Monday, April 27, 2015

Lesbians Make History in Belgrade

By Kelly Cogswell

On Sunday, April 19, more than one hundred women took to the Belgrade streets for the first lesbian march in the entire region. The march capped off four days of The Lesbian Spring, which included photo exhibits, film screenings, discussions, workshops, and of course, parties.

A bold action in a city where Pride marches are often banned after threats of violence, and marchers are sometimes attacked, the Lesbian March included rom women from Niš and Novi Bečej, and activists from the Lesbian Women's Network. Their focus was lesbian rights, and lesbian visibility.

Marchers participated for a range of reasons according to an April 20 post in e-Novine. Ana Pandej, a Lesbian Spring organizer, was sick of lesbians being invisible, not just in society, but in demos for worker's rights, women, even Gay Pride. "It's like we're not even there...It's really essential for women in general, particularly lesbians, but also straight, bi, and queer women, to be visible in public spaces."

Zoé Gudović, another activist with the organization reemphasized the importance of claiming space, and acknowledging the contributions of lesbians to LGBT history. She also said, "We took to the streets today to show that we are not some Western import. We exist in this country. We are citizens of this society that we help build, and we want change. Change which will come when people understand just how much political oppression affects women, and how it's omnipresent for lesbians…"

Zoé Gudović enjoyed the cultural events of Lesbian Spring. "We were able to see a film from Bosnia-Herzegovina about a group of female soccer players, the film "Lesbianna" from filmmaker Myriam Fougère, and we discussed different books and publications and we had the opportunity to seen an exhibit of photographs of lesbians taken by lesbians." She was impressed by how much the group of international lesbians had in common, in particular their struggles with invisibility and violence.

The Lesbian Spring was organized by a range of groups and individuals. It was timed, in part, to coincide with the presence of the Feminist Caravan, a project of the World March of Women, an international activist group.

Dyke-Baiting, Trans-Hating, and The MichFest Debacle

By Kelly Cogswell

Early last week, Lisa Vogel announced that the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival would close after this year's 40th anniversary event. The response was tears in some quarters, and from some "good riddance." I'm ashamed to admit that I put off weighing in because I'm not thick-skinned, and I hate getting trolled.

But somebody has to say the obvious. That the whole MichFest thing may have begun as a fight about trans inclusion, but for the last few years it's mostly been an opportunity to engage in dyke-baiting, and attacking women-only spaces, however "women" is defined.

While MichFest organizers did eject a trans woman in 1991, they later acknowledged--repeatedly--that the action was a mistake. Trans people actually do attend the festival. Some even staff it, and I believe, have directed workshops. Last year, founder and director Lisa Vogel attempted to clarify the matter by issuing a statement declaring that MichFest considered trans women as women, and that at the festival nobody's gender was ever questioned.

Given the multiple apologies for the fuck up, and the fact trans women already do attend the festival, though not all are out, it's hard to understand why critics continue to give the impression that pitchfork wielding dykes and evil cis women have repeatedly chased trans women from MichFest.

Worse, they encourage other trans people to attack both organizers and participants with a level of rage and hate that we do not see directed towards anything or anybody else. Not the politicians that refuse to allow trans people to determine their own identities. Not cops that routinely roust trans women. Not their rapists. Not their murders. Nope, the real obstacles to trans progress are those filthy bigoted dykes at MichFest that should probably all be exterminated.

Am I exaggerating? Not much. The internet is awash with anti-MichFest posts that end with diatribes attacking lesbians as a class, many wishing for our collective demise.

MichFest critics have been so effective misrepresenting the facts, that I was surprised last year to discover trans women actually did go and many treasured their experiences there. One woman explained how much she learned hearing other women's stories, and getting a sense of feminism in practice. The problem was that she was afraid to come out as trans and have her heart broken. That is a real issue. And I would've liked to hear more from her. Unfortunately, she didn't fit the narrative of the MichFest critics and people like her were erased.

It's true that she may have risked rejection. I don't know what the atmosphere is like, and lesbians aren't more enlightened on trans issues than anybody else. And, as in any other group, there are some dykes that are hardcore trans-haters, including a number who deny the transgender experience, explaining that trans women are just effeminate men that refuse to accept their femininity and are trying to extend their male privilege into the female domain.

The biggest difference, in this debate, anyway, is that most lesbians, including the organizers of MichFest, have made a big effort to distance themselves as fast as they can from these trans-deniers and bigots. Lesbians are so eager to condemn transphobia that we'll even attack each other to prove our bona fides. A number of lesbian organizations like the National Center for Lesbian Rights were persuaded to sign a petition boycotting lesbian artists that were going to appear at MichFest, though some, including NCLR and its director Kate Kendall later reconsidered.

Tellingly, while everybody rushes to denounce the transphobia of MichFest, few have emerged to defend lesbians from the resulting dyke-baiting. No one is willing to talk about lesbian issues at all, including why MichFest existed in the first place. Why? Because Vogel refuses to renounce her belief that women (however that is defined) deserve their own space? Where female bodies and experiences can be central, and they can relinquish the daily burden of misogyny and abuse...?

Is it all too dykey? Too… essentialist for the post-feminist, post-queer year of 2015? Before you write a comment full of sneers and snark, tell me, just what has changed? Not misogyny. Not violence. Not the attacks on female bodies. Unless men have quit raping women this week, quit killing us at home and in the street, quit dissecting the voice, and hair and thighs of the few women that venture into politics.

