Feminist lesbians from 18 different countries in Latin America took to the streets of Santiago this weekend to protest against the institutionalized homophobia that still exists in many parts of the continent. About 200 lesbian activists had been participating in the Seventh Latin American and Caribbean Lesbian feminist Conference, the first to take place in Chile.
The conference culminated with a march on Friday evening, with the initial purpose of protesting against gender discrimination and homophobia. However, after it emerged that Santiago security firm GAMA had thrown a lesbian couple out of a park on the Santa Lucía hill for kissing in public, the march took a political turn, with calls to bring charges against the firm.
The conference began last Wednesday, when women from Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Argentina and other Latin American countries were bussed in to Santiago for the meeting, which included poetry readings, political workshops, presentations from activists from each country represented, and a visit to Villa Grimaldi, the former Pinochet era torture center.
On Friday evening, the women attending the conference assembled at the foot of Santiago’s Santa Lucía hill to take place in what would be the first ever lesbian march in Chile. Surrounded by bemused onlookers and stone-faced policemen, the colorful group of women waved rainbow flags and chanted feminist slogans, against the backdrop of a mural featuring Chile’s Nobel Prize-winning poetess, Gabriela Mistral. While Mistral’s ambiguous sexuality is a subject that is often avoided by critics and the Chilean public, the lesbian feminists made no bones about claiming Mistral as one of their own…
An estimated 150 women took part in the march, which processed through Santiago’s main streets to the Plaza de Armas in the center. While men were not officially allowed on the march, some gay men couldn’t resist joining in the singing and chants, led by Argentine group Lesbian Banda. Many of the chants were unprintable, but perhaps the most effective slogan was one of the simplest: “Lesbians: we’re bad, but we could be worse!”
In Plaza de Armas, activists took part in a mass kissathon, and set fire to lesbian symbols painted on the ground. Others threw their bras in the air in time-honored feminist fashion.
“This is about visibility,” Monica, a 75-year old lesbian activist from Chile, told the Santiago Times. “The movement is growing in force, but we need to campaign for change in our everyday lives. There is still a lot of machismo and lesbophobia out there. There are a lot of women here, but I’d like to see more. It’s always the activists that you see in the streets, and the young people. I’m no spring chicken, but activism is keeping me young.”
Central to the conference’s themes was opposition to legislation proposing Civil Union Pacts (PUC) for homosexual couples in Chile.
“Lesbians will not benefit from this law because, for example, the issue of lesbian motherhood is not addressed. The PUC only deals with the issue of inheritance,” said Erica Montesinos.
Chile’s Movement for Homosexual Integration and Freedom (MOVILH) issued a statement saying that the sentiments expressed by the feminist groups did not necessarily coincide with those of women in Chile and worldwide.