Ruta de Lesbians: AIDS in Madrid

Lesbians in Spain have a complicated history with AIDS.  For the most part, it has not impacted our community in the same way it impacted other members of the rainbow.  At the same time, the virus did impact our relationship with other members of the rainbow and organizations that represented us.  Like the events around Pride happening parallel to the HIV / AIDS epidemic, it strengthened some lesbians relationships with the LGBT community, pushed some Spanish lesbians more towards queer activism and pushed some of us further away from gay men.  History is always messy, and lesbians rarely act in concert together as we represent a diverse and amazing bunch of women. While the early history of the virus does not deal with lesbians directly, it does set the scene for later lesbian interactions both with the virus and HIV / AIDS activism around the virus.

This is not a walking tour. It is more a list of places you should know, to get an understanding of the geography of AIDS, its impact and continuing impact, and lesbian spaces that existed around the AIDS pandemic.


Ciudad Universitario

La Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, located at Plaza de Ramón y Cajal, s/n, is next to the facultades de Odontología y Farmacia, and shares the same building as the La Facultad de Enfermería, Fisioterapia y Podología. The faculty was created in 1854, after the medical sciences were split into medicine and pharmacy. Two Spanish nobel prize winners have come out of the faculty, Severo Ochoa and Santiago Ramón y Cajal. III Jornadas Feministas Estatales. Juntas y a por todo took place in Madrid in December 1993 at the La Facultad de Medicina. Lesbianas Sin Duda held a workshop at the jornada called “Sexo seguro y bollero”.


Ministerio de Sanidad, located at Paseo del Prado, 18, is the national department responsible for executing government health policy and managing healthcare under the powers of the  General State Administration.  The ministry was created by royal decree on 9 November 1832 with the creation of the Ministry of Development, which oversaw health.  The health department was created by a second royal decree inside that department on 10 March 1847.  Since that time, the Ministry of Development has become the Ministerio del Interior.  The building the ministry is in was constructed in front of the Museo del Prado in 1949, with work finishing in 1955.  Franco formally inaugurated the building for various ministries on 27 October 1955. On 1 December 1993, Lesbianas Sin Duda held a protest outside the Ministerio de Sanidad to protest their policies related to HIV and AIDS. The group was one of the only ones in Spain to trying to actively draw attention to women and lesbians, and their needs as it related HIV and AIDS, both in treatment and in terms of health-related policies. Fefa Vila was a member of LSD involved in these efforts. . On International Day of the Fight against AIDS that took place on 1 December 1996, Lesbianas Sin Duda protested on the street in front of the Ministerio de Sanidad again, demanding intervention to combat the AIDS epidemic taking place in the country.

Círculo de Bellas Artes, located at Calle de Alcalá, 42, is a private, non-profit multidisciplinary cultural entity founded in 1880. Originally loclated at Calle del Barquillo, 5, they moved to their current Antonio Palacios designed location in 1926. The 2008 Festival de Cultura Gay y Lésbica de Madrid, organized by COGAM and FELGTB, included an exhibition at the Círculo de Bellas Artes. The 2008 Pride focused on lesbian visibility, which the organizers said they wanted to draw attention to, but the organizers also wanted to draw attention to HIV / AIDS. The exhibition on HIV / AIDS focused mostly on gay men.


Hospital Universitario 12 de Octubre, located at Avenida de Córdoba, is a public hospital that is part of the Servicio Madrileño de Salud system. The hospital was founded in 1973 and is one of the largest hospitals in Spain by total bed capacity. The hospital has been affiliated with Facultad de Medicina de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid since 1974. By 1986, the AIDS epidemic had begun to hit the rest of Spain all at once and Hospital Universitario 12 de Octubre was at ground zero for the epidemic in Madrid. It soon filled up up close to 40% of beds in the hospital, with most of the patients not homosexuals but intravenous drug users, some of whom were still using. The number of lesbians at the hospital was likely very tiny, if there were any at all. Women appears to get die of aids at a rate of 1 woman to every 5 men and lesbians only appeared to acquire AIDS if they had other risk factors.

