Lesbians have always been part of every social change movement, and in 2018 we are finally out of the shadows. For better and for worse. People hate women so much. Add a touch of dykeness and our bodies/ our lives are red flags to the patriarchal bull that likes to leave us gored and bleeding in the sand.
Especially if we fight back. Marielle Franco was not only a feminist and lesbian, but the only black woman on Rio de Janeiro’s 51-member city council. Known for denouncing racism, homophobia, the epidemic of murdered women, police brutality, and the assassination of young black men in the favelas, she was shot dead on March 14, probably by the same far-right militias that she frequently attacked.
She must have known it was coming. Inconvenient people have a way of disappearing in Brazil, especially when they come from the slums. So do women of all races. It must have shocked her murderers to discover that this particular brown woman didn’t fade into insignificance, and instead became a martyr, galvanizing enormous marches throughout the world.
A few days earlier, and a world away in Ukraine, Olena Shevchenko, director of the feminist LGBTQI rights organization Insight, was a main organizer of the International Women’s Day march in Kiev, where they took to the streets chanting, “Women’s rights are human rights!” and “Liberty, Equality, Women’s Solidarity!” For their trouble, 200 far-right nationalist thugs attacked them with sticks, paint, and tear gas.
That must have been expected, too. Ukraine is no defender of women’s rights, dragging its feet on ratifying the 2011 Istanbul Convention on violence against women. In fact, citing its Soviet-imposed origins, they’ve decided to drop International Women’s Day from their list of official holidays, making this the last official celebration of March 8. Add in the fact that homophobic bashings in Ukraine have risen in tandem with the virulent anti-gay propaganda coming out of Moscow, their arch-enemy and former ruler, and that all feminists are dismissed as man-hating dykes, then attacking the march was a no-brainer for the brainless Ukrainian ultranationalists, who miss the irony of it all.
Several people were injured, but instead of investigating their attackers, the cops charged Shevchenko with “violation of the procedure for conducting peaceful assemblies” and for allowing marchers to display a banner that “offended national symbols of Ukraine.” It portrayed a woman’s body being attacked by a cross, a coat hanger, a coin, a rope, and a trident, the symbol of a far-right group, which closely resembles the official coat of arms of Ukraine.
When Shevchenko appeared for her hearing on March 12, the courtroom was packed with far-right thugs insulting and threatening her, and she and her lawyer were forced to hide. Even the presiding judge encouraged her to sneak out the back. The cops didn’t help, and Shevchenko and her lawyer had to call a private security firm to get them out. A couple of days later, the charges were dropped, and she celebrated in a Facebook post, declaring, “Freedom of Assembly and human rights won!” No matter that the death threats continue.
I worry for Olena Shevchenko’s safety. I worry about Emma González, too, a student leader of the new US movement for gun control. Yes, we are still more of a democracy than Brazil, more of a democracy than Ukraine — at least for the moment. But there are just so many fucking guns here. So many men willing to use them.
And there she is, this young queer leading the charge as the most visible survivor of the Parkland, Florida, attack. And as such the flashpoint for the crowd of right-wing politicians and media stars who’ve been suckling the poisonous NRA teat their entire careers.
Leslie Gibson, a local Republican candidate in Maine, sneered at her as a “skinhead lesbian.” Fox News has ridiculed her and her co-organizers, accusing the massacre survivors of enjoying the attention. Somebody photo-shopped an image of her ripping apart a paper gun target, replacing it with the Constitution to inflame patriotic hate.
So far, she’s taking it in stride. The young, bi Cuban American cut her activist teeth as president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and told Yahoo! Lifestyle that her latest inspiration was trans activist Sylvia Rivera, who persisted in spite of attacks, even from the LGBT community. From that, González learned “…there will always be people that hate you, and that they’re always going to be wrong. So it’s good to use that, and remember that whatever you’re doing, if it’s making people that mad, then it’s probably a good thing.”
She doesn’t even seem particularly fazed by the possibility that this anger could lead to violence. Maybe she’s been reading Audre Lorde, too, who memorably wrote, “When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”