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Keywords:

  • feminism;
  • gay;
  • Latin America;
  • LGBT;
  • Nicaragua;
  • politics

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews

The LGBT or sexual diversity movement in Nicaragua, which was repressed by the FSLN in the 1980s, is currently supported by that party. I argue that this change in the FSLN's policy responds to shifting international frames regarding sexuality and human rights as well as to efforts to separate the LGBT movement from its allies in the feminist movement, and efforts to incorporate the LGBT movement into the FSLN's clientelistic networks. Despite real gains for LGBT activists as a result of these new policies, ultimately the FSLN has offered sexual diversity activists far more in the area of culture than rights.

The case of Nicaragua provides important insights into the evolution of state–civil society relations in Latin America. One of the surprises of recent history—examined by scholars such as Marsiaj (2006), Negrón-Muntaner (2008), Friedman (2009) and De la Dehesa (2010)—is that, compared to the practices of a generation ago, the left in many Latin American countries has become fairly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) friendly. The shift in policies toward the LGBT community is not identical in every country, but nonetheless there has been a shift. Nicaragua is an important case for examining the implications of recent changes in the Latin American left for LGBT politics in the region, as it is unique in important ways.

Nicaragua is governed by a party—the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN; Sandinista Front for National Liberation)—which first came to power when it overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, governed as a self-described revolutionary party from 1979 to 1990, and was returned to power with Daniel Ortega's re-election as president in late 2006. In other words, it is a party that stands with one foot in the tradition of the old left, especially that of Cuba, and the other foot in the tradition of the new left, also known as the pink tide (Sardá, 1997). Because of its unusual position, the FSLN allows us to examine the evolution of the partisan left's LGBT policies in ways that are not possible regarding other countries in the region.

Nicaragua is also unlike the countries that have drawn the most attention from scholars of LGBT politics in the region, relatively wealthy countries with significant middle classes such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. For example, Corrales and Pecheny's edited volume (2010) devotes six chapters to Argentina, six to Brazil, and four to Cuba; no other country is analysed in more than a chapter or two (other important works that focus on Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, or some combination of these cases include Green, 1994; Mogrovejo, 2000; Marsiaj, 2006; De la Dehesa, 2010; Pierceson et al., 2010; Torres-Ruiz, 2011; Schulenberg, 2012).

In this article, drawing on scholars such as De la Dehesa (2010: xv), Friedman (2009: 428–430) and Corrales and Pecheny (2010: 1), I will refer to the movement as the LGBT movement, as that term is used sometimes in Nicaragua and often in international circles. I will also use the term ‘gay and lesbian pride’ when analysing the 1980s, and ‘sexual diversity’ when analysing recent organising, which reflects the usage within Nicaragua. While noting that ‘sexual diversity’ and ‘LGBT’ are more broadly inclusive than the older term ‘gay and lesbian pride’, I will use these three terms as rough synonyms, which is how they are used in Nicaragua.

In this article, my goals are two-fold: to offer an explanation of how state–LGBT relations have evolved since the 1980s, and to analyse why they have evolved. My explanation of the reasons for the evolution draw upon Rafael De la Dehesa's (2010) insights regarding the relationship between the international and the domestic. As he has shown through his comparison of LGBT/state relations in Brazil and Mexico, shifting international frames help explain the new Latin American politics of sexuality. I will argue that as Latin America has undergone an often uneven transition to democracy, LGBT-friendly policies and practices have come to be critical indicators of modernity and respect for human rights (Friedman, 2009: 431; De la Dehesa, 2010: 3). So by promoting LGBT rights, the FSLN responds to shifting international frames.

But as De La Dehesa also notes, those international frames are always interpreted in the context of particular national histories:

While drawing on a shared liberal paradigm […] the prevailing frames deployed by activists in Mexico were not identical to those employed in Brazil, but resonated with the particularities of Mexico's history and social context, including the nature of the coalitions themselves. (De la Dehesa, 2010: 163; also see Torres-Ruiz, 2011: 48–49)

I will argue that the FSLN's new sexual diversity politics is not merely a response to international trends, but is also shaped by domestic politics, in particular by the history of FSLN–feminist movement relations, and by the tradition of clientelism in Nicaraguan politics.

For reasons that I will explain, feminist activists, most of whom trace their political roots to the Sandinista Revolution, have become increasingly hostile to the FSLN over the past generation. And the hostility is mutual (Kampwirth, 2004, 2008). Moreover, from the late 1980s to 2007, much of the sexual diversity rights organising happened with the protection of feminists (Thayer, 1997; Howe, 2002; Babb, 2003, 2004). So co-opting the sexual diversity movement is a way of separating that movement from its natural allies among feminists, and therefore weakening Nicaraguan feminism.

