Monday, August 24, 2009

Colombia: Lesbians protest invisibility at annual breast cancer awareness walk

When members of the Colombian lesbian organization Toque Lésbico found out that the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer would take place this past Sunday through the streets of Bogotá, they realized that it would be a great opportunity to participate as an organization and highlight
the high incidence of breast cancer in the lesbian community.

Using drums to create music at public events as a way to raise the visibility of the lesbian community, the organization reached out to the organizers of the march to make sure that they could participate and bring their instruments. According to a member of Toque Lésbico, the woman who answered their calls first said that "they did not get involved with issues related to diversity" but that she would check with Avon as to whether the organization could march. She called them back and reiterated that they "did absolutely get involved with issues related to diversity and that if they wanted to participate they could show up with their drums but without anything that alluded to sexual diversity."

The march representative also told the women that they would not be allowed to carry any signs, banners, or shirts that made any reference to the name of the organization.

What to do? Well, protest! Of course. My friend Mauricio Albarracín attended yesterday's protest as a supporter and captured some clips. In this one, marchers carrying pink balloons stop and take pictures of the drummers as they holler their appreciation.

Marcela Sanchez, Director of the larges LGBT rights organization in Colombia, Colombia Diversa, and a Toque Lésbico member, said that the objective of the civil protest was more than met.
I think we met the Toque Lésbico objective, which is lesbian visibility. To set our stand before the discrimination to which we were subjected, because the directives from Avons said that we could not participate in the march if we brought lesbian symbols, or titles of 'lesbians', or anything that alluded to the theme of diversity. I believe that people were able to see our message, it could have been entertaining [to them], they understood that we could also protest with music and drums.
During the protest, the women raised a banner that read: "Breast cancer does not discriminate against lesbians, and you? ... AND AVON?"

Reaction from march participants and the public seemed to be overwhelmingly positive and supportive of Toque Lésbico.

The Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in Colombia is one of many similar events championed worldwide by the Avon Foundation for Women as a way to raise awareness and funds towards defeating the illness, with upcoming marches in Los Angeles, New York and Boston, among other US cities.

But, in the United States, there seems to be no Avon qualms about 'sexual diversity' or lesbian issues. This year, as in past years, the foundation awarded grants to the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington. DC, specifically earmarked for the care of lesbian and transgender women.


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