I am Monica Benicio, lesbo-feminist, born and raised in one of the biggest favelas in Rio de Janeiro, Maré, I graduated in architecture and am wife of Marielle Franco, a councilor from Rio de Janeiro, murdered in 2018.
It is very important to be at the European Lesbian Conference as a Latin American woman. I say this because we have had our bodies, knowledges and cultures colonized for centuries and we can still say that we are in the process of decolonizing our lives. Brazil, for example, has marks of racism and sexism in its history and present situations that are so noticeable when we come across the data of violence in our country.
Imagine a country that had its soil invaded by European immigrants who raped indigenous women, sexually abducted and raped African enslaved women. Enslavement that lasted for 318 years and Brazil has had its “discovery” 519 years ago. A Brazil that did not notice and did not recognize 21 years of civil-military dictatorship.
We know that Brazil has its distinct placement upon latin american countries, due to its territorial amplitude, high population density, and for having been one of the countries with economic growth of greater impact among the so-called “outsourced” countries for years. And today, as you might have noticed, Brazil is being presided over by a government with strong fascist and denial-of-politics characteristics, which was elected with hate speeches against the black population, women and LGBTIQ.
Bolsonaro represents on the one hand a middle class that, as proclaimed „is worn out” by dividing its privileges, and on the other hand a pseudo-elite of religious fundamentalism. The surveys carried out in Brazil indicate that the majority of their voters are men, white, upper level, with average Brazilian income, concentrated in the south and southeast of Brazil.
Many women in the 2018 election took to the streets with the motto #EleNão (Not Him) against misogynistic arguments, the project of total militarization of everyday life, and against attacks on the rights of the current president and in defense of democracy. The acts were as grandiose as those of 8M.
I have said that there is an ongoing feminist revolution. But we, as lesbo-feminists, need to build this revolution horizontally. I say this by understanding that our feminisms differ and often oppress. I am a woman raised in the favela, but my privilege as a white woman allows me to have access, in which black, or women of color are denied due to racism.
Likewise, my lesbianity makes me one of the main victims of sexual violence, the so-called corrective rapes, for not being in the heteronormative pattern. As well as, transwomen are the main victims of murders.
Think of the body of a woman: black, lesbian and trans, disputing spaces like this to have their characterizations being debated just like ours? We need to rethink our privileges, make a policy based on intersectionality and without hierarchy of oppression.
We have talked so much in recent years about gender equality and international feminism, but in our day-to-day practices we ignore the subaltern work of refugees, sexism & racism against black women, the subalternities of trans-people and even the violence between us lesbians. We need to understand that love among women is revolutionary because it opposes the logic of macho and patriarchal domination – a norm that brings the 240% increase in lesbo-feminicides in Brazil in recent years.
Lesbian women, especially the young women in Brazil, are victims of corrective rape, are disowned and expelled from family homes, school dropouts among teenagers are extremely high, and precarious work is increasingly constant among so-called „non-feminine lesbians“. However, parallel to all this violence, we have had resistance.
Marielle has always embraced LGBTI guidelines.
In one of the most prominent episodes in 2017, she introduced and put to vote the Lesbian Visibility Bill that was rejected by 2 votes in the City Hall. The most important aspect was the process of the meeting, that articulated lesbian groups from different territories and feminisms, promoting alliances in the common guidelines, which inaugurated the Lesbian Front of Rio Janeiro.
Following the rejection of the PL, the man and collectives organized the “Occupy Sapatão”, (occupy dyke) a political, artistic and cultural event in response to the institutional lesbo-phobia of the Parliament that was opened up during the debates on PL 82/2017. Occupy Sapatão is an answer in power, affirming the existence of our bodies that are political, and is continuing to happen annually in front of the City Hall.
As the text of the PL’s justification of lesbian visibility says: “Lesbian erasure is alarming because it is at the same time the result and source of lesbo-phobia.”
The mandate of Marielle provided networks of solidarity and affection between women, intersecting the guidelines with a feminist policy. Marielle expressed with much love and the testimony of her own life, that our families exist and that no one should tell the other whom or how to love. The struggle for love and lesbian identities is not an accessory, nor a diversion of supposedly more important matters, but a constitutive aspect of guaranteeing the dignity and human rights of all people.
Just as the gender perspective thought, that was how Marielle took up the fight. How does this affect access to housing and food security, for example, since many of these people are expelled from their homes of origin? How does this affect vulnerability to sexual violence, access to public health policies, guaranteeing the right to education and entering the labor market? Trying to answer these questions with a sensitive eye to the specific struggles that cross lesbian lives, is that one can think of the appropriate response of the legislature of which Marielle was representative, and of the public power in a more general way.
Somehow, these movements have gained even more momentum and in recent years we have gained more visibility as activists, artists, journalists, parliamentarians … this has been a growing trend with the strengthening of lesbian social movements that we affirm as a “sapatao“ (dyke), understanding and re-signifying the term as a political tool. However, it is important to state that the right to the closet is a survival strategy. This is because many women, mainly black, peripheral and favela, do not have the possibility of assuming their lesbianity for fear of corrective rape, murders, expulsion from schools, universities and the labor market. The lesbo-phobic and misogynist society creates an environment of expulsion of our bodies from the spaces. For example, Leci Brandao, a lesbian parliament member, was the second black woman elected in more than 180 years in the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo, one of the main capitals of the country. We have urgencies. Emergencies of existence.
We need to deconstruct racism, sexism and machismo to trace new meanings to feminism.
On March 14, 2018, 13 months ago, my wife was brutally executed on her way home. In all this time, I have followed everywhere in the world demanding justice. For me, there is no doubt that Brazil has blood-stained hands from the execution of Marielle, since not even the title of parliamentarian has managed to avoid her murder, being misogynistic and racist. I need to reaffirm what my wife’s body was. Black woman, also raised in the favela of Maré, mother, socialist and LESBIAN. Marielle and I have been together for 14 years in many ways and only in the last few years we were able to live in the same house and constitute our family. We have been hampered by various forms of lesbo-phobia in which many are still present when they deny Marielle’s lesbianity or do not recognize me as her wife.
If I continue the fight for her justice today, it is for the preservation of her memory, for a way of still being with her, and for no other family to feel the pain of the daily absence, of not having the love of their life by their side. Marielle was taken from us in the worst way, and it was not for the banners she represented. Their struggles were for justice and freedom. This shirt, “Who ordered to kill Marielle”, is a fighting tool until the Brazilian State responds to who her real murderer was, in addition to the murderers who were arrested a year after the execution. I leave a message to you that fighting like Marielle is keeping hope! I hope that better days will come for all of us. So we are here together. Let the love between women heal us and guide us through this journey. Thank you!