The second major domestic factor that explains the shift in FSLN policy regarding the sexual diversity movement is the strong clientelistic tradition in Nicaraguan politics, a tradition that cuts across party and ideology (González-Rivera, 2011: 73–79, 156–165; Howard and Vasquez, 2011: 73–77; Chaguaceda, 2012). Given the resonance of clientelism (a political strategy in which a party or politician trades material benefits for votes and loyalty) in Nicaragua, it makes sense that it would be employed by the FSLN to incorporate a new group—the sexual diversity community—into old networks. In conclusion, I will note that occurrences in 2012 illustrate the real limits to the FSLN's new LGBT politics, with the party offering far more support for entertainment than for extending rights. Put another way, there has been a fair amount of circus, but little bread.

This article is based on about two years of fieldwork conducted in Nicaragua between 1988 and 2012, including ethnographic observation, and hundreds of interviews addressing gender, sexuality, and politics, among them fifteen interviews conducted in the early 1990s with individuals who were active in gay and lesbian politics in the 1980s and 1990s. It draws most directly on 28 interviews with LGBT rights activists conducted in May and June of 2011, and to a much lesser extent on 24 interviews that I did in November and December of 2012 (but that have not been thoroughly analysed as of this writing). Finally, the article draws upon the secondary literature on Nicaraguan politics in particular, and LGBT politics in Latin America more generally.

1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews

Before the FSLN overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979, and during the first years of the revolution, there were a number of cases where the FSLN accepted open gays and lesbians within the ranks of party members and sympathisers, as long as they supported the FSLN and were discrete regarding their sexual orientations (Arauz, 1994; Kampwirth, 1994, 2004). Though many initially accepted their role—working for the revolution, often holding leadership positions, but not demanding their own rights—some gays and lesbians began to question that role by the mid-1980s, because of the revolution and the presence of many gay and lesbian internationalists in solidarity with the revolution:

At that time I worked in the armed forces, and the truth is that we began to want to organise ourselves [as lesbians and gays] because it was a time of political organising in Nicaragua. […] We began to have contacts with gays and lesbians who went to Nicaragua […] to harvest coffee, to harvest cotton, to build schools, to learn Spanish. And so little by little, we had exchanges with them. (interview with Lupita Sequeira, 1994)

Norman Gutiérrez also participated in these initial exchanges. In late 1986, shortly after completing two years of military service, he was invited to join a gay and lesbian pride group. That organisation, which was simply called Grupo Inicio (Initial Group), met in private homes. ‘Joel Zúñiga was there, Rita Aráuz was there, Lupita Sequeira was there, Alfonso González, Marcos Guevara; they began to invite me to the meetings they had in Rita's and Joel's house and I began to participate.’ The group had various goals, including AIDS prevention work and promoting women's rights. ‘The lesbian compañeras—who were the majority—were Sandinista Party members, they thought that they could promote a sexual diversity movement, a gay-lesbian movement in Nicaragua’ (interview with Norman Gutiérrez, 2011).

But they were wrong. When they reached the point when maybe 50 people were participating in their meetings, and they had named a coordinating committee (Randall, 1993: 912; Mogrovejo, 2000: 333–334), the FSLN became aware of the Initial Group. The fact that some had links to the United States—as foreigners who lived in Nicaragua or as Nicaraguans who had lived in the United States—was a problem. All of the foreigners supported the revolution and opposed the Reagan administration's support for the Contras, which at that point had been waging a brutal war against the revolution for years. Nonetheless,

it looked very bad, because obviously there was the social context of the war against Nicaragua. Even though the female leaders were all FSLN party members and some of the male leaders were FSLN party members, it was thought that these ideas came from the CIA because at that time everything was synonymous with the CIA and so the group disbanded. (interview with Norman Gutiérrez, 2011)

But it did not disband on its own; it disbanded only after a great deal of political pressure. Almost all the leaders of the group were imprisoned briefly. Marcos Guevara and Aníbal López were among those who were called to house number 50 of state security, where they were interrogated and threatened by Jacinto Súarez. López, who joined the movement at the age of 16, added that Suárez, without considering that they were Sandinista revolutionaries, warned them that Nicaragua was not ready for that sort of movement and that because of being gay: ‘we did not have an identity or social space within the revolutionary process because the new man was neither a faggot nor a fag fucker [el hombre nuevo no era cochón ni cochonero], because of that it was easy to confuse us with the enemy’ (El País, 1992: 8).

