“Lesbians against war! Lesbians against capitalism! Lesbians against racism! Lesbians against neoliberal terrorism!” It was with these words of liberation that on February 2007, during the 7th Forum of Feminist Lesbians from Latin America and the Caribbean, October 13 was anointed the day of Lesbian Rebellions (1). During this meeting of anti-patriarchal struggle, with close to 200 feminist lesbian women from various countries, the General Assembly of the Forum decided to collectively honor the 1st Regional Forum of Feminist Lesbians which took place in Mexico, on October 13, 1987.
According to Angelina Marín, lesbian feminist activist of the collective Moiras, October 13 was consecrated as witch day and also represents the day of the arrival of the colonizers to indigenous lands. Marín pronounced this during her speech in Santiago, Chile’s city square, in a meeting with other lesbian feminists to celebrate this day (2). The day rallies feminist lesbian collectives and organizations around the region to celebrate lesbian existence through art and culture as an act of rebellion against the oppressions imposed by a patriarchal system that oppresses the existence of those that defy a cis-heteronormative society.
To honor these women’s bodies who persist and resist the erasure of their identities and their political expressions, the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) invited lesbian women from Brazil and Colombia to share their voices, views and experiences on the meaning of this day and the challenges they face in their countries. Know their rebellious stories.
For María Vélez, an activist from Caribe Afirmativo, “this 13th of October is a day to remember and thank our older lesbian sisters for the struggle they began years ago. From naming, to self- recognition, to cohabitation of same-sex couples—these were the first steps so that today we can enjoy the recognition of these rights.”
María draws attention to the fact that lesbian rebellions pose challenges, especially in a country marked by an armed conflict like Colombia. These are adversities that make lesbian women constantly experience situations of intimate private violence, forced displacement, gang rape and forced pregnancy. She emphasizes that because it is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country, in all these indigenous and Black identities, structural racism and machismo are embedded.
“Therefore, being indigenous and LGBTI or Afro-LGBTI, we face oppression inside our own communities and a particular type of violence in each territory. When you are a lesbian and Afrodescendant the violence takes a particular form related to the exotic nature of our identity and the sexualization of our bodies as Black women. Society considers that if you are a Black woman then you must be heterosexual, otherwise it does not suit us.”
Sami Arazabaleta, an activist from the NGO Somos Identidad, highlights the importance of lesbian women recognizing themselves as sexual beings that admire their own bodies outside of the heteronormative and machista norms. “Lesbian Rebellions are a necessary call to make lesbians visible, we refuse to continue being invisible from the “homosexual” global norm. We have learned that what is not named does not exist. A Lesbian Rebellion is to be and to love a woman face to face.”
Lesbian Rebellions are also an act of repudiation to the binary, feminist lesbians denounce that the binary way of seeing and being in the world confines lesbians to certain stereotypes. As an act of liberation, Lesbian Rebellions proclaim that their bodies exist for themselves, in a relationship of interdependence and (co)existence with nature. Sami translates her rebellion into poetry: “lesbian love is sublime, it allows women to be loved and recognized without male approval. I am a lesbian because I love myself and I love a woman!”
The filmmaker, Naira Évine, activist from the Levante Negro collective, reflects that the affirmation of lesbian existence within the audiovisual industry is already an act of rebellion. “Because we are going against every heterosexual and cis-heteronormative system that makes a point of erasing our existence. It makes a point that our memory is not passed from generation to generation, that our stories are not told, that our perspectives are not commented or filmed. So, when a lesbian filmmaker, and in my case, a Black woman, makes sure that all these demarcations are placed on the agenda and are also spoken about and respected, I think that is being a rebellious woman,” she says.
In 2019, Naira launched the short film “O dia em que resolvi voar” (3) (The day I decided to fly, in English) which portrays lesbian stories. She re-enforces that films made by lesbian women, that talk about lesbian experiences and that have a racialized perspective, or not, of a lesbian woman, and are Latin American, is already a great act of rebellion. The filmmaker recalls that lesbians are diverse and deserve respect, a dignified life, a healthy and well-lived life, within the scope of basic human rights. Therefore, they resist when they insist that their existences be understood and respected.
“I don’t think there is a single way to be a lesbian, a way to demonstrate your sexual orientation. Oftentimes the closet is a place of protection, it is a place of self-defense and being inside the closet does not always mean cowardice. Sometimes it is also very courageous not to talk about it; there are many cases. There is no one way to dream of a more egalitarian society. This society would be conglomeration of the existence of several lesbians, bisexuals, homosexuals and the diverse experiences of different social groups. We are surrounded by lesbian rebels! Glad this day exists! Let us celebrate more and talk more about these brave women!” she says.
Camila Carmo, professor, investigator, writer and activist of the LesbiBahia collective, stresses that when thinking about what lesbian rebellions would look like in a country like Brazil, the construction of a political project that is emancipatory for all women and that defies the heterosexual system is key. As a Black, lesbian woman, she understands that “being a lesbian woman in Brazil is dealing everyday with racism, machismo, sexism and also putting myself in those movements of re(existence) for the construction of other modes of existence.” (4)
Camila also points to the structural issues of racism, poverty and femicide that are present within the cis-heteronormative system and how that is aggravated in territories marked by dictatorships and colonial invasions. “I think that the challenge has to do with removing attacks against indigenous people and the exploitation of people, animals and nature. This reflection goes through us and defines us all, even though I say ‘I’. Because when I say ‘I’, I am also talking about us. I do not believe alliances are possible outside a collective, so our big challenge is to think about how to act collectively, respecting differences and individualities,” she analyses.
Based on the stories of these inspiring rebellious lesbians, Race and Equality supports the defiance that comes from the strengthening of affective bonds between women and nature, between human rights and disobedience as a rupture with colonialism. We re-enforce our commitment to make visible the agenda and voices that represent Latin America, in alliance with activists and civil society organizations, and will denounce violations that affect the peaceful construction of a democratic society.
Race and Equality recommends that States in the region:
- Make all the necessary efforts to combat lesbofobia within their society, foster actions that promote and respect sexual diversity, and combat prejudice and discrimination;
- Create public policies to combat lesbofobia in the educational sphere and inhibit any initiatives that seek to prohibit debates around race, gender, and sexuality in schools and universities;
- Sign and ratify the Interamerican Convention against Racism, Racial Discriminations and other Related Forms of Intolerance and the Interamerican Convention against all forms of Discrimination and Intolerance.
 On the concept of (re) existences, Camila makes reference to Professor Ana Lúcia da Silva Souza.