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Pre-2008 Posts

Lesbian Feminists from Latin America Take to the Streets in Chile

Gabriela Mistral

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.

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “Lesbian Feminists from Latin America Take to the Streets in Chile

  1. VEry interesting. Note on the Mistral phenomenon – it is an interesting case because she was such a powerhouse, Nobel Prize and all, very active and full of connections. Yet the way she is presented in many venues, is along the lines of “a poor childless woman alone, who wrote sensitive and ‘feminine’ poetry . . . ” . [I have not looked up recent work on her to see if and how this has been challenged. But if it has not… there’s a good project! ;-)]

    Posted by profacero | February 12, 2007, 4:25 pm
  2. Profacero, I was hoping you would weigh in! I noticed immediately the way Mistral is made to be this pitiful, tragic figure, which is one reason I didn’t post a biography of her. Every one I found (looking quickly but still) began with her having lost the “love of her life” when he died and everything going downhill from there. Hmph.

    Here is one beautiful poem:

    La Extranjera

    Habla con dejo de sus mares bárbaros,
    con no sé qué algas y no sé qué arenas;
    reza oración a dios sin bulto y peso,
    envejecida como si muriera.
    Ese huerto nuestro que nos hizo extraño,
    ha puesto cactus y zarpadas hierbas.

    Alienta del resuello del desierto
    y ha amado con pasión de que blanquea,
    que nunca cuenta y que si nos contase
    sería como el mapa de otra estrella.

    Vivirá entre nosotros ochenta años,
    pero siempre será como si llega,
    hablando lengua que jadea y gime
    y que le entienden sólo bestezuelas.
    Y va a morirse en medio de nosotros,
    en una noche en la que más padezca,
    con sólo su destino por almohada,
    de una muerte callada y extranjera.

    ****

    The Stranger

    She speaks in her way of her savage seas
    With unknown algae and unknown sands;
    She prays to a formless, weightless God,
    Aged, as if dying.
    In our garden now so strange,
    She has planted cactus and alien grass.

    The desert zephyr fills her with its breath
    And she has loved with a fierce, white passion
    She never speaks of, for if she were to tell
    It would be like the face of unknown stars.

    Among us she may live for eighty years,
    Yet always as if newly come,
    Speaking a tongue that plants and whines
    Only by tiny creatures understood.
    And she will die here in our midst
    One night of utmost suffering,
    With only her fate as a pillow,
    And death, silent and strange.

    Posted by Heart | February 12, 2007, 6:01 pm
  3. ‘“This is about visibility,” Monica, a 75-year old lesbian activist from Chile’…

    Wonderful. Truly inspiring.

    Posted by morgan | February 14, 2007, 12:04 pm

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