Lupita Sequiera also faced a lot of trouble because of her activism:

They fired me and they also threw me out of the party […] At that time the Ministry of the Interior also forbid us to meet politically […] [and] we were threatened severely […] Even with the threat of being imprisoned. But as they knew that we were all involved in the revolution, they did not do anything to us. What happened afterwards is that the Ministry of Health became aware that we existed, that we were a combative collective, and so we were incorporated, we created the group CEPSIDA, a collective against AIDS. (interview with Lupita Sequiera, 1994)

According to Sequeira, Minister of Health Dora María Téllez played an important role in offering them protection. Téllez was a hero of the guerrilla struggle, a former guerrilla commander. She was perhaps the only person who was powerful enough to confront state security, and certainly the only powerful person who was so inclined. She promised them a safe space within the Ministry of Health and so groups like CEPSIDA and Nimehuatzín distributed condoms and carried out grassroots sex education. Since she provided letters of introduction—and therefore protection—to the 20 or 25 activists, they were able to do AIDS education in peace. Similarly, when Minister of the Interior Tomás Borge asked her for a list of all the HIV-positive people in the country she refused, telling him, ‘It is not available’, and besides, she saw no reason to give it to him as it had nothing to do with state security (Dora María Téllez, personal communication, 2010).

Long-time activist Mario Gutiérrez disputed this account, suggesting that the anti-AIDS work that was done at that time was overwhelmingly a grassroots project, noting ‘I never saw Dora María playing any role’ (interview, 2012). Gutiérrez's point is a very important one. When analysing state–civil society relations it is easy to overemphasise the role of state actors as they are usually more visible than civil society actors, even though civil society actors typically do the overwhelming bulk of the work, and face greater personal risks. Nonetheless, it seems likely that Sequeira is right in remembering a role for Téllez in providing protection to the AIDS education activists, as her version is consistent with various other accounts (interview with Marta Sacasa, 2012; Randall, 1993: 914; Mogrovejo, 2000: 335–337; Babb, 2003: 308; Howe, 2007: 244).

There were a few other moments when gays and lesbians tried to make their cause visible in the 1980s. For example, some activists participated in a demonstration celebrating the tenth anniversary of the revolution dressed in black t-shirts decorated with pink triangles (Randall, 1993: 914). But those moments were few and far between until after the electoral defeat of the FSLN in 1990.

1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews

The beginning of the FSLN's evolution regarding LGBT rights was in response to Article 204, an anti-gay amendment to the Penal Code that was passed in 1992, even though the FSLN delegation to the National Assembly voted unanimously against it. This milestone may be explained by an evolution of Sandinista thought regarding sexual orientation, or it may be due to the fact that gays and lesbians and their allies lobbied hard against the draft bill. No doubt, the FSLN also opposed the bill because it was supported by the party's political opponents (Kampwirth, 1998: 60–61).

In any case, the FSLN was not able to stop the passage of the bill, and so for many years, the LGBT community had to live with the worst anti-LGBT legislation in the Americas. Article 204 read: ‘The crime of sodomy is committed by anyone who induces, promotes, propagandises or practices sexual intercourse, in a scandalous way, between people of the same sex. It will be penalised with one to three years in prison’ (quoted in Kampwirth, 1998: 60).

Article 204—which forbade speech favouring LGBT rights along with sexual practices—was not applied frequently. But it was always a threat and many people limited their actions accordingly. Nonetheless, during the years when 204 was in effect, there was quite a bit of LGBT organising, much of which, especially in the 1990s, happened within the autonomous feminist movement. For example, the Asociación Promoción y Desarrollo de la Mujer Nicaragüense Acahualt (Acahualt Nicaraguan Women's Promotion and Support Group) helped create the gay rights group, Una Nueva Esperanza (UNE; New Hope), the feminist sexual diversity organisation Movimiento Feminista para la Diversidad (MOFEM; Feminist Movement for Diversity) and the trans rights organisation Camenas Trans (Trans Goddesses). Additionally, the feminist organisations Central American Woman's Fund and Puntos de Encuentro (Common Ground) played key roles in the founding of the lesbian rights organisation Grupo Safo (Safo Group). Puntos also produced the magazine La Boletina and the television programme Sexto Sentido, both of which regularly addressed issues of LGBT rights. The feminist non-governmental organisation (NGO) Centro de Información y Asesoría en Salud (CISAS; Centre for Information and Health Support) ran a support group of gay men and lesbians, while the feminist NGO Xochiquetzal published the magazine Fuera del Closet (Out of the Closet). CISAS, Xochiquetzal, Puntos and other feminist groups helped organise gay and lesbian pride events, the Jornadas de Sexualidad, held every June starting in 1991. All of this (and many other activities that I cannot detail for reasons of space) went on despite the continued low-level threat of article 204 (Kampwirth, 2012; for more examples of LGBT organising within feminist organisations see Thayer, 1997; Howe, 2002; Babb, 2004; Kampwirth, 2004; García, 2011).

