Written by: Andrew Viñales
Sunday July 5th 2015 will mark the 8th annual Caravana del Orgullo GLBT in Santo Domingo. In the midst of the controversy surrounding the eminent deportation of hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, it will be remiss if we do not discuss Queerness in the Dominican Diaspora, especially knowing that many Dominicans of Haitian descent are Queer or Transgender. Even in movements that strive to defend the human rights of thousands of folks, well-intentioned Dominicans contribute to the erasure and violence towards queer and Trans people. My fellow Dominicans must recognize and learn about our Queer and Trans family on and off the island. For many of us we have to balance our Queer identity with our Dominican one. Frequently, we are not given the opportunity to be both at the same time. This piece is for you, in the cusp of diaspora trying to be an authentic self.
It’s always beautiful to see Queer and Trans Dominicans affirming their Dominican identity. One of my favorite demonstrations of this occurred during the Caravana de Orgullo GLBT Dominicano 2012. The YouTube video “Policía trata impedir uso Bandera Dominicana en Marcha Orgullo GLBT” shows activist David Ventura affirming his right to use the Dominican Flag while marching in the face of police officers’ disapproval.
This powerful act of resistance is a definite indicator that Queer and Trans Dominicans are steady and confident in their fight for rights and visibility. But where does this come from?
According to Professor Jacqueline Jiménez Polanco, LGBT movements started in the 1980s then slowed down in the 1990s in the Dominican Republic. She claims, “The movement vanished in the early 1990s when the economic distress of the ‘lost decade’ fueled a large migratory process of Dominican citizens… in search of a better life.” Even though LGBTQ movements have existed for a long time, the immigration waves from the Dominican Republic to the United States disrupted this process. Fortunately, it allowed for Queer and Trans Dominicans to participate in LGBT spaces in the US. Like Polanco, many have been able to travel back to DR and use their skills learned abroad to promote Queer activism and academia.
This culminates in the informal first “Gay pride march” in 1999. As a witness to the 1999 march, Mark Padilla recounts in full detail, the events leading to the march in his book, Caribbean Pleasure Industry: Tourism, Sexuality and AIDS in the Dominican Republic. He claims that this event was planned as a protest against the violence that various so-called “degenerate” groups were facing as a result of repression from local leaders. These degenerate groups included metálicos, who reportedly staged the protest, raperos and Gay men. As the protest began, the metálicos and raperos backed down unable to handle the homophobic backlash. Eventually the small group of Gay men walked armed with Pride flags down El Conde in Zona Colonial. It was the first time that Gay Dominicans were able to march in a visible presentation in unity—a powerful statement in the face of the homophobic patriarchal culture that permeates the globe.
This march is one of many examples to show that, even though Queer and Trans Dominicans face violence, neglect, homelessness and depression both on the island and in the Diaspora, Queer Dominicans have found ways to remain resilient. Art has always been an outlet for Queer expression. Be they implicit, or explicit, music and literature have played crucial roles in shaping Queer Dominican culture. In 1947, during the heat of the Trujillato, Pedro René Contín Aybar published Biel, el marino. This novel, according to Carlos Ulises Decena, was the Dominican Republic’s (though short) first homoerotic novel. There has definitely been an insurgency of Queer Dominican subjectivity in Dominican art and culture. For example, Jacqueline Jimenez Polanco’s Divagaciones bajo la Luna/Musings Under the Moon, is the Dominican Republic’s first Lesbian Anthology. Jimenez Polanco’s intent was to “tell people that… there are Dominican lesbians who are either in DR, or overseas.”
Queer subjectivity is becoming more intentional. Who can forget La Delfi’s 2012 feature in the dembow hit “Dame Leche?” In true Dominican vernacular, La Delfi’s plea for “leche” roamed the colmados, bodegas, and clubs in the Dominican Republic, Washington Heights and all over the diaspora. It is fair to say that Queer Dominicans have set the ground for Queerness to be part of Dominican identity. Be it vulgar, artistic or political, Queer Dominicans are no longer accepting having to balance their identities.
Unfortunately, like most Queer movements, the Dominican one leans heavily on the presentation of gay cis-gender men. There isn’t much scholarship, literature or visibility on Lesbian, Bisexual, Pansexual or Transgender people, which is indicative of how patriarchy is maintained in Dominican culture, even in Queer spaces. It must be critiqued because any Queer movement is not complete if all genders and sexualities are not benefitting. Still, the diaspora has played a big role in pushing for the rights of Queer and Trans folks. So I have hope. As Dominican sexuality and gender constructs continue to be redefined, more people are understanding their identities as Queer or Trans. On the mainland, many organizations have sprung up to help maintain the movement and enforce their Dominican identity politically, culturally and socially. Some of these organizations include TRANSSA (Trans Siempre Amigas), ASA (Amigos Siempre Amigos), and Gay Dominicano.
As a diaspora, it is our duty to uplift queer Dominicans. If your Dominican org on a college campus doesn’t address Queer and Trans issues, fix it. If your Dominican dance club plays homophobic music, stop it. If your Dominican community organizing and activism uses homophobic slurs, change it. We in the LGBTQ Dominican community are every bit as part of the Dominican diaspora and we need to be treated as such.
Sources and Readings:
Decena, Carlos Ulises. Tacit Subjects: Belonging and Same-sex Desire among Dominican Immigrant Men. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print.
Image of altered Dominican Flag with Pride colors. http://www.lascalientesdelsur.net/caravana-gay-la-mas-nutrida-alteraron-la-bandera/
Padilla, Mark Caribbean Pleasure Industry: Tourism, Sexuality and AIDS in the Dominican Republic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)
Polanco, Jacqueline J. “Dominican Republic LGBT Movement—A Sociopolitical and Cultural Approach,” (Oct. 11, 2004)
Polanco Jacqueline J. Divagaciones Bajo La Luna: Voces E Imágenes De Lesbianas Dominicanas = Musings under the Moon : Voices and Images of Dominican Lesbians. Santo Domingo: Idegraf Editora, 2006. Print.
Policía Trata Impedir Uso Bandera Dominicana En Marcha Orgullo GLBT.” YouTube. YouTube, 2 July 2012. Web.