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Lesbian visibility in times of COVID-19 - Out of the margins


By Lía Burbano

“For me, visibility is freedom and living in liberty has no price. My activism has always been centred around the fact that what is not said does not exist. For this reason, I became visible: to exist. By existing, I can now organise with my sisters to demand rights”.

Lía Burbano, Executive Director at Mujer & Mujer Foundation in Ecuador, writes about the impact of COVID-19 in LGBTIQ+ communities, what her organisation is doing to help and how you can help lesbians in her country.

This Lesbian Visibility Day, I wonder how many COVID-19 casualties were lesbians.

How many of those women lived without even one day of feeling free enough to be their authentic self.

Because, even though the pandemic takes life away from us, this sexist and homophobic society took our freedom away from us, a long time ago.

Here, from this spot of the planet, in one of the smallest countries of South America, in a city with a little over two million people, we continue to witness how not only lesbians have been let down by the health system, but also how the poorest, those whose existence is deemed unworthy, have also become invisible.

Empowering all lesbians

I began fighting for the rights of lesbians alongside Mujer & Mujer Foundation in 2003.

Our organisation was born to promote political and social visibility of lesbians, to empower them and build a community.

We wanted to develop a safe space to share our tears, silences, pride and resistance.

Many of us came from poverty-stricken areas, surrounded by violence.

We were survivors, diverse in every sense of the word, and we felt that we had something in common: we were willing to make our presence visible.

As a collective, we started to question how we could have the most impact for lesbians in Ecuador and developed our own philosophy:

  • We are not just lesbians; our identity intersects with other parts that make up who we are (Latinx, afro Ecuadorian, trans, queer, disabled, etc).
  • By finding what we have in common, we will fight discrimination, exclusion, and violence to transform our society.
  • We can only have an impact in policy and society as a whole if we fight together for our liberties, autonomy, and rights.

Feminism and LGBT rights in Ecuador

As we started our work, we discovered that in Ecuador the LGBTIQ+ community prefers to remain silent in the face of the injustices that we live day to day.

What surprised us the most was to know that lesbian and bi women, as well as those who identify themselves as “transvestites, queer or non-binary”, were absent from the LGBTIQ+ movement.

They were not taken into account when it came to empowerment and leadership projects in the way that gay and bisexual men were.

Why did we remain silent?

I think it’s because when one inhabits a feminised body, it’s harder to speak up.

It’s difficult to denounce the struggles that we live with because the world around us, heteronormative, violent and macho, rejects the feminine – considered inferior.

So, how could we fight the inequality and discrimination that make our existence invisible?

Fighting for lesbian visibility in the health system

The answer came with the Out of the Margins project and the opportunity to develop our own research “(In) visibility and Health”, in which we explore the challenges faced by lesbians and bisexual women when trying to access the public health system in Ecuador.

Our findings show and denounce that lesbian (in)visibility in the public health system is not simply a product of ignorance or bad will, but it is more about what we call “lesbopia”, a sort of medical blindness towards lesbians from health care providers.

This has become especially worrisome in the light of the COVID-19 crisis.

Since the coronavirus crisis began, Mujer & Mujer has worked non-stop to provide food and medicines where there are shortages, in the poorest areas of Guayaquil.

In these neighbourhoods, neglected and forgotten for decades by our politicians, many LGBTIQ+ brothers and sisters live and die.

Together, we can do more.

Together, we can save our siblings from being forgotten and unseen.

It is time to make our stories and struggles visible.

How you can help

Guayaquil is the city that has been hit the hardest by COVID-19 in Ecuador.

Mujer & Mujer Foundation is raising funds to take food and medicines to those who need it the most.

On this Lesbian Visibility Day, we ask you to make your solidarity visible. The people of Ecuador need your generous support.

Please donate what you can.

They accept direct bank transfers to their institutional account and PayPal donations:

  • Asociación MUJER & MUJER – Colectivo LGBTI
  • Banco del Pacífico: Checking account No. 752489-7
  • Bank address: Francisco de P. Ycaza No. 200 entre Pedro Carbo y Pichincha. Guayaquil, Ecuador.
  • SWIFT Bank code: PACIECEG

For transfers through PayPal, you can make your donations through this link: paypal.me/lia1969 

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