2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews

When President Daniel Ortega was inaugurated in January of 2007, the FSLN ended nearly seventeen years in the opposition. Though grassroots Sandinistas often called this new period the second Sandinista revolution, or the return of the revolution, in reality much had changed. The Contra War that had shaped or misshaped policy in the 1980s was long over, the old FSLN had broken apart, and new coalitions had been formed (Torres-Rivas, 2007). Also, the FSLN had a whole new relationship with LGBT rights activists: embracing them instead of seeking to silence them.

For instance, as the Penal Code was revised in 2007, the anti-gay article 204 was eliminated and a series of articles (36, 427, 428, and 315) were added, all of which ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in one way or another (Moraga Peña, 2010: 8). After the abolition of 204, LGBT groups participated in a long series of workshops with various state agencies (Moraga Peña, 2010: 77–79). This sort of consciousness-raising work would not have been possible during the first Sandinista revolution.

Another indicator of the changes in the relationship between the LGBT community and the FSLN is the fact that there is now a sexual diversity group within each office of the Juventud Sandinista (Sandinista Youth), even in small towns (interview with Harim Sánchez, 2011). Additionally, a number of sexual diversity groups directly benefit from the resources of the Centro de Estudios Internacionales (CEI; Centre for International Studies) which is headed by Zoilamérica Narváez Murillo, the daughter of the first lady. These benefits include a variety of material resources, including help in getting grants, and private offices in the Casa Giordano Bruno, which is located on the same block as the office of the CEI.

Moreover, in 2009 the Ortega administration named a Procuradora de Diversidad Sexual (Ombudsman for Sexual Diversity), within the state Procuraduría para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Office), the first time ever in Central America. The Ombudsman for Sexual Diversity, Samira Montiel, emphasised the point that her position is part of the state—not part of the government—which is true (interview, 2011). Nonetheless, given the difficulties in separating the state and the party that characterised the first Sandinista period from 1979 to 1990, and the difficulty in separating the state, the party, and the Ortega-Murillo family that characterises the second period, from 2007 to the present (Chaguaceda, 2012:166–169, 173), it is hard to believe that the position of Ombudsman for Sexual Diversity would have existed without the endorsement of the Ortega-Murillo family. These changes in the relationship between the LGBT movement and the FSLN, when compared to the 1980s, have both international and domestic causes.

Sexual Diversity and the International Arena

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews

Today's world is different from the world of the 1980s with regard to LGBT issues. Leftist parties in some of the larger and wealthier Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico have been moderately supportive of LGBT rights for decades (Green, 1994: 47, 50–51; Sardá, 1997: 30–31; Marsiaj, 2006: 173–174; De la Dehesa, 2010: 61–63). But the homophobia and hostility toward gays and lesbian organising that the Sandinistas exhibited in the 1980s was common in many Latin American countries, especially those that were influenced by the Cuban left (Leiner, 1994; Guerra, 2010), which was extremely influential in Nicaragua. In fact, many Nicaraguans have commented to me that the decision to shut down the incipient gay rights movement had a strongly ‘Cuban flavour’.

A generation later, most people in the human rights community expect that human rights projects will include the rights of many people who did not fit into the project of the classic left, including members of the LGBT community. So for many people, being a progressive in the twenty-first century means, among other things, being in favour of rights for the LGBT community. It is even possible to use a relatively good record on LGBT rights to justify other policies. This practice is called ‘pink washing’ (on the Israeli use of pink washing to distract from the Palestinian issue see Schulman, 2012; on the Canadian use of pink washing to promote tar sands oil see Grass, 2011).

