“They are invisible violence, normalized or that have been carried out with the complicity of society and it is key that the country reflect on what happened and what continues to happen. We have to change,” said Commissioner Alejandra Miller. These are the findings of the Truth Commission on the violations of the rights of the LGBTIQ+ population during the armed conflict.
Paloma couldn’t forget the sound of spitting on her face. “You are a filth, this passes you off as a lesbian; we are going to wait for your wife, because here we killed them both, we had already told them to leave, you give a bad example to the village and here we are going to clean up,” he told her. shouted the paramilitaries of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Twenty years later, her story is part of the section dedicated to the LGBTIQ + population in the Women and Gender chapter of the Truth Commission: “The truth will be rainbows.”
His story is that of thousands. “One does not seek recognition or reparation with this, no. What one wants is to tell people: ‘Look, I’ve lost my dreams!’ No one is going to return that to you.” Pigeon’s; growing old on his farm, raising chicks. An example of many of the lives cut short by more than fifty years of war in Colombia, but also by the patriarchal society that for decades silenced the violations of the rights of people of sexual orientation, non-normative identities and gender diversity.
In its effort to cover all the realities of the conflict, the Truth Commission (CEV), together with its Gender Team, delved into the multiple persecutions and violence against homosexuals, trans people and gender dissidence; dedicating a section exclusively to analyzing and listening to them. “It is the first Truth Commission in the world that delves into what happened to LGBTIQ+ people. It is very important because it has been a very invisible violence, very unknown and minimized, “commissioner Alejandra Miller, who led the investigation, told France 24.
Mi cuerpo es la verdad, el volumen sobre las experiencias de mujeres y personas LGBTIQ+ de la @ComisionVerdadC, es un aporte vivencial y explicativo, lleno del dolor y de la fuerza de las mujeres que sostuvieron éste país durante la guerra. Gracias ? https://t.co/IzZehtJBAE
— Alejandra Miller R (@AlejamillerR) July 22, 2022
Although other institutions and organizations at the international level have carried out this type of study focused on people with diverse sexual orientations, the CEV, as Salomé Gómez, coordinator of the Commission’s Gender Working Group, explains to France 24, “is the first entity that gives disaggregated figures by sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions”. And she adds that it was a great challenge for the organization: “managing to account, for example, how many women were lesbians, how many bisexual men, gay men, how many trans women or men. No entity has that because it is regularly a challenge to contrast that information that is framed within a global category such as LGBTIQ + “.
“Those sissies should be killed”
Once again, the CEV confirms that all the armed groups that participated in the conflict, as well as the State and society, exercised and perpetuated violence against the LGBTIQ+ population due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. “There they threw me in one piece, kicked me, tied me up. They told me: ‘Because of fag is that we bring you. Here we are going to turn you into a man,” said Fabricio, a gay man from Antioquia who was raped by men from the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP).
Both the paramilitaries, the guerrillas and the Public Force carried out this violence. While the former forced LGBTIQ+ people to perform sex work, torture, homicides, threats and are the main responsible for the exile and displacement of this population; The FARC-EP sought to enslave these people for sexual purposes: “We were seen as sexual objects for them, to satisfy their sexual needs. They have always seen us as the ladybug, the cook, the dishwasher”; or instrumentalize them for war.
Both armed groups carried out forced recruitment. “They supposedly recruited me to become a man, because a queer was not well seen in the town, because one was going to harm the others,” said a victim of the paramilitaries. “Yes there was like the thing that ‘the guerrilla needs are men, men, and women but that they be machorras’; They did let lesbians into the guerrillas because there were many who had girlfriends on the front lines, but they did kick out the manes,” Ricardo pointed out.
In addition, according to the entity: “The public force resorted to arbitrary arrests, homicides, sexual violence, torture, threats and attacks on freedom of association in order to annihilate LGBTIQ+ people to reaffirm state power, achieve results in the war and impose controls on civilian life. In some cases, it acted in collusion with paramilitary groups.”
These systematic scourges, which remained unpunished for decades, with high social approval, range from sexual and reproductive violence; threats; persecution; displacement and forced recruitment; instrumentation; judicial assemblies; torture and murder. “These attacks, which respond to hegemonic sociocultural models with which divisions have been imposed between what is ‘healthy’ and what is ‘sick’, what is ‘moral’ and what is ‘immoral’, what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘abnormal’ ‘, have caused precarious conditions throughout their lives”, reads the text.
Some violence that began before the shooting
Among the Commission’s findings is the fact that these forms of violence began before the shrapnel and the shooting – since the Spanish invasion, sponsored by the Judeo-Christian morality of the Church – and continue to the present day: “the signing of the Peace Agreement it did not mean the end of the aggressions”, but they worsened and intensified during the conflict. Each group, they explain, had particular patterns in the persecution of LGBTIQ+ people “for reasons related to their sexual orientations and non-normative gender identities and expressions.”
