Trans women in particular, but also other members of the LGBTI community, face multiple forms of discrimination and violence on an everyday basis in Columbia. Mauri Balanta Jaramillo, a fellowship holder with the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa), reported on this situation in an online talk with Klaus Jetz, the executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD), which was attended by around 50 people.
Balanta Jaramillo would have been working for three months at the LSVD office, but the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted those plans so she and Jetz conferred weekly online. She has first-hand experience with the situation in Columbia as an educational consultant and coordinator at the El Chontaduro cultural center and she herself is Black and queer.
The El Chontaduro center is located in Aguablanca, an outer eastern district of Cali, which is Columbia’s third-largest city and also home to Latin America’s second-largest Black community (following Salvador daBahia in Brazil). The majority of Aguablanca’s residents are Afro-Columbian. Driven inward from the Pacific coast in the course of conflicts between the military, paramilitaries and guerrillas, they settled here under the most basic conditions and are now (once again) facing racist discrimination and violence.
Mauri Balanta Jaramillo reported a high number of lethal attacks on trans people, and notes an average life expectancy of only 35 years for trans women of color in the Americas. Thirty trans people have been murdered in Columbia this year alone. The death of Juliana Giraldo, an indigenous trans woman living in the countryside, made headlines after a soldier shot and killed her in September. According to the Colombia Diversa online platform, there were 2,013 violent attacks on LGBTI people in the country over the past 27 years, and 1,253 LGBTI people were killed in the period from 1993 to 2018, many of them in the province of Valle Cauca which includes the city of Cali.
El Chontaduro does educational and social work, fosters the district’s cultural life, and is a source of empowerment. “The cultural center has become a hub for social justice, emancipation, and struggle by and for young people, women, diversity, different identities, and Black people in this part of Cali. We focus on education, feminism, and anti-racism,” says Balanta Jaramillo. She is also part of a group that studies intersectionality, or what it means to be Black, queer, and poor – like her – and thereby subject to multiple forms of resentment and hate from elements of Columbian society.
Balanta Jaramillo herself was the victim of violence three years ago at her workplace, a library. When she filed charges, the report noted neither her gender nor that she is Black. She criticizes the fact that Columbian statistics reveal little about racist or sexist violence or perpetrators’ motives.
A number of collectives throughout the country organize resistance and foster empowerment for Black and/or gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and intersex people. In addition to the Somos identidad organization (“We are identity”), the Afro-Columbian youth magazine Matamba, and the Colectivo Diverarte artists’ collective, Balanta Jaramillo singles out the Red Comunitaria Trans foundation. “Its goal is to strengthen unity among trans people working on the street, in academic posts, and social welfare organizations to draft (and implement) a law that gives trans people legal recognition,” she explains. Although Ley 1482, which was passed in 2011, penalizes every form of discrimination, the reality on the ground is quite different.
When asked why that is the case, Balanta Jaramillo speaks as a social scientist in highlighting the legacy of colonialism. “The state promotes a traditional, heteronormative family model with all the patriarchal values,” she notes. The family is seen as the nucleus of society. Experience from history and other models like those of the Black population are dismissed. Two other major drivers of this approach are the Catholic and Apostolic churches, which continue to exert considerable influence in poorer segments of the population.
Another attendee of the talk wanted to know whether the situation had worsened under the conservative president Iván Duque. “For those of us experiencing this historic oppression, not much has changed,” she replied. “But current developments are reinforcing all the institutions that call for violence to be used against us.”
Inge Wenzl is a political scientist and independent journalist whose work has appeared in e.g. neues deutschland and der Freitag.
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