One way to see the FSLN's campaign with respect to the LGBT community is to see it as another example of pink washing, as a way of improving its image in the international arena, an image that has been seriously damaged with some important international donors as a result of the elimination of therapeutic abortion (abortion to save the life of the woman) in 2007, the persecution of various civil society activists, especially those involved in the feminist movement, and serious allegations of electoral fraud in 2008 and 2011 (Kampwirth, 2008, 2010; Peraza, 2012). As many activists asked me not to use their names when citing their analysis of the FSLN's policies, I will use pseudonyms from here forward. ‘Teresa’ described the sexual diversity campaign to me this way:

I think there is a pretty opportunistic interest in this topic because it is profitable, in economic terms, in political terms, in terms of our image abroad. […] The FSLN did not have the ability to present a democratic face at the international level nor a modern revolutionary stance regarding women. Instead, the proposal was [to change its international image] through the sexual diversity movement, a movement that is on the rise. (interview with Teresa, 2011)

A good record regarding gay rights has become a key indicator of modernity in many circles (Negrón-Muntaner, 2008: 169; Friedman, 2009: 431; De la Dehesa, 2010: 3), and so the FSLN's campaign allows it to present a modern face to the world, despite the FSLN's reproductive rights record, and allegations of electoral fraud. Of course, another way to see this campaign is that it is sincere, that many Nicaraguans support the LGBT community in its efforts to gain more rights. Or both could be true: the FSLN may truly support the sexual diversity movement, but a fringe benefit is that supporting the movement diverts attention from its other actions.

Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews

Changes in the FSLN's policies regarding the sexual diversity movement cannot be understood without considering the relationship between the FSLN and the feminist movement. During the 1980s, the impact of the FSLN on what was to become the most important feminist movement in Central America was contradictory. On the one hand, almost all of the leaders of the feminist movement trace their political beginnings to the guerrilla struggle or the revolution, and many of them have noted that, without the revolution and its ethos of egalitarianism, they would have never become feminists. On the other hand, the intention of the party, with rare exception, was not to encourage women to make feminist demands, so the rise of the feminist movement, starting in the late 1980s, has to be seen as one of the unintended consequences of the revolution (Collinson, 1990; Murguialday, 1990; Kampwirth, 2004).

The contradictory relationship between the FSLN and the feminist groups it inadvertently nurtured became increasingly hostile for three principal reasons. First, quietly during the revolution in the 1980s and then vocally in the 1990s, many feminists sought autonomy from the FSLN (Criquillón, 1995). Second, when in 1998, Zoilamérica Narvaez publicly accused Daniel Ortega of having sexually abused her for a period of years, starting when she was an eleven-year old girl, many feminist activists, especially those who belonged to the Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia (Women's Network Against Violence), stood by her side. They accompanied her during years of public battles, ending only when she chose to reconcile with her mother (Kampwirth, 2004; Uriarte, 2004). The third cause of hostility between the FSLN and feminists occurred during the 2006 electoral campaign when, in an apparent effort to gain support from the Catholic Church and its evangelical allies, the FSLN diverged from its historic position—defending the nineteenth-century right to therapeutic abortion (abortion to save the life of a pregnant woman)—and voted unanimously to ban abortion under all circumstances. In the years since the party of the revolution voted against pregnant women's right to life, hundreds of women have died (Torres-Rivas, 2007; Kampwirth, 2008, 2010).

The vast majority of the sexual diversity activists I interviewed have links to the feminist movement, because of their personal histories, because they receive material and moral support from women's groups, or because they personally identify as feminists (or all of these things at once). LGBT rights groups are linked to feminism in many countries, but that is even more true in Nicaragua given that for many years, due to Article 204, sexual diversity groups were not free to organise openly. As one activist in the feminist organisation Movimiento Autónomo de Mujeres (MAM; Autonomous Women's Movement) explained:

I think the Nicaraguan women's movement was the great promoter of all sorts of rights but additionally, it particularly promoted lesbian groups, sexual diversity groups .[…] We in the Autonomous Women's Movement participated in [electoral politics in] 2006 through an alliance that we made with the Sandinista Renewal Movement [Movimiento Renovador Sandinista; MRS] and among the five points that appeared in our political program, in the electoral context, was the issue of gender democracy […] Respect for sexual diversity appeared in this context. (interview with Margarita, 2011)

The MRS was the only party to send representatives to an electoral forum organised by sexual diversity rights activists. Following that event, the activists decided to found the Iniciativa desde la Diversidad Sexual para los Derechos Humanos (Sexual Diversity Initiative for Human Rights; known as either IDSDH or the Initiative) with the idea that lobbying for LGBT rights would be more effective if they had a permanent presence. Soon the Initiative moved into offices in the Casa Giordano Bruno, in the same block as Zoilamérica Narváez's Centre for International Studies.

