Nicaraguan Lesbians Make Visibility Dreams Come True With “Cuando Las Lesbianas Hablamos”

Editor’s note: All quotes are translated from Spanish by the author.

Lesbian activism in Nicaragua has often been subsumed by feminist and gay activism, so a group of badass lesbians are making themselves heard in a new way with a project called “Cuando Las Lesbianas Hablamos” – When Lesbians Speak.

La Corriente, a feminist organization based in Managua, produced the qualitative study with funding from Oxfam and the Basque government. On Wednesday, the organization presented the resulting short film and book for the first time to a crowd of about 75 lesbian, bisexual and trans women and our pals. It features the stories of four lesbian women: Jennipher Ellis, a black woman from the mostly-Afro-Carribean Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua; Tania Irías, a lesbian activist and mother; Geni Gómez, a Spanish feminist activist who calls herself “Nicaraguan not by the grace of God but by choice;” and Gaby Baca, Nicaragua’s only openly lesbian singer-songwriter.

In the film, they talk frankly about their experiences as lesbians in Nicaragua – coming out, experiencing discrimination and rejection, falling in love, and working as activists. Nicaragua decriminalized sodomy in 2008, but gay and lesbian families don’t have legal protections and benefits. Lesbians exist in a weird limbo between visible and invisible because, as Corriente projects director Cristina Arévalo told me, most lesbians are at least partially closeted, “but everyone knows where we go dancing, where we go to drink a beer, they know we’re here.”

The project provides a new avenue for people to understand the experiences of Nicaraguan lesbians.  Ellis talks about the dual discrimination of being black and lesbian, as well as being rejected by most of her family. For the book, she writes: “Although people are becoming more sensitive, there is discrimination, and I don’t know when it’s going to end. If I could turn back time, maybe I would be hidden. I would be safe in the closet.”

Jennipher Ellis and Tania Irías, photo courtesy of Programa Feminista La Corriente

Jennipher Ellis and Tania Irías, photo courtesy of Programa Feminista La Corriente

They each share their dreams – to have their families recognized legally, to live without social and legal discrimination, and for Irías, that her 5-year-old son “will never be made to feel ashamed to have a lesbian mom.” Goméz says:

“It’s fundamental that the mentality of everyone changes… In our schools, we need a sexual education that is really liberated and that contributes to the development of a person, of their relationship with their body, to their experience with sexuality, without fear, without shame, without blame, without norms. This is the greatest that we can aspire to.”

This film and the accompanying report has the potential to push us closer to those dreams. Baca, the songwriter, asked after the showing, “This is a great tool, now what are we going to do with it?”

“Share it as much as you can,” Arévalo replied.

So here I am on Autostraddle, where most of our readers don’t speak Spanish and will never visit Nicaragua, urging you to watch this film. There are no subtitles, but I hope you can see from the urgency in these four women’s voices and eyes that their struggles mirror our struggles as queer women all over the world. You know those moments when you can feel a palpable shift in the air that signals change and hope and possibility? That’s how it felt in the auditorium of the Catholic university where we watched the film. I forgot about the sour look I got from the security guard at the entrance when I asked where to find the event after I saw the smiles on every face in that room.

During the question and answer period after the presentation, my friend Katya got emotional when she said, “I’m so thankful to you all for making this. I’m thinking about the young girl in Estelí, like I once was, who will have access to this.”

The presenters spoke a lot about the threats people face when they come out and their reasons for not doing so and emphasized that it’s not right to pressure people to come out when they aren’t ready to. But for people who can take the risks, coming out helps destroy the closets of others until one day, we can live hand in hand in the dream world these women envision.

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Audrey is a Texan living in Managua, Nicaragua. She loves journalism, country dancing and talking to strangers. Follow her on Twitter @audreywhitetx.

Audrey has written 47 articles for us.

14 Comments

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    As a queer that has been living and travelling through Latin America for the past year (currently Colombia), sometimes solo and sometimes with Argentinian girlfriend gotta give ups to this project. Queer visiblity really lacking in a lotta places over here and this is just the kinda stuff we need to see. Haven’t been to Niguragua yet so can’t comment on the situtation there but sure that it shares many similarities with other parts of Latin America. Also as a queer hoping to live, work and start a family in Latin America can’t stress how important it is for us to be community building and sharing right now. Have felt many times a sense of isolation, fear and straight up sadness for the way queers represented and treated in some parts here so turly warming to see this video. Keep it up and thanks for posting.

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      I am queer Spanish student who is hoping to start traveling Latin America in about a year. Mind if I ask about what your experiences have been like traveling around? Which places were the best/worst as far as acceptance and community? Things like that. Also, just in general I am curious as to which places you have enjoyed the most!

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        Hey yeah no probs. I just started writing a reply but it was really big cos a response to this is super complex! I am masculine of centre and obviously that had a big impact on my experience. do you wanna give me some specific questions? Maybe in a message because otherwise I will write a giant rambing essay and bore everyone. :)

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      I’m just going to put this out there…your white feelings about how Latin America should or should not treat you don’t much matter. Queer visibility is actually really prominent in Brazil (although the LGBTQ community, especially trans women, suffer from a lot of violence in the cities), in Argentina (especially), Uruguay, etc, especially because queerness is a part of many indigenous cultures. How these countries work toward going back to that equality and celebration/acceptance of queerness should have nothing to do with what you want. That’s actually really colonialist in concept/theory. AS JUST had an article about that. Read it, yo.
      What these women are doing is what matters, for them, for their people.
      —a QPOC who’s lived in Ecuador and who has family in South America.

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        Actually, I did read it. And my question sort of implied that I had zero idea of what to expect, and so asked someone who had traveled what their experiences were. I didn’t give any expectations and asked about both good experiences and bad experiences. It isn’t right of you to assume that I had white assumptions, when I gave none, yo.

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        Hey yeah I totally agree with you, and I have read that article. Latin America owes me nothing and it is presumptious to say that I have felt mistreated here when I am part of a long history of exploitation and colonisation – one that continues and is supported by where I come from. I find the relationship between my white privellage and queer identity are really tricky over here and do acknowledge that in many cases I don’t have the right offer my voice. Grateful to you for pointing it out. I was hoping more to express my admiration for the project than whinge about how hard life is for a gringa here, guess I did a shitty job. White queers travelling in Latin America need to take our historical context into account before we start preaching again or talking about community building on our terms.

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    audrey, thank you so much for sharing this good news! as a queer woman living next door to you in el salvador, and having fallen captive to the central american story in querida nicaraguita, i am so happy to learn more about this outlet in nicaragua and about central american queer visibility in general. i actually created an account and logged in just to say thanks for daring to share spanish-language media from a country that might be unfamiliar to many of us :)

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    It nice to see anything positive from country. But truth be told Nicaragua isn’t on it surface very queer once you delve into the history you start seeing a very interesting picture. I’m not sure about the other Central American countries but we was one of the first country that female soldiers.

    We also had a female president that everyone speculated that was a lesbian. Being Nicaraguan myself I’ve grown up to think that talking about your feelings or emotions or being open about your private life is a big no no similar to the Japanese. At least that how it was for me. I have a difficult relationship with my country but I miss it and wish it it progress quickly. :-) thanks for sharing the video.

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