A History of Catalonia’s LGBT Movement

Dictatorship delayed the revolution but the Catalan community has caught up

Daniel Wittenberg | Barcelona

June 27, 2019 01:11 PM

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.

The 'Catalan 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 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," its organizer, Armand de Fluvià, recalls.

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  and within a couple of years, it was no longer illegal to be gay.

"The protest brought together people with different backgrounds and convictions together and that gave its unifying force," says Mercè Otero, a University of Barcelona professor.

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 neighborhoods – such as Barcelona’s Gaixample – began to appear in big cities.

An explosion of free expression occurred across music, art and cinema, such as Pedro Almodóvar's 'All About My Mother', set in Barcelona, which was then a rare Spanish-language film to address gay and trans issues.

Progress and Backlash

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.

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 pronouncing homosexuality "unnatural".

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