Getting access to the benefits that come from affiliation with such a well-connected person as Zoilamérica Narváez has been a good thing. But one cost of the new relationship with the FSLN is that the old ties between the LGBT movement and the feminist movement have been damaged. Now, according to ‘Ale’, when they see former ‘compañeras’ from the feminist movement they say to them:

‘What is this? Now we see you going around with the red and black flag of the FSLN in the marches organised by the party?’ […] For me, political struggle is demobilising due to partisan clientelism, in one form or another, and that weakens the social movement. It would be nice to maintain ties with everyone but it is not easy. ‘You are either with the FSLN or you are against the FSLN.’ (interview with Ale, 2011)

Clientelism

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews

The FSLN's new sexual diversity politics does not make sense outside of the context of clientelism, a style of politics with deep roots in Nicaragua (González-Rivera, 2011: 73–79, 156–165; Howard and Vasquez, 2011: 73–77; Chaguaceda, 2012). While many activists appreciated the political and material benefits they received from the FSLN, some, like ‘Miguel’, were disappointed at the limits of their new relationship with the party.

Miguel rejected the implication of a question I asked everyone that I interviewed in 2011: ‘how do you explain why the FSLN, which persecuted the incipient gay–lesbian pride movement in the 1980s, is now supporting sexual diversity groups’? He told me:

I don't think it is supporting them; if it supported them it would speak with a greater authority than Samira Montiel [Ombudsman for Sexual Diversity]. In Cuba, the sexual diversity defender is the daughter of Raúl Castro […] As I see it, we have a bunch of things on the table, children, youth, sexual diversity, women. ‘What can we do to shut these people up? Well, how about we name a Solicitor for Sexual Diversity and we end up telling the whole world that we are the first Central American country to have a Solicitor for Sexual Diversity?’ What does the Ombudsman do? Nothing (interview with Miguel, 2011)

He clarified that he thinks Samira Montiel makes a great effort, but he thought that the purpose of the Ombudsman was not really to advocate for rights, as much as it was a gift for the sexual diversity movement.

I interviewed a number of people who offered concrete examples of the benefits the movement got from Samira Montiel's position, including that she was able to offer activists a place to have meetings, which is important in a very poor country. Certainly she works hard if the frequency with which she is quoted in the press is any indication.

But Miguel was not the only one with a cynical reading of the change in the FSLN. ‘Alicia’ told me:

Today the LGBT population has grown. […] As ours are minority groups, we don't have access to resources, so the government is helping. […] For example, it is providing banners [mantas]. It helps that way, but if I give you a banner you will help me by participating in an FSLN demonstration. If you notice in all the Sandinista Front demonstrations they are all young kids, all of the organised kids are with them because they offer meals, benefits… All the trans women get cooking scholarships, pastry scholarships, they have already won the vote this way. (interview with Alicia, 2011)

Some of the people who accepted help from the FSLN came to realise that this help had an impact on their work, and not always in a good sense. Ale told me that it took years to recognise all the implications of their ties to the FSLN. On the one hand, many of the accomplishments of the sexual diversity movement in the years since 2007—the Ombudsman for Sexual Diversity, the resources that allowed them to run workshops and international conferences, access to various state ministries—are largely due to their relationship with the FSLN. But on the other hand:

it complicated things because many of the guys, mainly the gay men, in one way or another were tied into the community work of the FSLN and with the naming of the Ombudsman [for Sexual Diversity]. One began to feel a bit more of a presence of the FSLN's decisions in the spaces of the sexual diversity movement. (interview with Ale, 2011)

They found themselves in an uncomfortable position when:

some people started to refer to us as being part of the government. […] It is not a coincidence that ever since we began to affiliate with these [partisan] spaces we have lost some of our public presence. […] Now we have more money, thanks to the [Norwegian] Embassy project, but we have not been able to do the sort of demonstrations that we did when we had no money at all. […] The decisions about what to do in public have been tied to whatever the Centre for International Studies decides along with the FSLN. […] I feel deceived, because I was expecting an alliance so as to fight for human rights and to come up with clear accomplishments. Now, what I see is that they call upon us to give little presentations to doctors in some district in Managua, and to go outside of the country to represent sexual diversity. (interview with Ale, 2011)

The sexual diversity movement certainly benefits from clientelism. But those benefits come at a cost, in that the FSLN has limited the sorts of demands that the movement can make. As noted above, Miguel questioned the degree to which the party actually supports gay rights, saying he wished Daniel Ortega would do more specifically for gay rights, like promoting the right to marry. Miguel also criticised his fellow gay rights activists, offering the example of what happened when a campaign was initiated by the Feminist Movement (Movimiento Feminista, an alliance of fourteen feminist groups) in August 2010.

