Venezuela's sex and gender diverse community: 'They can't deny our existence anymore'

November 13, 2017
Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance activists. Photo: Veneuela Analysis.

Venezuela’s Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance (ASGDRe) was set up in 2009 as a collective to fight for gender diversity rights and against discrimination based on sexuality.

What separated ASGDRe from other similar groups was that they openly supported the revolutionary process taking place in Venezuela.

Speaking with members of ASGDRe, as part of the international solidarity delegation organised by Venezuela Analysis in August, they told us that the group began with about 10 members, mainly friends.

However, it grew over time to include members from different collectives and trade unions, as well as workers, farmers, cultural workers, graphic artists and others trying to raise sexuality and gender issues in their respective sectors.

ASGDRe activist Armando explained: “We are living through a historic process of change. We want to be able to create conditions so that our rights over sexual diversity are included in all different issues.”

Breaking stereotypes

“We try to place ourselves in the political and economic debate, to engage and discuss with everyone,” said Armando. “There is a lot to do to break down stereotypes.

There have been advances for the mass of the population as part of the revolutionary process, Armando explains, “but we can’t deny that we live in a society that is homophobic, sexist and doesn’t allow us to advance. There are still many gender issues we have to address.

“Many years will pass before we are able to break traditions and customs, and the myths that are created around sexuality.

“We talk about a free sexuality without complications, without feeling guilty. We have to challenge the biomedical perception of men and women, of the nuclear family, which doesn’t really exist here in Venezuela.

“If you go to a community, the family structure is not a simple thing. Our families are made up of women who are widows or absent fathers. We have godmothers, uncles and aunts, men and women, with children. There are homosexual men with children. 

“There is a diversity of families here in Venezuela. We need to break down the concept of what a family means. The nuclear family is a concept created by the state that has been imposed on us since colonialism.”

Maria Helena, another activist with ASGDRe, added: “Our families relate more to real life, are more similar to the African structure of families, which is an extended family. A child might have three-to-five mothers at a time.”

The collective works closely with Afro-Venezuelan, feminist and other movements, which marks them out from other Venezuelan sex and gender organisations that follow they consider a European model.

Maria Helena noted: “Some of the other movements think that the fight is over whether we are LGBT or queer or XYZ. This comes from the US culture, but it is not really suitable to Venezuela since we are in a revolutionary process.

“All those letters are used by scientific and medical experts to identify us as aberrations, to pathologise us. We don’t see ourselves as sick people. So we don’t adopt those letters.

“People have called us ‘marico’, as ‘cachapero’. As a consequence, we have decided to flip it over, reclaim those words and call ourselves those names and we are not offended.

Armando added: “We are pretty radical. We are trying to build a new identity that looks more like us, as we really are.

“We don’t want it to focus on consumption. To be ‘gay’ in Europe and the US is someone who goes to the bar, to nightclubs, which are private spaces, and someone who has economic means, a certain type of middle class lifestyle in the gay ghettos.

“Here we are opposed to that stereotyping because a lot of people in the barrios don’t have access to that lifestyle, because we have to work 15 days straight to be able to party for one day, especially in this current economic situation”.

Changing laws

When discussion turned to the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) that was elected on July 30 and entrusted with the task of reforming the constitution, Maria Helena said: “We have proposed to the ANC to discuss the right to health care, housing and education without discrimination and the right to change our ID card”.

Currently, transgender people are able to decide how they want to be listed on the ID card, but there have been problems. Public officials do not want to change ID cards. A lot of left-wing parties have not taken up this issue as they generally do not discuss sexuality or gender issues.

The constitution states that there can be no discrimination based on sex or gender, but it does not specifically mention gender diversity or sexuality.

This meant that until recently, you could find job ads or rental properties in classified section of newspapers that included statements that same-sex couples need not apply. “We challenged that and won,” said Jose. 

Armando pointed that they successfully campaigned to amend the law on rental properties to recognise the rights of gender diverse people and same-sex attracted people.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recently said that the ANC should dedicate a chapter to sexuality and gender questions, but this still has to be debated in the ANC.

“It is difficult but not impossible,” said Ruby, another ASGDRe activist. “This is what we are now working on”.

In terms of marriage equality, Maria Helena said: “We don’t want to get married. We have to challenge the obligatory forms of families”.

Ruby agrees: “We want recognition of how we can live our lives, a different family structure, but it’s not about marriage. That is why our movement demands housing and social benefits, as this is important in our lives.”

“We respect your process in the West, using the term ‘queer’, but we don’t want to do that as we are in a different context,” said Maria Helena. “We want a quality of life so that we are not exploited or enslaved by the government or private institutions.

“We support the economic model of this government. The Bolivarian Revolution is the only option to make this a reality. There is no other path. The right-wing, the centre cannot do it.

“The state of course has its contradictions. It’s going to take a long time for substantial change. But they can’t deny our existence anymore.”

“In the revolution, we have had advances but it has been slow. This struggle is hard but the possibility is there: the door is open.”

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