Background: This is part of the rewrite of the background text for the region specific lesbian travel guide. It focuses on lesbian intersections with the homosexual rights activist movement during the Felipe González government. As this was written, some info intended for this section got moved to previous sections already posted here. Kind of oops. Haven’t updated them. Anyway, trundling on…
Homosexual and trans rights activism
Lesbian history continued to intersect with gay men’s history in the second half of the Felipe González period. This would be most obvious in the fight for marriage equality and family rights, but also for the first time inside gay right’s groups where lesbians began to finally be welcome. As the 1990s progressed, this became more pronounced, ushering in a new wave of lesbian activism in Spain, with two different branches. The first were reformist and pragmatic lesbian activists, and the second were radical or queer activist lesbians.
One of the biggest changes of this period though would be the integration of transsexual and transgender people into a shared lesbian and gay rights history. Beforehand, transsexual rights would sometimes just intersect primarily with the gay right’s movement over specific issues common to those groups as persecuted male minority groups.
Lesbians and lesbian feminists, both in feminist groups and mixed groups, generally had a low profile in Spain in the 1990s with a few notable exceptions. When lesbians worked with gay men, they were junior partners, and their numbers were always much smaller than that of gay men. Lesbians as a collective had very little impact on gay rights groups, did not influence activist activities, nor the type of discourse that took place within these organizations.
Some Spanish lesbians were similar to American ones in the 1990s. They supported queer feminism out of a rejection of lesbian feminism, which often involved isolating away from gay men, and very middle class and white. In Spain, the predominant whiteness made sense as white people were the majority, and immigration had only really started in the early 2000s, when immigrants topped 5% of the total population for the first time in 2003. Spanish feminism also was often anti-pornography and anti-prostitution, a view still maintained in the 2020s. Lesbians like Milli Hernández left Spanish feminism in this period in the 1990s because the movement was so willing to sell out lesbians in order to accomplish their own goals while being seen pure and good Spanish women.
During the 1990s, lesbians started to rejoin homosexual rights groups, starting or restarting lesbian sections within their structures. This was true of Coordinadora Gay y Lesbiana de Barcelona (CGL), Colectivo de Lesbianas y Gays de Madrid (COGAM) and Col.lectiu Lambda. They rejoined because of the deliberate exclusion they were finding in the militant feminist community who began to started engaging in identity politics, supporting the ending of sex based differences while supporting gender based differences. Feminists did not want to be associated with lesbians because of the stigma they brought with them for, among other things, their gender non-conformity. Isabel Castro, General Secretary of Coordinadora Gay y Lesbiana de Cataluña in 1993, believed in the 1990s that, even though working with gay men had not worked in the past for lesbians, that it would work in the 1990s because mixed groups were best for achieving shared objectives, and because it gave lesbians access to resources and personal empowerment that they had previously lacked.
Lesbians who joined often worked on issues like including combatting AIDS and securing social support services for lesbians and gays. Lesbians who organized inside COGAM, FELGT and similar gay groups in the 1990s were never identified as feminists. They were called women’s groups, groups of lesbians, lesbians and gays, gays and lesbians instead. Some individual lesbians inside those groups might have identified as feminists but they did not do so institutionally. When feminism appeared in women only spaces in those groups, the term disappeared as soon as it first appeared. In many cases, these lesbians were not even allowed to identify even as lesbians but only as women instead. That was in part because those lesbians did not identify with the word, and did not consider themselves lesbians even if they were exclusively attracted to women. The word lesbian made many uncomfortable. Many of these lesbians were very new to any sort of political movement. Among the lesbians involved with COGAM around this time were Mili Hernández and Beatriz Gimeno Reinoso
Spanish gay and lesbian political groups also began to more frequently reject radical liberation politics. This was the case with COGAM who rejected the philosophy in 1990, and then, along with FAGC and Lambda, split from COFLHEE in 1991. 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.
One of the major issues for homosexual rights organizations in the early 1990s was they had limited access to state funding. The majority of their funding came from efforts to prevent the spread of HIV / AIDS. Some of the mixing of lesbians and gays in mixed groups in gay rights organizations was a result of institutional pressure for these organizations to become mixed if they wanted to receive government subsidies. COGAM officially became mixed in 1994 in response to a petition by the Comunidad de Madrid that asked them to included women as there were not women members prior to 1993, when Mili Hernández arrived, and was then put in charge of organizing the women’s section. Her arrival was fortuitous as it allowed them to be better placed to access government funding. It helped enable COGAM to demonstrate they were truly mixed. To further prove they were mixed, COGAM also carried out joint activities with CFLM starting in 1993 and in 1994. COGAM also created the Comisión de Mujeres in 1994. It had around 30 women members at the start. Men were not barred from the group’s meetings, though they were told it was preferable if the space was all women.