This campaign, which continued into 2011, used two images in messages on stickers, banners and the back of public buses. There was also a radio version of the campaign. In one image, the face of a young man was accompanied by the text, ‘Juan loves Carlos’. The other image, the face of a young woman, was accompanied by the text, ‘Lucía loves María’. The two messages concluded, ‘Their love does NOT hurt anyone, your rejection does’ (Movimiento Feminista de Nicaragua, 2010).

Miguel thought the campaign was an opportunity to push for rights like marriage, an opportunity that was wasted. Instead of debating the issue, ‘the headlines in the [pro-FSLN] newspapers said, “Sexual diversity organisations say no to gay marriage”. […]The time is not right, that is what they said. My position is, when is it going to be the time?’ (interview with Miguel, 2011)

Many other activists mentioned this campaign to illustrate the difficulties of controlling their own messages. In fact, the Feminist Movement's campaign was not, at least not directly, about marriage equality. It was simply a campaign promoting social tolerance. But as soon as the campaign started, some religious figures who opposed such tolerance accused the movement of demanding marriage rights for same-sex couples (Chamorro, 2010). So many sexual diversity activists found themselves in the strange position of denouncing the idea of marriage equality.

For Miguel, it was a lost opportunity. Or perhaps it would have been a disaster to get involved in a campaign in which the terms of the debate were controlled by right-wing politicians who, according to ‘Dani’, said that ‘the result would have been male pigs marrying other male pigs, hens marrying hens, they compared us with animals’. Dani, whose group is not directly linked to the FSLN, told me that they all met in February of 2011:

All of the sexual diversity groups got together with Zoilamérica and we had a debate… and we all raised our hands and said that we did not agree with that because we knew that we were not the ones who were bringing up the [marriage] issue. Instead it was being promoted by the ‘fathers of the homeland’, by people from the PLC [Partido Liberal Constitucionalista] who were bringing up the issue so as to counter-attack. (interview with Dani, 2011)

He told me that everyone, from the fifteen organisations that were represented (except for people from one group), voted to reject gay marriage. They sent a statement (acta) to the National Assembly that was signed by all the organisations, ‘asking Daniel Ortega to help them out’ by not addressing gay marriage. Dani felt that the gay rights groups were doing well at the moment:

Because in reality doña Chayo Murillo and Daniel Ortega now have been talking to us a lot and they have supported us a lot, the sexual diversity movement is involved in everything Daniel does and nobody discriminates against us. Now I am even a member of Poder Ciudadano in my neighborhood, I have an office in Poder Ciudadano. […] I have even said to them that maybe because of my sexual weakness, maybe they don't want me to go around with them, but no, just the opposite, they call us and they say to my compañeros that we should join the group, that there is no discrimination. (interview with Dani, 2011)

One could call this clientelism: the activists cannot demand marriage rights but they can participate in events organised by the Consejos del Poder Ciudadano (CPC; ‘Councils of Citizens’ Power), headed by the first lady, Rosario Murillo. One might say that the opportunity to participate in events run by the FSLN, despite their ‘sexual weaknesses’, is not a great accomplishment. But one also could say that social change does not happen overnight and that, in the past generation, there have been many gains. The only thing is that there is a long way to go.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews

Events in 2012 illustrate the strengths and limits of the new relationship between the FSLN and the sexual diversity community. In April 2012, for the first time, the Miss Gay Nicaragua pageant was held in Nicaragua's most prestigious venue, the Rubén Darío theatre. Zoilamérica Narváez served as a juror, and the event was sponsored by the Norwegian embassy, private donors, as well as the office of the President of the Republic. Even though President Ortega himself did not attend, his party was acknowledged. Melodie Dicaprio, identified as one of the ‘transsexual dancers’, told a reporter, ‘We are grateful for the support of the Frente Sandinista’ (AFP, 2012). Another important cultural event marked the final week of November. The LGBT film festival ‘Semana de Cine Diversex Nicaragua 2012’ took place in seven cities, sponsored by 30 different organisations, including the state Instituto de Cultura (Culture Institute; Vásquez, 2012).

The year 2012 was also when political news was dominated by debates over the National Assembly's proposed Family Code. Though Nicaragua had never had a Family Code before, there had been legislation regarding families, and in fact some of Nicaragua's most progressive family laws had been passed by the Sandinistas in the early years of the revolution, and ratified in the 1987 Constitution (Kampwirth, 1998). Family legislation is one more indication of the difference between the FSLN of the 1980s and the FSLN today.

