Kelly Sans Culotte

The suicide rate due to sexual orientation is very high here.

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Gay Mundo
Our ultra-queer coverage.

guatemalan women
Rene Calderon

How To Be A Lesbian
In Guatemala

OCTOBER 16, 2000. This week THE GULLY interviewed Claudia Acevedo, one of the few publicly out lesbians in Guatemala. She and her partner, Samantha Sams, are active in Lesbiradas, the country's only lesbian and bisexual women's group. Acevedo describes herself as "a lesbian, a lesbian co-mom, a 'ladina' (a mixed-race person, Indian, Black, White in this case), a human rights activist, a woman, a feminist."

What is it like to be a lesbian in Guatemala today?

I'm not a typical example of what it is to be a lesbian in Guatemala. I'm one of the few lesbians here who have had access to information, and who can live a life that is different from that of the majority of lesbians in this country. I've been politically active, openly, for some 12 years now, in Left and feminist groups. Organizing is part of who I am, and why I do what I do. That is not true for most Guatemalan lesbians, not even for most women in this country.

As an out lesbian, what is your daily life like?

I live near the historic center of the capital with my partner, Samantha Sams, and our daughter. I work for OASIS, where I'm now coordinating a regional Latin American and Caribbean networking project for ILGA, the International Lesbian and Gay Association. Samantha and I are also doing research on "Lesbian Identities in Guatemala." Thanks to the goddesses I work in what I like, and get paid to do it.

How out are you?

In reality, I live a pretty open life. I'm a public lesbian. Of course, I don't carry a sign on the streets saying who I am, but everyone around me knows that I'm a lesbian. My family accepts it as part of their lives. My mother considers herself a grandmother, even if I'm not a biological mother. My brother, too—he sees himself as an uncle.

What do you do after work?

acevedo and samsWhat we do with Lesbiradas is volunteer work. It's great, because we're 15 lesbians trying to do things together, without hierarchies or dues paying. It's very relaxing to be able to talk openly among ourselves. I love women-only spaces. That's why I'm also part of the new Feminist Forum, which is mostly straight women. But what I like best is to be with my daughter and my partner, relaxing, no pressures, to go out and play, to be kids again. My daughter is one of the people that enriches my life the most.

What is Lesbiradas about?

It's about visibility for lesbians and bisexual women. We've just published the first issue of Identidades (Identities), our magazine. Last Thursday we went to the Women 2000 March in Guatemala, to be visible there. We also write articles for feminist magazines, and some mainstream media. Once a month, we organize a lesbian-only night.

What is the state of queer activism in Guatemala now?

In Guatemala, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activism and human rights work is very incipient. We're now preparing a draft bill banning discrimination against the lgbt community . We're also organizing a campaign against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation around the International Human Rights Day, December 10th.

As part of the ILGA project that I'm coordinating, we are putting together a human rights resource handbook for our communities in Latin America and the Caribbean. We will also publish an ILGA newsletter in Spanish and submit eight prototypical cases of violation of lgbt human rights to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Suppose you are a 15 year-old female, you live in Guatemala City, and you find out you like girls. What do you do? Does it depend on your social class?

Regardless of social class, many young girls kill themselves when they "discover" that they are lesbians. The suicide rate due to sexual orientation is very high here. We have empirical proof of this, but unfortunately, a statistical study remains to be done. There is not a different pattern of behavior according to social class. We have seen poor, middle-class, and upper-class lesbians who have been forced to marry even after they have figured out that they're lesbians, to hide their lesbianism.

Where we have seen a class difference is in organizing. Generally, working people see organizing as a more urgent matter, as a means of survival, while the bourgeois have other resources. What I mean is that it is easier to attract working-class lesbians to our group, activities, and public work, than those who have means, jobs, businesses.

How visible are lesbians in Guatemala?

We're hardly visible, even within the queer world. We're very few to organize ourselves publicly. Most lesbians only go to certain things, clandestinely. That is why visibility in all aspects of national life is the main focus of Lesbiradas.

Even in queer community spaces, most of the activities are geared to gay men. They say they are open to all, but then they ask you to contribute a condom to let you in. These are the subtle signs that gay and other groups don't understand. A few days ago, for example, a group called the Lesbian-Gay Collective declared a National Day of Lesbian and Gay Dignity without consulting anyone else. We, at Lesbiradas, felt they had rendered us invisible.

Do most Guatemalan lesbians see lesbianism as identity or behavior?

At Lesbiradas we are working to build a collective lesbian identity. This is a really tough process in a society and a country that, aside from living in a culture of violence and terror, lacks a national identity. Our Guatemala is a country caught in an endless transition process, and therefore, our identity is almost zero.

Some of us at Lesbiradas, like me, see lesbianism as a construction of identity; others, who have not had access to information, see it as behavior and practices. Then comes the great debate about role-playing, butch-femme, and replicating the hetero-patriarchal system, and those of us who don't want that are considered weird by the others. So, we're undergoing a complex process at Lesbiradas, with really deep discussions about our identity as Guatemalan lesbians.

Is there a lesbian community in Guatemala?

You can see by the level of discussion at our group that it is very incipient. A few lesbians organized ourselves in 1996 in a group called Mujer-es Somos (We Are Women). The name sent a signal that we were going to fight back as women, so transgender women and lesbians who considered themselves "men" were excluded. The group lasted until 1998.

In 1999 we started Lesberadas (for liberated lesbians), which has now become Lesbiradas at the request of the bisexual members. Many lesbians here are absolutely not interested in organizing themselves, whether for reasons rooted in the history of Guatemala, like the violence, or because we activists are not doing something right. I would say that a lesbian community does not exist yet. We are a small ghetto attempting to get visibility.

What are the three things that Guatemalan lesbians need most?

For lesbians in general, the three biggest needs are access to information (about sexual orientation and sexuality, violence within the family and so many other things), legal and psychological counseling, and having our own spaces. What Lesbiradas needs most is to have our own financial resources and infrastructure, training in different areas, and also our own space. [Lesbiradas is currently supported by OASIS, an established, mostly gay-male run HIV/AIDS prevention organization now branching into queer human rights work.]

Where would you like Guatemalan lesbians to be by 2005?

Uggh! That's the million dollar question, isn't it? We see Lesbiradas by then as an established group, with our own space, doing direct actions, and researching and analyzing the situation of lesbians in Guatemala. For example, pushing for specific legislation with—this is the best scenario—the support and pressure of many Guatemalan lesbians.

How do you get from here to there?

We are going to do five things: set up a national communication network for Guatemalan lesbians, organize lesbians by sector (soccer players, lefties, lesbian mothers, indigenous lesbians, etc.), draft legislation to outlaw violence and discrimination against lesbians, lobby the Guatemalan Congress, and create partnerships with national and international human rights and other groups.

Acevedo/Sams photo: Jorge Lopez Sologaistoa

Related links:

For basic, accurate facts on Guatemala, peruse the CIA Factbook.

For a look at Guatemala's rulers, see John Ward Anderson's Guatemala Swears In New President—Admitted Killer Makes Pledge To Fight Crime in The Washington Post.

For the Human Rights Watch report on Guatemala.

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

En español

Retrato de un activista

Cómo ser lesbiana en Guatemala

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