Pride Controversy in El Salvador: Initial Observations in the Documentation of the History of LGBT Movement

In my first few weeks of interviews with activists to document the history of the LGBT movement in El Salvador, several things have become apparent:

  1. It is more accurate to say LGBT “movements.” The way that organization has broken down over time so far seems to be: gay men, transgender women, transgender men, lesbians, and feminist-lesbians. There has been some, but not much, collaboration between these groups. It does seem however, that transgender women first organized within gay men’s groups, and that feminist-lesbian organization came mostly from demobilized women guerrillas from the Salvadoran Civil War.
  2. I have only concentrated on the feminist-lesbian bloc so far. It has been interesting to hear the same dates come up in the interviews with activists from various generations. For instance, everyone has so far cited an international feminist conference held in El Salvador in 1993 as the starting point for the public feminist-lesbian movement in the country. Being able to start to draw a timeline from these women’s memories—to start to etch out the movement’s history—is thrilling.
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LGBT activists flank the former Ombudsman for Human Rights, Oscar Luna, at a press conference in El Salvador on May 17, 2013.

A very interesting event happened at this year’s Pride march. A group of feminist-lesbians used a controversial image of the Catholic Virgin Mary of Guadalupe in the march, converting it into a symbol of the sacred nature of the body and embrace of pleasure. There was much protest in response; in a culturally orthodox Catholic society, the feminist-lesbians were contesting the meaning of the symbol of Mary. But push-back came not only from the usual conservative sectors of society. The LGBT movement split roughly in half, with some accusing the feminist-lesbians of being disrespectful of religious beliefs and thus setting back the struggle for equality, and with others applauding the use of symbolism long associated with the patriarchy in a subversive reclamation of women’s rights. This outcome seems to reflect a deep divide among activists about what they really want: to become part of the state by being awarded equal human rights; or to reject the state because of its inherently unjust foundation and instead to build something else. Whether these competing goals will enrich the movements or weaken them remains to be seen.

Posted by Danielle Marie Mackey – MA Candidate at NYU CLACS

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