‘It gives me joy’: the LGBT Colombians embracing visibility in town with a legacy of abuse | Global development

In a mountain town close to the north coast of Colombia, three drag queens strike poses in the blazing solar. Carrying extravagant Caribbean carnival costumes, they place every excessive heeled step fastidiously to keep away from puddles. Neighbours come out to take photographs and cheer.

This impromptu present has distinctive significance in the streets of El Carmen de Bolívar, representing the outstanding resurgence of a neighborhood as soon as brutally victimised by homophobic armed teams.

For practically 30 years, the town and surrounding area of Montes de María were infamous for violence perpetrated against LGBTQ+ individuals, focused at one time or one other over the nation’s lengthy civil struggle by rightwing paramilitaries, leftwing guerrillas, authorities troopers and the police.

In the Nineteen Nineties, paramilitaries shaped in response to leftist activism and insurgency all through Colombia. They took over El Carmen de Bolívar – a geographically strategic town of roughly 70,000 individuals with a history of leftwing activism and violently repressed these they seen as proxy guerrilla supporters.


“Individuals couldn’t say that they have been from El Carmen de Bolívar as a result of that meant they have been guerrillas,” says Veronica, 35.

Veronica, a 35-year-old lesbian from El Carmen de Bolívar

Many of the armed teams in the area – publicly aligned with the nation’s conservative elite – started persecuting the LGBTQ+ neighborhood. Whereas such brutality was widespread in Colombia, in El Carmen de Bolívar and the surrounding area of Montes de María, it was made in particular public – together with with forced boxing matches between gay men and transgender women.

Sexual violence was rampant and meted out as a punishment. Those that resisted risked being taken in a van generally known as the “final tear”, as the individuals it picked up by no means returned.


Yirley Velazco – a survivor of a paramilitary bloodbath and social chief in the neighbouring town of El Salado – remembers a helicopter dropping pamphlets in 1999 with a warning to LGBTQ+ individuals: get out now.

“They named individuals who have been half of the LGBTI neighborhood,” she says. “They mentioned they have been going to kill them for being homosexual, that they have been going to kill them for not being half of mainstream society.”

In El Carmen de Bolívar, La Pola, a 42-year-old trans girl, obtained related leaflets, telling her to go away the space or be killed. Paramilitaries took over her home and used it as a base.

La PolaLa Pola, a 42-year-old trans girl, obtained pamphlets from paramilitaries telling her to go away


Immediately, after leaving twice for close by Cartagena to guard herself from violence, La Pola has returned to El Carmen de Bolívar, the place she works as a hairdresser. She is grateful to have the ability to speakabout what occurred to El Carmen de Bolívar’s LGBTQ+ neighborhood, and hopes it will likely be broadly heard. “We’ve got to be seen,” she says.

Regardless of ongoing insecurity from drug trafficking teams like the Clan del Golfo, LGBTQ+ individuals in El Carmen de Bolívar say they really feel safer now than ever earlier than.

Corey, a homosexual 46-year-old, says he has skilled a large change over the years.

“I really feel very joyful as a result of we will exit with none issues. Earlier than we have been afraid to exit, and if armed teams discovered us on the avenue at midnight, they may take us away, torture us, or ship us residence.” He says he has LGBTQ+ buddies who “fled from El Carmen de Bolívar out of concern”.

CoreyCorey, a 46-year-old homosexual man, says he feels a lot safer now, however has many buddies who not noted of concern of abuse from armed teams

“We’re aware that armed teams are returning to the territory, however at this second, there haven’t been any threats straight in opposition to the LGBT neighborhood,” says Tito, 30.

This new perceived safety and acceptance is in half the outcome of a marketing campaign by Caribe Afirmativo, an organisation which runs a neighborhood centre in the town. Companies embody a soup kitchen and job coaching, in addition to outreach work to assist understanding of the LGBTQ+ inhabitants.

One of the issues that makes me joyful is that my advocacy work has been heard, that we’ve got made progressNawar, 26

Dr Wilson Castañeda Castro, director of Caribe Afirmativo, says that alongside advocacy, coaching, and analysis, the group supplies secure areas for LGBTQ+ individuals in “periphery territories”, areas with restricted authorities consideration.

Nawar, 26, a trans girl, is grateful to Caribe Afirmativo, saying the organisation taught her “to defend the human rights of the LGBT inhabitants”.

“One of the issues that makes me joyful in El Carmen de Bolívar is that my advocacy work has been heard, that we’ve got made progress, and that we’ve got modified society,” she says.

Nawar walks through El Carmen de BolívarNawar, a 26-year-old trans girl, walks by means of El Carmen de Bolívar. She says there was a constructive response to her activist work in the town

Castañeda warns that this sense of safety in El Carmen de Bolívar is fragile – given the growing violence in Colombia’s war-ravaged areas. He cautions that the elevated visibility of LGBTQ+ individuals in nationwide politics can reinforce discrimination, as the flames of homophobia are fanned for political acquire.

Individuals in El Carmen de Bolívar nonetheless typically face employment discrimination as a result of of their sexual or gender id, however say that they respect the present safety as a time to flourish.

After years of abuse and threats, Tito, 30, runs a people dance group with many LGBTQ+ individuals that has carried out throughout Colombia.

“It gives me a lot of pleasure to see how we’ve got been capable of obtain a lot in a place that individuals thought was unattainable,” he says.

In a single of the most dramatic departures from the previous, the LGBTQ+ neighborhood is actively engaged with the town’s police and has developed a coaching and consciousness programme for officers.

In 2020 the Colombian national government formally recognised the collective damage suffered by the LGBTQ+ neighborhood of El Carmen de Bolívar as a result of of the battle, the third neighborhood in the nation to obtain this recognition. The ruling means assist for the area’s efforts to doc the neighborhood’s historical past.

“This recognition is a chance to advertise a transformative reparation, for people and the collective,” says Castaneda, “that may heal previous wounds and suggest a new various, concrete actuality to guard human rights in their day by day lives.”

Some names have been modified

Assist for anybody affected by sexual abuse points is on the market from the following organisations. In the UK, Rape Crisis on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. Different worldwide helplines will be discovered at

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