Spain’s LGBTQ+ community hasn’t always been treated the same and has adapted in each period to the prevailing ideas and conditions.
It wasn’t until 1822 when sodomy was abolished for the first time from the penal code. From that point on, it was a slow and difficult evolution towards the community’s acceptance.
Consequences of The Spanish Civil War
In 1936 and during the Second Spanish Republic, there was a military uprising, which was the origin of the Civil War.
Although there is no evidence that there was open persecution of nationals against homosexuals for the mere fact of being so, it does seem that homosexuality could have been a factor in favor of their imprisonment and/or execution.
Federico García Lorca
He was a Spanish poet who was killed during the first days of the Civil War. Various rumors were going on about how he was gay and how he kept sexual relationships with his students. A whole police operation was made to go and find him. Two days later, he was killed. The government never acknowledged their involvement in the crime, although everyone knew they were responsible for Federico’s death.
The Civil War ended up producing a fracture in the LGBTQ+ community, along with the break that occurred in society in general. Extreme moralism, prudishness, and the hypocrisy that comes with it, the censorship of all the suspicious material and official sexophobia created an environment in which LGBTQ+ members found it very difficult to find spaces in which to feel comfortable.
- From the Catholic point of view, homosexuality was related to a non-reproductive and sinful sexuality
- From the military point of view, it was a betrayal of military values
- From the reactionary point of view (those close to power), it was related to airs of modernity and leftism
Fagot became an essential insult, and active persecutions weren’t even required, because self-censorship and social control were enough. Those homosexuals who were considered more liberal were considered as “sexual degenerates” and had to go into exile or end up in prison.
In 1939, the rebellious side won the War. They were ruled by Franco, which later became the dictator. The repression against the LGBTQ+ community hasn’t been fully known by everyone, and it is one of the most sinister episodes of the dictatorship and the history of Spain in general.
Antonio Vallejo-Nájera was head of the Psychiatric Services of the Franco regime. He considered gay and lesbian people the degeneration of the human race and diagnosed them with a mental illness.
- Nazis, asylums, and prisons: the consequences of Antonio’s influence of nazi theories were seen in the creation of prisons, insane asylums, electric shocks, and atrocious persecutions that even led to death, prison, and suffering.
- The bums and thugs law: this law was meant for everyone on the LGBTQ+ community, and it had to persecute their conduct.
“Homosexuals affected by this security measure must be interned in special institutions and, in any case, with absolute separation from others”
- Imprisonments, internments, and rapes: there were about 4000/5000 people who were incarcerated just because of their sexual orientation and were accused of “public scandal”. In jail, they were raped by other inmates and also obliged to prostitute themselves by officials. Franco’s regime created and authorized internment centers to “cure” and “correct” these people. They were also abused in these centers.
- Electroshocks: the Catholic Church saw the community as sinners who had to be punished in order to change their conduct. In psychiatry, they were treated as mentally ill so, influenced by some nazi psychiatric theories and methods, they were given electroshocks as medical treatment which led to awful physical and psychological damages.
- Concentration camps, deportations, and exiles: Franco created, in the entirety of his regimen, almost 300 concentration camps. There was one which was later called the “Auswitch” in Spain. (its original name was “Penitenciaria de la Tefía”, which translates into “Tefía’s Penitentiary). It was located on the island of Fuerteventura. For the LGBTQ+ people that suffered exile and had to go there, it was hell on earth. They were put through forced labor in subhuman conditions.
Octavio García’s Case, a Camp Survivor
He had been charged with 16 months on Fuenteventura’s concentration camp, and he couldn’t see anyone and had to be completely apart from the others.
Octavio’s statements are from this article
“Nos tenían a pleno sol para ponernos en evidencia. Nos echaban un toldo y en un camión nos llevaron tapados para que no viéramos el camino si queríamos escaparnos”
“They had us under the sun to put us in evidence. They put an awning on us and they took us covered in a truck so that we didn’t see the road if we wanted to escape”
“Nos levantaban a las seis de la mañana para hacer la cama; pero en aquel paraje no había cama, había petate a ras del suelo. Se escuchaba el viento por la noche con una manta muy fina y unos uniformes grises con los que nos identificaban los guardias”
“They woke us up at six in the morning to make our bed; but in that place there was no bed, there was a mat at ground level. You could hear the wind at night with a very thin blanket and gray uniforms with which we were identified by the guards”
1970’s: New Laws and Changes
Before Franco died in 1975, there were still some homophobic laws around. One of them was called “Law on dangerousness and social rehabilitation”, which was a kind of upgrade from the previous one, the “Bums and thugs law”.
The new law was instituted in 1970 and the Government tried to make it look like it was an advancement and more “liberal” than the previous one but, in the end, it was the same concept: trying to “cure” or “treat” homosexuality and having to spend 5 years on jail or asylum.
Although it was illegally created, Francesc Francino and Armand de Fluviá made the first modern association in defense of the LGBTQ+’s rights in Spain, the “Spanish Movement of Sexual Liberation”. Because of police abuse, it had to be dissolved in 1974.
Franco’s Death And a New Road to Liberty
In 1975, Franco was pronounced dead. This meant the end to a long and difficult dictatorship that brought a lot of suffering and pain to the society and people in Spain. It took a lot to recover from it but, eventually, the country got better and managed to get back to normal.
It was not until 1979 that the last homosexual prisoners were released from prison. LGBTQ+’s fight could finally get back on track. More and more associations raised up, and they were making themselves visible by organizing protest marches on big cities such as Madrid or Barcelona.
Spain’s Situation Nowadays
I’m from Spain. As an LGBTQ+ member, I can say I’m very proud and grateful for everyone who fought and put up with our government and who still, to this day, keep fighting and demanding our rights.
Unfortunately, there’s still a generous amount of people that agree with everything Franco did and are even proud of it. The majority of Franco’s supporters nowadays are just relatives of those who were part of the regimen. I’m sure that there are still many things which have been left untouched and unsaid because if they come to light, many of us will be terrified.
The Necessity of Change
As a citizen here, I can fairly say Spain has always been more on the conservative side. Although our government keeps upholding in front of the entire country how “liberal” and open they are to feminism, the LGBTQ+ community, racism, etc. it isn’t at all like that.
Our current constitution was voted by the government in 1978; that’s 42 years ago. It’s true that a lot of laws have changed since then, but overall, it still keeps an old and traditional side view of things.
Everything’s not as pretty as it seems. We’re a monarchic state, and it has been like that for almost sixty years. Before the Civil War, Spain was a republican state. When the Civil War ended in 1939, we entered right in Franco’s dictatorship. After 35 years of leadership, Franco decided to declare Spain as a monarchic state.
Franco himself decided who would be the King and the family that would keep the succession line, and still to this day, that same family is reigning. Franco chose “Juan Carlos de Borbón I”, and he was the king from 1975 up until 2014. Then, he was replaced by his son, “Felipe IV de Borbón”. It’s been so many years like this that we’ve, in some way, get used to it.
But if you think about it, our monarchic system and royalty family were chosen by a dictator; a dictator that killed thousands of people and left many families without knowing where their sons, dads, and relatives were (and still have no clue).
This has always resonated with me very deeply. Because I’ve talked with other Spanish people from the community, I know we all feel the same. It’s exhausting and very sad to see all these people defending the monarchy, its traditional manners, and knowing they don’t care about us or our rights.
Change is needed. We need a comprehensive state that helps us acquire our rights and supports us with our fight. I’m very aware there’s so much left to do and accomplish, but we've gone a long way from where we started, and nothing’s gonna stop us now.