ing a call for greater tolerance and under- standing. In the years since then , Gay Pride has
NACL\ REPORT ON THE AMERICAS
REPORT ON NICARAGUA AND EL SALVADOR
rece1ved more attention, with weeks of activities for its commemorauon .
Lesbian and gay activ1 m wa galvanized the fol- lowing year b) the reacuvation of a draconian sodomy la” The government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro et out to regulate sexual beha’ ior, sanc- tioning as “natural” and legal only those sexual prac- tices related to procreation.
The law criminalized sexual acti”1ty “between persons of the same sex” conducted in a “scandalous way.” More than 25 groups joined together to launch the Campaign for a Sexuality Free of PreJudice. Despite years of protest, however, the law remains on the books. Although it is rarely enforced, many believe that the law fuels continuing intolerance.
Throughout the 1990s. gay activism continued to find expression in small group of individuals and tn NGO , health clime and cultural “enues. The Central Amencan Umverslt} offered its first course in sexuality studie. , and ga) bars and club offered pace for ame- ex tndtviduals to socialize. The
large avatlable to gay men m the larger soctety. Tht l’i not surprismg given the conunued eparation of genders in Ia c:asa and Ia cal/e (home and street). The neoliberal tum has presented ne” opportumlle for men. particularly tho. e of the m1ddle class, who have the econom1c mean to enjo) ga) bar and other ‘enues.
Women, in contrast, are scarce until Gay Pride bnngs together more diverse cro\\ds for a host of event ranging from academic panels to readmgs of erotic poetry. Annual gatherings such as a contest to select the Goddess Xochiquetzal are intended to help democratize the socia l space, but a majonty who compete are men in drag. The 2003 competition saw the first woman contestant to enter and win.
The former pastor of the Metropolitan Church, Armando. related to me places where gay men regu- lar!> meet tn Managua, including bars, movie the- aters, house part1es and even the Metrocentro Mall, ‘”h1ch he called ··Metro Gay.” In contra t, he sa1d lec;b1ans have few place to meet and soc1ahze. and he descnbed their parties as fie Has de traje (potluck
dinners). Lesbians themselves fre- quently cite their family re ponsl- bilities, includmg care of chtldren, and lack of financial resources to enter what they perceive a male ·pace . A number of tho e le btans working in NGOs also have very full professional lives and close circles of friendship. but little available time to spare.
As a result, there is occasional tension between gay men and lesbians over the women’s perce1ved dominance in NGOs and men’s perceived advan- tages as consumers under the new market conditions of globalization.
The transnationalization of les- bian and gay politics and culture IS on di pia) in Nicaragua. The adop-
Among the Nicaraguan LGBT rights activists wer£O the1r mternationaltst allies all wear- tion of the Ga} Pride annual cele- mg hand-patnted pmk tnangles, stgmfymg mremat1onal gay pflde brat ion on or around June 28 in
NGO Xochiquettal began publishing the magazine Fuera del closet (Out of the Closet) in 1993, which offers a mix of poetry. art and informative articles. Women were often the ones putting a public face on lesbian and gay is ues, notably when Mary Bolt Gonzalez “rote the first book on gay identity in Nicaragua. St•11cillameme diferentes (Simply Different), published in 1996. focusing on lesbian self-esteem.
Lesbians are certainly prominent in the organized acuvity of the fledgling movement, but they are far less 10 evtdence 10 the social spaces that are by and
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honor of the 1969 Stonewall rebel- lion in New York City as practiced in the United State and other countries is one sign of global con- nection . Other material, ideological and linguistic markers also suggest Nicaraguans ‘ desire to affiliate with the international gay movement.
Pink triangle , red ribbons , rainbows and the acronym LGBT -or LGBIT, which not only recognizes lesbians, gay men, bi exuals and transgendered individuals, but also tran vestite – are all in evidence. The tropes of the “closet” and “coming out” are widespread now, a man) lesbian’> and gay men seek greater public vi ib1lity.
