Rebecca Seville  

Rebecca Seville, former Secretary-General of ILGA, from Lima, Peru.

published in German in Die Andere Welt, February 1993

hen I was still at school I fell in love with my teacher and other women at my school, but that was only a sort of game. I was always aware that I had an attitude that was very "different". When we played "families" as a child - with a child playing the role of "mother" or "father", I wanted to play the father or the doctor of the family. Even tha clothes I wore were "anti-family", since I often wore the shirts of my brothers, and once, as my gandmother tries to force me into wearing a frock for a party, I refused to wear this "feminine" clothing. I said, "No! I don't want to, this is my body and I want to wwear what I want, and if you don't want to take me to the party, as I am, OK!" Perhaps I had a sort of premonition. That was my choice. There were many children in the family and I was the last one.

I wasn't a difficult child at school - in fact I think I was good. I think that is why they let me decide for myself. My mother was fairly liberal - but perhaps that is also not the right word - there were so many children I think she was fed up of the struggle and for that reason let me do what I wanted.

I think our family was middle-lower class. My experience was that it was very difficult to find another to have a "margin" of lesbians in my society. This was one of the attractions of this feminist conference ! It was that moment tried to look for the ........ I didn't know who was a lesbian and who not. In our trying to make contact. ....people in America. It was very difficult I think. Also the way many of my friends in this pioneering group.............. Also what was difficult for me was that I liked to be a lesbian and I like the life with a woman but, it was also a very underground group with many women being very isolated. I recognised that this .. the real life for a lesbian in Lima, but I like to fight against this. I tried to do something to link with some feminist group, with homosexuals, so that here I was not so much isolated. I was active since I met this group. I tried to break the isolation...

I had no idea of idea of lesbianism but my first partner - she was very scared, very underground. She didn't want me to talk about my love, my relationship with her to anyone. These things made me feel so uncomfortable. I thought, "If that is a lesbian life-style probably I'm not a lesbian. I want to deal with my feelings." I think it happened with many women - and it was more difficult ten years ago -- It wasn't possible for me to speak out about these things. People would reject me, my friends, my family - it was a very secret and novel life. We had not only had no place to go -- no home --It was a very "luxurious" experience, too. It is not only lesbian women who have no place to go. Mostly the live with their families and only leave them when they get married. The lack of economic independence of women, especially the young ones, is part of the difficulty of leading an own life - especially for lesbians. They need a space where the can be in private....

With regard to the culture, of the poverty, also it's the capital city, - there's not enough space for anyone. ......... Also in our the culture it is difficult for a woman to live alone. As far as society is concerned a woman who lives alone is probably an easy woman. That also happened to us when I was living with my partner, also we had friends by sometimes to have a party . From then on I met I met more lesbians ....friends of my lover and after our relations We were suspected of being prostitutes because they went out (home !) in the night -- or we were lesbians. Either way it was not good for the neighbourhood. ......

Then came a crisis in our relationship and it wasn't necessary for me to live their permanently because I got this space with my sister. That came at the same time as the relationship with my first women was coming to an end. I was very confused myself and....She didn't force me, but all the time the pressure was to be in the closet - underground. I couldn't stand and I spoke out, and I started to cry. I spoke about my life to my sister , of my friends and they were very supportive. ........ I was confused because I didn't know what was the truth. So I started a sort of therapy. I also made many changes in my life. I started to work, I started to live by myself, I started a lesbian relationship, I left my studies, I left my house, -- with so many different feelings I needed to deal with myself. I got some psychological support, I..... and we started to talk about my sexuality. Whether I had problems in relationships with men. I said well I don't think so I have nice relationships with men. In the university I was the only one in a group of men. Also in such a conservative society most of the women who are in the university are just looking for a husband you know. They are studying but not because they really want to follow a profession of their own. I hated this kind of woman. Very conservative, very formal. I was looking for my own way to deal with my own femininity, my own sexuality in such a conservative country. ..... The lesbians and gay movement hadn't started. The feminist one was a small group of women.......Also when I was a member of the Left Party it was also very male and sexually very conservative. I think all of these things made me feel very confused, and also I decided to live ... I had only this relationship with this one woman, and I thought probably I'm not a lesbian. I started a sort of a relationship with men. Tried to take the "normal" route. But after two years I started another relationship with another lesbian woman - the second one in my life. And really I decided that this is bull-shit this therapy that I really I am perfectly normal. This other stuff is nonsense.

I studied economics at a Catholic University. I was a good student, the perfect daughter of the family. Until I started my third relationship and started to do more with the social movement. At that time there was a sort of dictatorship in Lima with I became a social activist. In 1983 when I was more in contract with a feminist group. They sent me to a feminist conference, - organised by a feminist group in Lima - about 2 - 300 women who were together - talking about lesbianism. They were in a small workshop because they weren't supposed to be part of the official programme. This made me feel very confused too. My feelings as a lesbian at that moment was seeing so many lovely women, talking about the issues in an intensive but very happy way, - seeing what difficulties people had. I thought Oh, Oh, something is going on I was not happy with myself again - because I fell in love with so many women. I started encounters with them and this was also the beginning of my activism.

I started at the same time in '84 / 85. We didn't know each other - what the men were doing what the women were doing. The men's organisation two years after they began got some funds and could afford a space. The feminist-lesbian group - which was my group. They were more radical with regard to the economy, subsidies and everything. I was a In Lima we had only two groups and for me it was nonsense not to join together and to try to get the support of the feminists. That was part of my work in my lesbian activism to push a bit ... because in a society where the human rights, where the women's life is so sad, so difficult.