The report documents 709 cases of violence committed against 369 LGBTIQ+ people who offered their memories to the CEV. 14.6% of the victims identified themselves as black, Afro-Colombian or Raizal and 4.3% as indigenous. “The specific volume of the experiences of the LGBTIQ+ population delves into those causes of why what happened to them happened to them. We did a deepening, but it was also a challenge to be able to find and be able to generate trust with the LGBTIQ+ victims”, says Gómez.
The difficulty in finding testimonies reveals an underreporting, linked to the fear of speaking out due to possible reprisals or persecution that this population still suffers; re-victimization, as well as mistrust of the institutions that for years have left these people unprotected. “LGBTIQ+ women and people have suffered from the state’s lack of protection and have been excluded from democracy. The State has not guaranteed their rights and the State deepened these vulnerabilities”, criticizes Miller.
For example, in Colombia homosexuality was criminalized and pathologized during the first period of the conflict. Therefore, the persecutions were widely accepted from the institutions and even committed by the same State and Public Force. “The behavior of the public force was very horrible, because they put us in jail, they took us to the Caucasia Police, they made us do the cleaning because we were ‘faggots,'” said Dorita, a trans woman.
Something that did not change after its decriminalization, in 1980; but it was replicated and aggravated during the most violent years of the conflict and even prior to the signing of peace in Havana, Cuba. “In 2008, the murders due to the misnamed ‘social cleansing’ persisted,” says the entity, which clarified that, after the demobilization of some paramilitary groups, they continued to persecute and attack LGBTIQ+ people.
Systematic and simultaneous violence
Another fact highlighted by the report is that most of the violence “was not isolated or unique to the victim, but occurred one after another, or were simultaneous; that is, they formed ensembles or repertoires”, pointing to a common pattern of all the armed actors: “they alluded to the same thing: ‘because of fags’”. It also points out that the modalities of sexual violence were not random, “but they responded to exemplary and symbolic acts.”
Many times, as the CEV points out, there were several groups that carried out this violence at the same time. And all these practices and violations of their rights were “systematic, in different territories and periods of time, as part of military plans, interests and exercises.”
The Colombian patriarchal culture helped to perpetuate this violence, even within the family. “My mom told me: ‘You know: if you come out gay, I’ll send the guerrillas to kill you,’” Willington said. The report also points out the media that with their narratives discriminated against these populations, accused of being “sinners”, “sick” and “criminals”.
When the first cases of HIV/AIDS began to be documented, prejudices and imaginaries were aggravated to further discriminate and harass these people. “The reports of the National Center for Historical Memory revealed, in the same way, the control and murders of women in prostitution under the argument of protecting the common good, in which they hid to kill women with HIV.”
In the words of Miriam, a trans woman: “In a single night they killed 24; later, another night they killed about 20, and so on. They were big massacres, for the sole fact that they were homosexual, because they thought that this disease was only spread by us, for being gay.” The Commission points out that the transmission of these sexual infections resulting from rape by armed actors “aggravated the emotional and physical marks of LGBTIQ+ people, to which was added a health system that also discriminated against them and did not give them guarantees of confidentiality or access to abortion.”
For the Commission, the body of LGBTIQ+ people has great importance and symbolism in the creation of their diverse identities and sexualities. The violence exerted on their bodies marked the lives of these people. The agency wanted to highlight the “body as a fundamental element in the resistance of LGBTIQ+ people, to challenge sexuality and gender that the armed actors tried to impose from the norms, and as the place of political action for their resistance.”
“That has to put us in front of a mirror as a society in which not only were they allowed, but many times the communities themselves applauded what the armed actors did because they considered these people to be undesirable, harmful,” says Miller. “They are invisible violence, normalized or that have been exercised with the complicity of society and it is key that the country reflect on what happened and what continues to happen. We have to change,” she concludes.
With all these findings, the CEV drafted a series of recommendations for the reparation and non-repetition of this violence to both the State and civil society, such as guaranteeing their access to justice; generate conditions of equality in all areas; guarantee institutional participation or recognition of Colombian society in its role of discrimination.
Ferley, a victim of sexual violence, was skeptical about the CEV: “What worries me the most is that, in terms of culture and social and community processes, we continue to be made invisible and public policies continue to treat us like data, like statistics, as figures, but they do not give us real solutions. We are useful for the distribution of the budget, for statistics, for measurements, but we are still in poverty, on the periphery, and more and more, our lives, our health and our daily lives are affected”.