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As Pride celebrates Stonewall, Catalonia remembers its own LGBT breakthrough

Franco's Spain dismissed queer people as a "danger to society." Then, they staged an unprecedented protest in Barcelona

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28 June 2019 10:57 AM

by

Daniel Wittenberg | Barcelona

Pride is back in Barcelona this weekend as the global LGBT community celebrates half a century since the revolutionary Stonewall riots. It was not until 1977, after the end of dictatorship, that Catalonia staged its own version, but it has certainly caught up.

At the time of the paradigm-shifting Stonewall riots in the United States, to be LGBT in Franco’s Spain was to be classed as a “danger to society” by law, “mentally ill” by the medical profession, a “mortal sinner” by the church, and a “pariah” by society.

Underground LGBT organizations were developing even as people were still sent to prison for not being straight. Then, the growth of the movement was hailed as one of the triumphs of the transition to democracy, starting with Catalonia’s own Stonewall.

On June 26, 1977, 4,000 campaigners, politicians and supportive citizens came out onto Barcelona’s famous boulevard, La Rambla, to say enough was enough: being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transexual is not a crime.

It was the first major gay march anywhere in Spain, and it caused a stir outside, too.

“Even in New York, everyone was talking about it: Spain, Catholic Spain, the Spain of Franco, had gays protesting! And when the police got involved, even more so," says Armand de Fluvià, a protest organizer, in an interview with the LGTBI history project elfilrosa.cat.The New York Times mentioned the LGTB march in Barcelona in its edition on June 27, 1977

The Francoist police responded with a heavy hand, leaving three protestors seriously injured by rubber bullets and arresting one, Oriol Martí, who spent 52 days in prison and was reportedly beaten and sexually assaulted.

However, the severe intervention only served to strengthen the resolve within the movement and win the collective consciousness of the wider public. Within a couple of years, it was no longer illegal to be gay.

“The protest brought people with different backgrounds and convictions together and that gave its unifying force,” said Mercè Otero, a professor at the University of Barcelona speaking with elfilrosa.cat.

Transition to inclusivity

The death of Franco and end of dictatorship brought about the most dramatic changes, as a cultural revolution accompanied the political and economic ones.

LGBT areassuch as Barcelona’s Gaixamplebegan to appear in big cities.

  • “The protest brought people with different backgrounds and convictions together and that gave its unifying force"

    Mercè Otero · University of Barcelona

And an explosion of free expression occurred across music, art, and cinema, such as Pedro Almodóvar’s films, with some set in Barcelona, at a time when it was rare for Spanish-language films to address gay and trans issues.

LGTB-Friendly reforms

In 1998, Catalan registry offices became the first in Spain to recognize civil partnerships, although they initially had no legal status.

In 2005, Spain became the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriages—and adoption rights for same-sex couples—nationwide.

Progress and backlash 

The Catalan institutions have continued (at varying rhythms) to promote inclusive initiatives, but in recent years, have faced a backlash from a vociferous minority.

For instance, neo-fascists vandalized Barcelona City Hall’s newly-opened LGBT center in January, sparking fears over the growing influence of the populist right in Spain, with Vox criticizing gay marriage for undermining traditional family values and dismissing Pride celebrations as inadequate for children.

The struggle for legal rights, social acceptance and pride has made huge strides under democracy, but the campaign for equality continues.

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  • The Pride march in Barcelona on June 30, 2018 (by Júlia Pérez)

  • The Pride march in Barcelona on June 30, 2018 (by Júlia Pérez)

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