During the early 1990s, gay rights groups faced their own internal battles that differed from the past. The major one was institutional activism that collaborated with the state, led by COGAM in Madrid, Coordinadora Gay y Lesbiana de Cataluña in Catalonia and nationally by FELG, versus those who rejected involvement of the state who were led by FAGC. Organizations also faced their own, unique issues that differed from past internal conflicts. 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. They, along with Lesbianas Sin Duda (LSD), would become the two major homosexual militancy groups in Madrid and in Spain as a result of COGAM’s inaction on the AIDS issue.
During the early 1990s, there was a lot of discussion in the news about transvestism and transsexualism. The topic was of interest to lesbians seeking to address the issue of sexual diversity. The writings of radical feminist Gayle Rubin were being translated and shared in feminist publications out of Madrid, and then shared again in the lesbian community. The works of Margharet Nichols were also being translated and shared along similar paths. Like other issues faced by lesbians, opinions were not uniform on the issue of tranvestism and transsexualism and it led to some splits and the creation of new groups in places like the Basque Country.
A few things happened in 1990. The International Day Against LGTBfobia has been celebrated every 17 May since 1990, when General Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrated that homosexuality was no longer defined as a mental illness. Coordinadora de Iniciativas Gais formally incorporated lesbians into it in 1990 when it also changed its name to Coordinadora Gay-Lesbiana. In 1990, Fina Birulés i Bertran co-founded the “Philosophy and Gender” Seminar at the Universitat de Barcelona.
Grup Lesbia was founded in 1990. In 1994, the group changed their name to Grup Lesbos. They came out of Coordinaadora Gai-Lesbiana, founded in 1980 in Barcelona. Women in the group worked with gays, Christians and university students to advance lesbian and gay rights. Gais Cristians de Catalunya existed by 1993, and soon became involved with the newly created Federación Estatal de Lesbianas y Gays (FELG).
Foro Permanente sobre Homosexualidad y Lesbianismo was was built in 1992 in Cordoba, and included members of Izquierda Unida (IU), CNT, Asamblea de Mujeres, and other independent groups. The group looked at the reality of gay and lesbian life.
Xega is an LGBT collective that serves Asturias, offering support in English, Spanish and in the Asturian language. They were founded on 1 December 1992 in response to the fight against AIDS. They played a critical role in starting the campaign for same-sex marriage in Spain in 1997.
XEGA was founded by Julián Alonso, Tino Brugos and José Manuel González in Oviedo in 1992. The three men had been members of Comité de Solidaridad con América Latina and were active in left-wing politics in the city. At the time, all three were also high school teachers.
Federación Estatal de Gays y Lesbianas (FEGL) was founded in April 1992. The group was largely run by gay men. From the start, they took an institutionalist approach to homosexual liberation, seeking to use political processes to achieve their goals. They were also about denouncing homophobia, but social and legally enshrined forms of this type of discrimination. The founding of FEGL in April 1992 to counter the increasingly revolutionary and vigorous COFLHEE ended up shifting the balance of LGTB power in Spain from Barcelona, where it was then centered, to Madrid.
The organization was founded by Colectivo de gai de Madrid (COGAM), Madrid based Comité Reivindicativo y Cultural de Lesbianas (CRECUL) and Valencia based Lambda. CRECUL put forth a proposal at the time of its founding that contemplated two presidencies for the new organization, one for each of the sexes with CRECUL President María Elena de León Criadoand COGAM spokesperson Miguel Angel Sanchez Rodriguez to serve as the first two joint constituent presidents. The following year, Casal Lambda de Barcelona joined FELGTB, and the statues to the new organizations were amended with a third president being added, Armand de Fluvià. Miguel Ángel Sánchez and Elena de León became Secretarias Generales. Mid-1994, de León left FELGTB because of her feminist beliefs and was soon replaced by Mili Hernández. Hernández came from outside CRECUL, getting her position after founding grupo de mujeres de COGAM.
The ILGA continued to engage internationally within Spain, hosting a number of meetings and conferences in Spain during the early and mid-1990s. From 16 – 18 October 1992, the ILGA EC Strategy Planning was held in Sitges, Spain. The meeting was organized by Coordinadora Gai-Lesbiana de Catalunya (CGL). From 11 – 17 July 1993, the 15th World ILGA Conference was held Barcelona. It was organized and hosted by Coordinadora Gai-Lesbiana. The Barcelona City Council and the Catalan Government formally welcomed the Congress to the city. The Conference included a protest over the repression of the Turkish homosexuals outside the building of the Turkish commercial delegation. They also held another protest condemning homophobic crimes at the Colombus Column. From 21 – 23 October 1994, ILGA Euro Seminar was held Sitges. The seminar was organized by Coordinadora Gai-Lesbiana de Catalunya (CGL). From 27 – 31 December 1996, Colectivo de Gais y Lesbianas de Madrid (COGAM) hosted the 18th ILGA European Conference in Madrid. Attended by 100 delegates, the meeting saw ILGA-Europe become the official umbrella organization for Europe inside the International Lesbian and Gay Association and formally organized under Belgian law. During the Congress, an action plan was created that was titled “24 ideas for European Commission-led initiatives”. The goal was to get the European Commission to better support gay and lesbian equality.
