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Article by:
Chloé Bruère-Dawson
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June 22, 2023
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Reshaping our ways of fighting

It’s pride month, yet we have so much to do besides celebrating. As trans rights are being challenged across the world, victories and progress seem to be distant dreams. Yet through this cloudy June, a line shined through. After months of debates, Spain has passed one of its most ambitious bills regarding LGBTIQ+ rights. Looking back on Spain’s social movements history, what can we learn and apply to our fights?

Backtracking Progress: Trans Rights Setbacks and the Divide and Conquer Strategy

Hundreds of anti-trans bills have been introduced across the United States this year. Dozens of them have been signed into law. Whether they are about access to healthcare, drag performances, sports, or restroom usage, these bills have been putting trans and non-binary people’s lives in jeopardy, polluting online and political discourse, and creating an overall harmful climate in the country. It has been moral panic on moral panic, reaching other countries which in turn participated in this global campaign of demonization. Sweden, for example, has recently begun restricting gender-affirming treatments for minors. A new Government guidance in England plans to ban schools from using a child’s preferred pronouns without their parent’s consent.
Just as homonationalism instills fear against refugees on the basis of queer rights protection to pursue deadly military actions and xenophobic border policies, right-wing officials and transphobic groups are scapegoating trans and non-binary individuals to divert attention from real political problems, such as the ongoing economic crisis. Transphobic discourse also follows the well-known “Divide and conquer” strategy, trying to break down unity within the LGBTIQ+ community to maintain the status quo.

Spain's LGBTIQ+ Rights Milestone: Defying Global Setbacks

While trans rights were globally jeopardized, Spain passed its most ambitious bill so far regarding LGBTIQ+ rights. Coming into force in March after months of debates, the bill broadens protections for LGBTIQ+ people, expanding access to assisted reproductive techniques, facilitating parental recognition, banning mutilations on intersex children, and allowing gender recognition based on self-identification through a simple administrative process. It is colloquially called the “trans bill” due to the latter, which caused heated debates in the country, highlighting the current transphobic climate.

With this new bill, Spain climbed six places in the annual Rainbow Europe index, being now ranked fourth. If it is not perfect (legal recognition of non-binary people, for example, was not included due to the lack of support from the main partner of Spain's center-left ruling coalition), it is a major achievement for LGBTIQ+ rights in the country, setting a precedent for other nations to follow.

Spain’s new bill did receive backlash from transphobic groups, such as the Alliance Against the Erasure of Women. But despite the political tensions that followed its vote, the bill was nevertheless passed. In these times of hardship, looking at Spain’s social movement history may help us find answers on how to follow its path.

Lessons from History: The Social and Political Background Behind Spain's Victory

1977 is an important date in Spain’s trans history, marking the first rally for sexual liberation in Barcelona. During this march, which took place just a few years after the end of the Francoist dictatorship, gays, lesbians, transgender, and gender-non-conforming individuals proudly walked the city’s streets. If the participation of what was called at the time “tranvestites” was criticized by organizers, it marks the beginning of transgender activism in Spain.
A decade after, the first transgender organization was created in Madrid. New organizations of various sizes and degrees of radicalism followed, such as the National Federation of Transgender Organizations in 1996 and the Guerrilla Travolaka in 2003. Later on, certain groups such as the transgender section within the FELGTB assumed a prominent role in negotiating with national political authorities. Besides political lobbying, trans activists within those organizations actively participated in national feminist conventions as early as 1993, paving the way to transfeminism.

Spain’s trans organizations and activists, if crucial and at the forefront of the fight, are not the only factor at play when trying to explain the country’s current legislation on transgender rights. Specificities of the country’s capital, Madrid, opened the path to a more intersectional approach to social struggles.
Since the 1970s, Madrid has fostered an incredible network of social movements, through organizations and self-managed social centers. The “Okupa” movement of the 80s created a squat culture in which horizontal organization and collective solidarity were core principles. This culture facilitated the emergence of an intersectional approach to social struggle, and thus the consideration of trans voices.
Consequently, transgender rights movements could find an echo within other social movements in Madrid, leading to the inclusion of trans-identity-related issues in the public sphere.

Besides Madrid’s occupation culture, the main aspect which led to the progress of trans rights in Spain can be found in the alliance of feminist and transgender-rights movements. If the relationship between the two is nuanced, it nonetheless played a big part in trans rights recognition, especially through the work of lesbian feminist activists within the movements. Feminist and trans organizations had been fighting together on sexual rights issues like prostitution and bodily autonomy, and their alliance, if sometimes precarious, was essential to the visibilisation of trans rights in the country.

This is what we can take from Spain’s social movements history: The need for horizontality, intersectionality, and the importance of transfeminism. Transfeminism is not just including trans-identity-related issues in feminist agendas, but reshaping the very paradigm of our feminist movements. To do so we need to fight against all oppressions, not just by principle but in practice. We need to be there when trans rights are being challenged, and we need to be united. It will never be repeated enough: There can be no queer nor feminist liberation without trans liberation.

Images courtesy of Colita (1977)

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