“Lesbian identity in Guatemala is taboo. It was necessary to show it, not only to break and confront that taboo, but more so, to provide the opportunity for the LGBT community to have a representative.”
Sandra Moran joined Guatemala’s human rights movement as a high school student, and later merged her activism with music, playing with the revolutionary music band, Kin Lalat. During much of Guatemala’s civil war, Sandra lived in exile—in Mexico, Nicaragua and Canada—and participated in solidarity work for Guatemala. Sandra is Guatemala’s first openly gay member of Congress.
You started your activism at a young age. What pulled you towards it at the time?
I was born in a time of war. Since I was a girl, I noticed that there were people in the streets, fighting for something, and they were persecuted by the police. High school is where I began to understand what it meant to participate in protests and the search for justice.
Why did you, later, have to leave the country?
In university, I started, in a more conscious way, to organize with others, and I joined a revolutionary movement. The worrying situation of persecution for seeking justice was intensifying. I was persecuted. There were disappearances, assassinations of students, and I had to leave in October, 1981.
How did your time in exile affect your activism?
It was personally difficult, because uprooting yourself is hard: leaving your social circle and family, and not having anything to start from zero in an environment of persecution. I started to work in support of refugees in Mexico. Later, I started playing political music to generate solidarity with Guatemala. That world of music became more important for me when I moved to Nicaragua in 1986, and I joined a revolutionary musical movement from Guatemala called Kin Lalat. Then, faced with the impossibility of staying in Nicaragua or Mexico, we went to Canada.
How did you come to focus on women’s rights in your work?
We were in Canada and did everything possible to push for Guatemalan activist Rigoberta Menchú Tum to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I started to focus my work more on women, and develop my understanding of women’s rights. Because until then, I had been part of a more general struggle.
And after you returned to Guatemala, you played a role in ensuring a gender focus in the development of the peace accords.
When I returned to Guatemala in 1994, it was a moment when an assembly of women from civil society was being organized, so I joined those efforts. Later we, as a women’s sector, were working to make sure that the 1996 peace accords included recognition of women’s rights and the problems women faced.
You live in a machista society where there are very conservative values. Yet when you ran for Congress, you were public about being a lesbian.
I knew they were going to be against me. For me, transparency isn’t just about how to manage money—Guatemala is in a fight against corruption—but about who you are in reality. Lesbian identity in Guatemala is taboo. It was necessary to show it, not only to break that taboo, but more so, it gave the opportunity for the LGBT community to have a representative. I knew that identity was going to be used against me. So I took from them the power they could have had to use it against me.
As a Congresswoman now, how has your work on women’s rights and LGBT rights been received by Guatemalan society?
In September, there was a very strong campaign against me, to prevent me from being the president of the first forum of female representatives in Congress. The argument was that I, as a lesbian, wasn’t “woman enough” to represent female members of Congress. It was a public campaign, led by a citizen who was gathering signatures against me, and it exploded publically. Fortunately, I received a lot of support from organizations, including international ones, and I filed a denouncement for discrimination to the Human Rights Inspector General and the Public Ministry.
What are the things you want to change, from your position as a member of Congress?
At the legal level, for example, we are working on issues of sexual abuse of girls, and how a result of sexual violence against girls under 14 years of age is pregnancy. And given that for so many, abortion is not an option, it becomes a forced pregnancy. That’s part of the discussion. The other is the recognition of the rights of the LGBT community, which implies changes in favor of transsexuals and same-sex marriage or civil union, as well as actions to prevent the terrible violence towards the community. There is no recognition that a problem exists, because for a lot of people, being part of the LGBT community is evil and therefore it requires punishment, so violence is seen as natural because it’s a necessary punishment. It’s these kinds of things that we have to start discussing in our communities, publically.
Read about Sandra's work for LGBT rights in Guatemala.
Listen to Kin Lalat's song Pueblo Quiché.