Women's History Month

'Twice Difficult': One Activist Shares Her Experience Of Fighting For LGTBQ Rights in Bolivia

Silene Salazar founded one of the first networks for LGBTQ women in the country.

Ten years ago, Bolivian activist Silene Salazar noticed a lack of female voices in the LGBTQ movement in her country. As a lesbian and a Quechua woman, the largest indigenous group in Bolivia, Salazar wanted to not only increase the visibility of queer women, but also help those who were facing difficulties after coming out. With a group of friends, Salazar co-founded the National Network of Lesbian and Bisexual Women, an advocacy group and support system for women across the country and the first of its kind in Bolivia. 

"Before, there were LGBT organizations, but the main voices were men," Salazar told A Plus at an event organized by U.N. Women. "Still nowadays, wherever you look, the presidents of big LGBT collectives are men. The people talking are always men. So we felt like there was a necessity for women to have their own voice."

In Bolivia, legislative victories for LGBTQ rights have been hard-fought. Living in a traditionally Catholic country, LGBTQ individuals struggled for decades to have their existence acknowledged. While Bolivia does have laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Salazar notes these are rarely enforced. Last year, a law that allows individuals to change the gender on their ID cards was passed, but faced numerous protests by religious groups.

Silene Salazar Photo Courtesy of UN Women / Ryan Brown
Silene Salazar Photo Courtesy of UN Women / Ryan Brown

But she does note that there have been some improvements in the past 10 years. It has become easier for women to come out to their families, especially in cities, and as the national network has grown, so has the awareness of the resources available for members of the LGBTQ community. 

"They know that we exist and that they will be there not only for information, but to be with them if they face some kind of discrimination," she said. 

In the future, the network also hopes to expand its advocacy efforts focused on the health issues that impact the lesbian and bisexual community. The group also hopes to expand its reach to the more rural communities of Bolivia, where it is often more difficult for women to come out.  

"In Bolivia, thanks to this network, we have our place, we have leadership, we are taken into account," Salazar said. "It's tough for women. As a woman, you face certain discriminations and when you come out as lesbian or bisexual, it's twice difficult."

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