What has happened in the last ten years the different social movements and the improved situation in respect of their demands. The idea to start a lesbian group was good. But in our economic and financial crisis conditions a separate lesbian group it was not possible. We needed money for our own lives and to get money for a group was more and more difficult. To organise activities for women with very low prices so that people can afford to come to it. It has been very slowly growing but also with the human rights point of view of the woman who has with a woman - most of them don't consider themselves lesbian. -- They don't like the word. They consider that if something wrong happens in the area of human rights -- it's bad to be a lesbian. It's a sort of punishment which they accept. We are trying to change this idea. But Peru is very catholic, of course. Also in terms of human rights conditions people think that the police are there because it is legal. (illegal??) because they don't know - the population. And this of course includes the gay and lesbian community. They don't feel like a citizen they don't know enough about their rights. The police, they think, have the right to raid a bar and try to make arrests. They let them do it. We are trying to change this attitude so that people ask, "Hey, before you arrest me - What's the reason? " It has begun to change in the last few years when this organisation that I work in now was the "male" organisation. I worked with the lesbians for two years but then I started to work with the men because I said if the men call themselves a mixed organisation they really should be mixed ! I've been working with them now for 5 years. This was the beginning of my international work. They sent me to ILGA conference and I was getting more support and more lesbians began to join so that now we are actually fifty/fifty among our leaders and 60/40 among the membership and services we provide.

Many years ago there were many police raids. The laws only mention homosexuality as grounds for a divorce otherwise nothing, but the moral criteria has much power, also HIV. The prejudices of the judges too -When someone who looks gay comes into court they are treated differently. Also with lesbians sometimes. Many judges have said you should come in formal (women's) dress. In this sense people are forced underground. ... The gays and lesbians underground are forced to "play a role" -- the straight role, - active and passive and so on. It is fairly open that the influence of the gay and lesbian movement after ten years that people can be "modern" - you can be both active and passive. We use the word "modern" to describe the person who doesn't play these roles. Also people are changing their ideas about homosexuality because most people have an idea of homosexuality as being something like a transvestite - because such people are easily visible. This is changing.

My organisation decided to go public. We appeared on TV programmes, in magazines and newspapers. We presented a different face. Oscar -- our president -- wears very formal clothes -- like you -- and when people see that they have to think again. And we don't only talk about things in terms of sexual conduct, but about human rights, about poverty, about the health system, about women's rights, the right to abortion. The idea of human rights is very global for us in terms of our fight. We are very much in favour of peace in terms of people needing to respect people, to respect their life. In a country where in the last 10 years there were around 25,000 people killed by a civil war - although people don't want to accept that there was a civil war. We have criticised the excesses of both the Shining Path and the Government ...... We talk about all of this. In this sense we are quite popular. We have a lot of support from different groups. They respect out intentions and opinions also because we respect the differences between people.- We respect the differences of homosexuality -. transsexuals, transvestites, bi-sexuals, women. Some women are so confused that to help them we have made our services are available to anyone. ...... We provide a space for anyone to meet-- the only condition we make is that they respect the others. In this sense to have a space we in a society basically space has to be paid for ...

When we started we had only 2 or three discos. Now we have 14 in Lima alone. They are providing money for our work. At the beginning they were only a few - secret ones. Now they are quite open because the idea of homosexuals... is not so scary for some people, and the police they don't arrange raids on discos because they know that we exist, and can organise legal action against them if necessary. In two cases we organised an international action through ILGA - and they received hundreds, and hundreds of letters - so now they think about their strategy. But sometimes they change their tactics and wait for a couple who are leaving the disco alone. Then they ......... them or if they are lesbians try to seduce them. Anyway, the police are still nasty towards homosexuals. But also towards other groups like sexual workers. These things still happen. We "force" ?? the people to denounce these acts, because the only way we can oppose them is by legal precedent.

Our is to provide information that human rights also belong to the gay and lesbian community, they ........... to be scared, To convince people that they need to do something end this injustice in their life. We respect the other people. .... We feel slowly that we are gaining support in our society. In the gay community we are gaining more self-confidence that human rights are part of our community also. In a general discussion in a country in which in the last 10 years 25,000 people have been killed for ........ reasons. The sensitivity about human rights doesn't exist in the same way so much. The value of a life is very weak. There are many cases connected with murders related to radical parties in the last 4 years. In 1986/87 there were more than 125 deaths (of homosexuals). There were two gays also killed in Lima with a message from Shining Path. With 2,000 people being killed in one year people are not so sensitive if one person is killed who was gay. .........
The people are afraid of Shining Path, but we feel to keep silent is even worse. We need to speak out. Also in relation to the other left-parties. We say if this is they way you deal with the different ideologies, to be homosexual is not an ideology or reason to be punished by anyone. They have no moral right to do such things. In that sense we are against any way which to be human means to lose your life. - In connection with this stupid civil war we are against the excesses of the armed forces. We are against the methods of the Shining Path who say they want to organise a better society. For me that is bull-shit because it is not possible to build any sort of society, with so much excess- in terms of killing people, killing homosexuals, killing leaders of the social movements. We don't have too much respect for them.

Colin de la Motte-Sherman

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