San Pascual

Instituto de la Mujer, located at Condesa de Venadito, 34, is an organ attached to but independent of the  Ministerio de Igualdad.  It was founded on 24 October 1983. The Instituto de la Mujer prepared a report for the first time on women with HIV / AIDS in 1992.  Instituto de la Mujer had been founded on 24 October 1983 and attached to the Ministerio de Igualdad to promote equality between the sexes, and to encourage the participation of women in political, cultural, economic and social life.  At the time the document was released, the institute was between plans with the first plan having been focused on six areas, one of which was women’s health, and a second of which was family and social protection. The document then takes a heterocentric perspective to advice regarding the prevention of transmission. Lesbians and women who had sex with other women were not mentioned.

The Instituto de la Mujer prepared a second edition in 2007 of their women with HIV / AIDS report.  The only time lesbians were mentioned were in the name of a national organization to contact that supports women with HIV / AIDS.  Bisexual women were not mentioned at all.  The report said that most cases of HIV / AIDS in Spain impacted men, that heterosexual transmission accounted for 60.3% of all cases in 2006.  The Instituto de la Mujer estimated that there were 120,000 to 150,000 people who had HIV / AIDS in Spain, with 20 to 25% being women.  Of the women a quarter did not know how they were infected.  The document then takes a heterocentric perspective to advice regarding the prevention of transmission.

On 13 January 2020, Beatriz Gimeno Reinoso replaced Rocío Rodríguez Prieto as the director of the Instituto de la Mujer. She resigned from the position in March 20201 to run on the Podemos list for the March 2021 regional elections, where she again won a post as a deputy.


COGAM, located at Calle de la Puebla, 9, is the major LGBTQI+ organization in Madrid, and represents institutional LGBT activism in the city. The group came out of Coordinadora de Frentes de Liberación Homosexual del Estado Español. COGAM was the largest homosexual rights organization in Madrid in the late 1980s, having been founded in following a meeting of Coordinadora de Frentes de Liberación Homosexual del Estado Español (COFLHEE) in 1985, and a later meeting in Chueca in early 1986.  Mili Hernandez Garcia was the first lesbian to join the preceding organization, doing so in 1986. The group strived more towards moderation, and away from radical liberation philosophies characterized by a number of other homosexual rights activist groups in Madrid at the time. By the early 1990s, COGAM took over management of Orgullo Madrid, the city’s pride event. While lesbians were members, they were largely relegated to the background. Two problems emerged for COGAM in the very early 1990s. The first was that a number of their members wanted to engage more fully with liberation politics.  The second was that institutionally, COGAM appeared unable and unwilling to act to combat the AIDS epidemic and its impact on gay men in the city. COGAM split with COFLHEE in 1991 over the liberation politics issue. It was for the AIDS reason though that Las Radical Gai (LGR) also split from the organization in 1991. At the same time, COGAM then began to organize nationally, working on institutional political goals for gays and lesbians. COGAM had its second split in 1996, in the waning days of the González government. In 1998, COGAM began advocating for same-sex marriage and same-sex couple adoption. In 2000, Navarre became the first region to allow lesbians and gays to adopt. The law passed despite opposition from Navarrese People’s Union (UPN). COGAM spokesperson Beatriz Gimeno said of the passage of the law, “It is a great step forward because it breaks with the last social taboo that exists towards homosexuals.” COGAM was the organization in Madrid for lesbians to seek help from if they had AIDS or HIV in the 2010s. In 2021, lesbian feminists and radical feminists sprayed graffiti on their offices, accusing them of misogyny and homophobia.

COGAM was the organization in Madrid for lesbians to seek help from if they had AIDS or HIV in the 2010s. COGAM’s website in 2010 featured their lesbian section, but it made no mention of women’s sexual health. Their HIV page referenced that they held two workshops a year on sexual health for lesbians and bisexual women, and also contained a brochure about lesbian sexual health.  By 2012, their website no longer offered these workshops and instead offered a number of workshops aimed at transwomen and male sex workers.  These services were also not offered by the lesbian group inside COGAM on their website.  The situation from 2012 was repeated in 2014, with the only image of a woman appearing on the page being a single generic form as one of many in the rainbow.  There was however imagery of nearly nude men. 2016 was the same as 2014 but with an image high heels encouraging transwomen and male sex workers to get tested. Sexual health was mentioned only once on the lesbian page and that was as an interest for which they provided no additional information.  Their NEXUS group on HIV and AIDS also made no mention of lesbian or bisexual women sexual health needs. 2018 had no improvement on COGAM’s website when it came to information about and services offered to lesbians and bisexual women on their sexual health.

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