The “caso RENFE” occurred in 1992, the corporation’s Code 54 classified a number of groups as “grupo de riesgo”, including prostitutes, beggars, punks and homosexuals. COGAM, CFLM, La Radical Gai demanded that homosexuals be removed from this list. They were supported by Asamblea Feminista de Madrid and Coordinadora Feminista estatal among others. They demonstrated publicly against it, with both gays and lesbians taking to the street to protest. RENFE finally did. The issue was one of the bigger ones that mobilized many homosexual rights activists that year.
The ILGA continued to engage internationally with Spain during the government of Felipe González, hosting a number of meetings and conferences. From 11 – 17 July 1993, the 15th World ILGA Conference was held Barcelona. It was organized and hosted by Coordinadora Gai-Lesbiana. The Barcelona City Council and the Catalan Government formally welcomed the Congress to the city. The Conference included a protest over the repression of the Turkish homosexuals outside the building of the Turkish commercial delegation. They also held another protest condemning homophobic crimes at the Colombus Column.
During the mid-1990s, COGAM held weekly assembly meetings. During their most active periods, 15 to 20 people would attend of which one or two were women and most rarely returned a second time.
Queer groups in the mid and late 1990s, of which some lesbians belonged, were generally opposed to become part of institutionalized LGTB activism. Unlike lesbian feminists, they were also not particularly interested in the fight for marriage equality, though they did not take active steps to oppose it. Their most pressing concerns were ending homophobic, and stopping street harassment and assaults against LGTB people when out in public spaces; queer groups did not see the fight for marriage equality as a way to end that violence and discrimination.
In the mid-1990s, gay rights groups in Spain finally became more truly mixed. Lesbians were no longer being shunted off to women’s groups inside their structure and then run as parallel organizations from within. Instead, gays and lesbians began to share the same activist space without the need for separate internal structures. Despite this, gay men kept the upper hand in their organizations, especially on issues like AIDS. Lesbians continued to largely remain invisible inside them despite being integrated.
Casal Lambda created the Les Noies del Casal in 1994. The group would later be renamed Les Dones del Casal. This was done at a time when gay rights groups wanted to show they were truly mixed. Some of this was in response to government funding requiring or preferring mixed groups of gays and lesbians to gays only.
Coordinadora Gay y Lesbiana de Cataluña ran a campaign in 1994 to increase lesbian visibility. This was a theme CGL would come back to several times, putting enormous amounts of work in trying to improve the situation for lesbians, over the course of the new few years.
La Radical Gai and Lesbianas Sin Duda held a protest in 1994 in Madrid against the army and in support of insubordination. Both groups had connections to likeminded groups overseas, in the United States, England and France.
Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y Transexuales de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid (RQTR) was founded in 1994 as as a mixed lesbian and gay group, expanding to include more inside Madrid universities in 1995. RQTR’s statues in 1995 specifically talked about the need to increase the visibility of gays and lesbians as part of their work in improving LGBT rights.
ALDARTE was founded on 2 June 1994 in Bilbao, and registered on 13 September 1994. They became a public organization on 2 August 2012. The gay and lesbian group were founded for the promotion and defense of sexual freedom for everyone. Their purpose was to defend LGBTI rights, carry out educational programming about sexual orientation and gender identity, and to try to improve the situation for LGBTI people in southern countries and among the youth in the Basque Country. Their statutes specifically mention lesbians as one of the areas where they carry out activities related to, saying, “2.f) Promote activities for the equality of women and men through the area of women and lesbianism.”
Gays and lesbians were also jointly mobilized in 1995 around the Red Cross blood donation protocols supported by INSALUD, the Comunidad de Madrid and other regional governments for banning them from donating blood based on their sexual orientation. Groups protesting this included Lesbianas Sin Duda, CRECUL, CFLM, Plataforma anti-agresiones a lesbianas y gaysde la Universidad Complutense, RQTR, Asociación Juvenil Kronem, La Radical Gai, COGAM and prostitute rights organization Hetaira and Transexualia. It would take time for the issue to gain attention, with the media only really picking up on it in 1997 after three hospitals refused blood donations from gay men.
FAGC launched a campaign in Madrid, Barcelona and the Basque Country in 1995 encouraging members to put up posters in public places to increase the visibility of gays and lesbians in public spaces.
Grupo de Mujeres was founded inside the Col.lectiu Lambda in 1995. This was done at a time when gay rights groups wanted to show they were truly mixed. Some of this was in response to government funding requiring or preferring mixed groups of gays and lesbians to gays only.
Confederación Española de Lesbianas, Gais, Bisexuales y Transexuales (COLEGA) Sevilla branch was founded in 1995.
 Spanish: Día Internacional contra la Homofobia, Transfobia y Bifobia.