REPORT ON NICARAGUA AND EL SALVADOR
In contrast to the past, when male same-sex partners were often described as “active” (penetrative) and ” passive” (penetrated) with the latter category stigma- tized, today the terms used to describe “gays” and “lesbians” are heard more frequently and in a more positive light. Also common is more open discussion of AIDS and human rights. as Nicaraguans participate actively in the global discourse surrounding these issues. On the cultural front, the popular television
to build a national lesbian and gay movement has yet to bear fruit. the event stimulated a good deal of pro- ductive discussion. The participants took the collec- tive thinking of the group back to their various indi- vidual organizations and put it to practical use.
For now, lesbian and gay groups and NGOs often find that more is gained by creating and claiming ties with international counterparts and movements than by remaining focused at local or national levels. Jn the
face of continued homophobia and internal political differences, identification and sol-
‘NGO’s are cheap for the state and good for capitalism, but social movements have
idarity with international groups may be desirable. Furthermore, most organizations depend on international financial support, often from Europe, and funding agencies expect to find programs and services that mirror the activities of their own countries’ gay rights movement. As a result, competi- tion over scarce funding is often fierce
program, Sexto Sentido (Sixth Sense), brings a sympa- thetic gay character to viewers throughout the country. In all these ways, lesbian and gay issues have received growing public attention in recent years. Although not always favorable, this attention contributes to an increasing awareness of sexual diversity among the broader Nicaraguan population.
In a similar way to the women’s movement of a decade or two ago, the gay and lesbian movement today reveals how far some nations are willing to go in accommodating cultural difference and extending citizenship rights to all. In Nicaragua. the mass women ‘s movement produced a feminist leadership that became instrumental in charting the direction of lesbian and gay culture and politics.
This has been one of the most striking aspects of the nascent move- ment-the degree to which women have assumed prominent roles through participation in NGOs and social activism. Indeed, to understand contemporary sexual politics in the country, it is crucial to consider women ‘s stake in the course of local and national change.
Moreover. the association of Nicaraguan gay politics with transnational currents is most clearly apparent through the involvement of women, as well as men, in a host of projects across Central America and beyond.
During Gay Pride week in 2002, the lesbian-femi- nist leadership of Xochiquetzal called together 13 les- bians and 13 gay men for a day long meeting held in a lesbian-owned bar. They formed a Managua “cell” in hope of inspiring more cell s to organize around the country, which could eventually coalesce into a national movement. Among the advances were agree- ments to endorse lesbian and gay rights, to support others to “come out” and to move cautiously toward forming alliances internationally. While the initiative
among feminist and gay organizations. Arguably, the competition for resources among NGOs and other groups substantially impedes the formation of stronger ties of solidarity at the national level. Even those who are the beneficiaries of such international support are often harsh critics of the consequences of the state relinquishing responsibility for many social projects now taken on by NGOs.
As Nicaraguan fem- inist and left intellectual Soffa Montenegro put it, “NGOs are cheap for the state and good for capitalism, but the social movements have become NGO-ized.”
While globalization presents opportunities for individuals and social movements to expand sexual expression and sexual rights, neoliberalism has bene- fited some far more than others as sexual subjects and citizens, particularly men and cultural elites. Women and members of the popular classes in general have experienced diminished possibilities and greater hardship in the post-Sandinista years, even if they have also found new ways of organizing collectively.
The mass mobilization of the population brought about by the Nicaraguan Revolution provided an opportunity for young women and men to explore and redefine their exuality. During their years in power, the Sandinistas began to provide a space for more open discussion of gender and sexual relations and of personal life and politics, though they were ambivalent about the new desires expressed as a result of those spaces.
ln the post-Sandinista neolib- eral era, the FSLN leadership has faced its own cri- sis, signaling that there is much left unresolved in Nicaragua’s machista political culture. Thus it is all the more remarkable that lesbians and gay men in this small Central American nation have been at the forefront in charting a politics of sexuality in Latin America. •
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