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Invisibility is not a shield to save us from lesbophobia

FRIDAY FILE: The first Lesbian March in Rosario, Argentina, to commemorate the Lesbian Visibility and Fight Against Lesbophobia Day, took place on March 7, and gathered more than a hundred people. AWID spoke to activists about the relevance of this day

By Gabby De Cicco

The march was organized by a group of independent feminist lesbians "Las tortas de Chavela" (Chavela's Dykes) beginning in the Sexual Diversity Promenade by the Parana River and giving a different feel to the sunset of March 7. Local LGTBI collectives and social movements like Vox Asociación Civil, and the Mapuche(Indigenous) community also joined the march among others. The route included a cultural and musical activity called "Destape lésbico" (Lesbians Uncovered), organized by the lesbian group Las Safinas a protest in front of the city Cathedral, and culminated at the landmark Monument to the Flag.

During the march rainbow flags fluttered, different lesbian political slogans were carried on posters and the name Natalia “Pepa” Gaitán or la Pepa was repeated, throughout.

La Pepa Gaitán and Lesbian Visibility Day

On March 7, 2010, 27 year-old Natalia Pepa Gaitán was shot dead by her girlfriend's stepfather, Daniel Torres. La Pepa was a chonga[1], who worked with her family in a community soup kitchen on the outskirts of Cordoba city. As a committed worker for her community's welfare, she was very loved.

Gabriela Lorenzo, lesbian feminist activist and one of the organizers of the march, explained to AWID, "We tortas (dykes) are owning this day with all its meaning, and transforming it into an specific day for visibility, showing that lesbophobia exists and that women can die for being lesbian. Invisibility is not a shield to save us from lesbophobia. I think this is something that, as lesbians, we need to continue reflecting upon. Many continue to be in the closet to avoid being attacked, but lesbophobia kills, as it also happens when they commit suicide".

The theme of the March was "Against lesbophobia, tortas march with the joy of being visible". Lorenzo recalls the context in which Pepa's death happened: "This hate crime happened at a historical time in which it seemed that we were moving forwards in Argentina in terms of rights. It happened in the midst of the debates around egalitarian (same-sex) marriage". Like other activists, Lorenzo believes that to acknowledge the existence of both external and internalized lesbophobia are extremely important, as is acknowledging that there are lesbians "Who are happy to be visible, for whom this is our activism, a place of joy, that being with other lesbians is part of our lifestyle. This is why we chose as the theme of the march - the idea that we challenge lesbophobia with the joy of being visible".

For lesbian feminist journalist and activist Irene Ocampo, the Visibility Day "Is a day on which we speak out to tell society that we do not want to continue enduring violence in the family, at school or in the workplace, for having a sexual orientation or a gender identity that does not fit the norm. And it is also a day to celebrate life, to freely express ourselves, to remember all those who did something before, so today we can speak out, think for ourselves and celebrate a lesbian culture that has a lesser need to live in the trenches and is more inclusive of our own diversity".

Reflections on justice

Daniel Torres was on trial between July 23 and August 8, 2011 and was sentenced to 14 years in prison for "manslaughter aggravated by the use of firearms". While the court imposed the penalty that had been requested by the prosecutor and femicide was mentioned, Pepa's mother, Graciela Vázquez, and other activists were not satisfied because neither the court nor the prosecutor ever acknowledged that it was a hate crime motivated by Pepa's sexual identity.

Fabi Tron, lesbian feminist chonga, followed the Daniel Torres trial from within chambers and was the only lesbian reporting daily about the trial. Last year, her chronicles were compiled in a publication called “Quiénes mataron a la Pepa Gaitán” (Who were Pepa Gaitán's murderers?).[2]

Tron explained to AWID that she was highly critical even before the start of the trial in which Daniel Torres was finally condemned for having killed Pepa. Tron said: "We live in a society in which the normative imposition of compulsory heterosexuality brings lesbophobia or misogyny as a result, ie, men's control over women. So there is a contradiction because you are claiming justice for something that the heteropatriarchal system itself pushes for: violence against lesbians, against women. We are brought up in a society that is homo-lesbo-transphobic, that is misogynist and male-chauvinist. These are unwritten commands but unless you have examined them critically in yourself, you have internalized them. So when faced with this situation it was always clear to me that Torres did what the heteropatriarchal system told him he had to do. A trial and a Penal Code that imposes a penalty for killing another person is not enough. Laws are often insufficient to stop what people do. People continue killing lesbians. For me, how to achieve justice is something that LGBTI movements and activist groups need to discuss much more in-depth; we need to think of new ways of achieving justice".

Tron, a pioneering activist with a long trajectory, advocates for collective discussion leading to the creation of those other forms of achieving justice. She explains: "I don't have an answer, but I think we need to aim for a justice in which it will be impossible for this kind of act to happen again. The law does not guarantee that. The only guarantee is collective action towards a complete transformation in society. We continue to use the tools the legal system provides - the trials and their verdicts that are supposed to provide a symbolic 'redress' for her family and for some of us. But no real redress is possible, as the wounds can never be closed and will continue to fester. For some activists no justice is possible. There will only be justice when this kind of violence no longer occurs, as poet Macky Corbalán used to say".

[1] Masculine lesbian.

[2] Bocavulvaria Ediciones.


Pictures of the March


The Sexual Diversity Promenade, the Paraná River and the slogans for the march



The March begins its route



Two activists from the group "Eva tiene 2 mamás" (Eva has two mothers)



Lesbians marching and distributing flyers with political slogans



Irene Ocampo



Activists in front of the cathedral

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