Half the women I know have PTSD from a life of having a cunt and tits in public. Why wouldn't some women need a breather, a woman, womyn, wimmin-only space? Men don't know what it's like. Even trans women don't know what a lifetime of it is like. How could they? Which is why it would be nice if we could chill out and talk about all this, how our lives intersect, even if they aren't identical. We could maybe even talk about how dyke-baiting isn't good for any woman, trans women included. Turn down that sleazeball on the corner, whaddaya get called? A dyke.

Monday, April 13, 2015

No Honeymoon in Brazil For Post-Marriage Queers

The cover of a Christian magazine.

By Kelly Cogswell

So the feds finally recognize your marriage, big deal. Pop a cork, swig some champagne, then get back to work. You can't legislate the end of homophobia. Just look at Brazil, with its enormous LGBT Pride Marches, marriage equality, and entrenched homophobia and violence.

I've been swapping messages about the state of Brazil's Queer Nation with Mariana Rodrigues, a 31 year old dyke activist who worked at Liga Brasileira de Lésbicas (League of Brazilian Lesbians) when she still lived in Sao Paolo. And she started off by telling me that despite all their legal progress, young queers that dare to come out are regularly met with fierce disapproval or even violence from family, friends and society at large. When one of her young friends announced he was gay, his father actually tossed him out of a moving car.

And despite the parades, most people are still closeted at work, or they wouldn't find any. Especially feminine gay men, and butch dykes. Trans people almost never find employment in a formal workplace. Luma Nogueira Andrade, the first trans university professor in the country, is a rare exception. Now, she's actually the first trans college president in Brazil at the University of International Integration of Brazil-Africa Lusophony (UNILAB) in the northeast. She describes herself as travesti (transsexual) instead of transgender to highlight the history of stigma and violence that transsexuals continue to face.

Almost one queer is killed every day in Brazil, with trans people accounting for half the victims, largely because they're forced to the margins of a society where violence is already endemic. In fact, violence against all LGBT people is increasing, especially in big cities like Sao Paolo and Rio. Mariana believes it is the beginning of an enormous backlash.

Just two weeks ago, a video went viral showing a huge group of young men, called "Gladiators of the Altar" shouting that they were going to hunt down queers and kill them. They are organized by one of the largest evangelical groups in Brazil, the enormous Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. A few days afterwards, Mariana found an equally horrifying post on their website, that shows an image of a father with a gun in his hand saying, "Who else wants to admit they're gay?" The caption: "everyone should have a gun at home to solve their own problems."

More and more, politicians attack LGBT people and women's rights during their campaigns, as they compete for the conservative, evangelical vote. Mariana was shocked when the Brazilian president, Dilma Roussef, actually vetoed a curriculum developed to help teachers cope better with diversity in schools. A member of the Workers Party which has been the most progressive on LGBT issues, Rouseff claimed that it was not the government's role to "spread sexual orientation propaganda."

As in the U.S., the division of church and state is increasingly blurred as conservative evangelical movements elect more and more legislators, and invest entire fortunes in buying up media outlets and creating giant lobbying machines. Marco Feliciano, a staunch evangelical, is now the president of Brazil's federal council of human rights. Besides declaring that black people are cursed because they didn't worship Jesus in Africa, he's also blamed bi people for the AIDS epidemic. Jair Bolsonaro, another evangelical deputy, said that children only become gay because they're not beaten enough. Both were re-elected in a landslide.

In the last election a Catholic candidate promised to create a mass movement rising up against the evil of homosexuality, which among other things, threatened the traditional family. In that case, the public defender filed a lawsuit against him because those statements were made on national television and incited hate crime. Last week he was sentenced to pay a fine which will go towards a public service announcement supporting LGBT rights, though it might be overturned on appeal.

Nevertheless, LGBT activists can't keep up, and Mariana worries that evangelical politicians may actually be able to reverse decades of legal and social progress in Brazil. Just recently, a program about gender equality and sexual orientation was removed from the national curriculum after intense lobbying from evangelicals. They claimed these "theories of gender are included to propagate and encourage homosexuality in children."

And in Tocantins, the state where Mariana now lives in central Brazil, LGBT activists worked for two years to pass a program containing provisions for education, health, social assistance and work, and insuring the LGBT population there basic human rights. Eight days after the plan was approved and announced, the state government caved in to pressure from Christian members and revoked the whole thing.

Even when the federal government does makes progressive recommendations, they are often ignored by the state governments. (Like in the United States, LGBT rights and protections vary from state to state). Sometimes policies are passed, but not implemented because they aren't awarded funds. Other times, judges rule according to their personal beliefs rather than the laws on the books.

Still, Mariana sees some positive shifts on the cultural front. A new soap opera featured a kiss by two older lesbians in the first episode. While there was a huge uproar from the evangelical population, there was also a number of strong, approving voices. This was progress from the first time there was a lesbian couple on a soap when it caused such outrage the writers almost immediately killed them off. Gay activists are organizing some beijaços (kiss-ins) to support the new show.

One new twist in the ongoing war for LGBT rights, is how evangelicals are beginning to claim that they themselves are victims of discrimination against Christians. They say that gay people are the abusive majority preventing them from exercising their "right" to denounce LGBT people, and even call for their eradication. If these cries of "heterophobia" sound familiar, it's because evangelical movements both north and south are joined at the pocketbook, and the tactic has been spreading in the U.S. as well. Indiana's only a heartbeat from Brazil.