Analysing the enormous Family Code, with its 647 articles, goes beyond the scope of this article. But it is important to point out that this version of the Family Code is considerably more conservative than the family legislation of the 1980s, so conservative that it sometimes seems it was written for another society (only under protest was the code revised to acknowledge non-nuclear families, though ‘at least 35 per cent of Nicaraguan families are headed by a single figure’ (Blandón, 2012: 15). Also, the Family Code is written in such a way as to explicitly exclude families headed by an LGBT couple.

Most leaders of the FSLN remained silent on the issue of sexually diverse families, while LGBT groups demonstrated more than 30 times in front of the National Assembly alongside a number of feminist groups. So the FSLN's efforts to separate feminists from sexual diversity activists seemed to have failed, at least with regard to this issue. But the danger of organising for rights is that it draws the attention of people who oppose those rights. In May, evangelicals counter-demonstrated in front of the National Assembly, opposing the inclusion of LGBT families in the Family Code. The evangelical demonstrators were then invited into the Assembly to meet with Ivania Carcache, assistant to FSLN representative Edwin Castro, unlike the LGBT activists who were left out in the heat, despite the more than 40 letters the LGBT activists had already sent over the course of the previous months requesting a meeting. Upon filing a complaint with Samira Montiel, the Special Ombudsman for Sexual Diversity, representatives of the sexual diversity movement, including Marvin Mayorga, were finally admitted to a meeting with representatives from the National Assembly's Commission on Women and Children. At that meeting, they were told that Nicaraguans were not yet ready to legally recognise their families, and that they would have to wait another 30–50 years (interview with Marvin Mayorga, 2012; Carranza, 2012; Comunidad Homosexual de Nicaragua, 2012).

More distressingly, the Miss Gay Nicaragua celebration and the Family Code demonstrations were quickly followed by a number of violent incidents, one of which left Natalie Dixon, a Miss Gay finalist, with a bullet wound. ‘According to organisers from [the LGBT] sector, the wave of attacks began when fundamentalist groups came out against their demands to be included in the Family Code’ (Lara, 2012). While the link cannot be proven, legal gains for the LGBT community have been followed, in many countries, by political backlashes and increases in violence against the LGBT community. This is a phenomenon that Omar Encarnación attributes to a disconnect between significant political gains, and insignificant social acceptance (2011: 114–117).

The events of 2012 illustrate the real limits to the FSLN's attempts to co-opt the sexual diversity movement. As the party was unwilling to support the inclusion of LGBT families in the Family Code, it drove these activists back into an alliance with their old feminist allies, who joined them in demonstrating in front of the Assembly. Miss Gay Nicaragua and the Diversex film festival were fun, but most sexual diversity activists were unwilling to accept fun instead of rights. Understandably, they wanted both.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews
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Interviews

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1980s: The FSLN Confronts the Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement
  4. 1992–2007: Organising in the Shadow of Article 204
  5. 2007–Present: Return of the Sandinistas
  6. Sexual Diversity and the International Arena
  7. Separating Sexual Diversity from Feminism
  8. Clientelism
  9. Conclusions
  10. References
  11. Interviews
  • Ale [pseudonym] (2011) LGBT activist, 3 June, Managua.
  • Alicia [pseudonym] (2011) LGBT activist, 7 June, Managua.
  • Dani [pseudonym] (2011) LGBT activist, 8 June, Managua.
  • Gutiérrez, Norman (2011) Executive Director, Centro para la Educación y Prevención del SIDA (CEPRESI), 8 June, Managua.
  • Gutiérrez, Mario (2012) Founder, Grupo Gay de Actores Sociales para la Incidencia Municipal y la Integración Centroamericana (Gay GAS), 30 November, Managua.
  • Margarita [pseudonym] (2011) Member, Movimiento Autónoma de Mujeres (MAM), 9 June, Managua.
  • Mayorga, Marvin (2012) Coordinator, Iniciativa desde la Diversidad Sexual para los Derechos Humanos (IDSDH), 28 November, Managua.
  • Miguel [pseudonym] (2011) LGBT activist, 6 June, Managua.
  • Montiel, Samira (2011) Ombudsman for Sexual Diversity in the Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos, 31 May, Managua.
  • Sacasa, Marta (2012) Founding member, Grupo Inicio, 12 December, Managua.
  • Sánchez, Harim (2011) National Coordinator, Sexual Diversity Movement of the Juventud Sandinista, 8 June, Managua.
  • Sequeira, Lupita (1994) Founding member, Grupo Inicio, 5 July, Jamaica Plain MA.
  • Teresa [pseudonym] (2011) LGBT activist, 9 June, Managua.