While the country is under the strain of anti-Indigenous politicians, it’s important to learn about the Bolivian organizers changing the lives of QTBIPOC.
In recent times, the gradual rise of anti-indigenous, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic violence across Bolivia has been overwhelming and heartbreaking. The oversimplification of the structural problems that led to the current crisis in the country has reduced the conversation to whether or not it was a coup, and if electoral fraud actually happened. Evo Morales’ government was full of contradictions and deserves a more nuanced discussion than relying on so-called “experts” who have saturated their opinions on mainstream media.
In the midst of the chaos, religious conservative politicians are trying to utilize the socio-political problems in Bolivia to seize power in the name of a Christian “God” and “democracy”. The burnings of the wiphala flags all over the country have amplified the hate that assimilated mestizes and white Bolivians have for Indigenous communities.
It is important now more than ever to center QTBIPOC voices that have always been doing amazing work on the ground level. This list and a previous list I created are a celebration of the accomplishments and continuous work that QTBIPOC are doing for a decolonial future. They are just a small glimpse of the amazing people doing radical work in Bolivia.
1. Laura Libertad Álvarez Mollinedo
Born 7 Sept. 1969 in La Paz, Bolivia to her Quechua family, Laura Libertad Álvarez Mollinedo spent her formative years in the countryside. Mollinedo’s experience in more rural areas gave her a glimpse of her own Indigenous traditions that would later be denied to her when her family converted to Adventism. When she began studying agronomy for her university thesis, she was able to reconnect with her roots and discovered that Indigenous communities have always had languages and different ways to explain various sexual orientations and gender identities. Her background, research, and experiences led her to doing community organizing in trans and queer communities.
From 2006 to 2009, Mollinedo was part of a small group of LGBTQ2S constituents assembly in Sucre, Bolivia and it was essential in creating the foundation of the Gender Identity Law Article 807. The Gender Identity Law allowed trans and queer folks to change the gender marker on their government documents at an administrative level without having to t go through the judicial courts. Mollinedo helped launch the campaign to pass the law which passed in 2016.
Laura is currently part of OTRAF-Bolivia (Organización de Travestis, Transexuales y Transgéneros Femeninas) and creates workshops on how government and educational institutions can create initiatives to support trans womxn. She also works for the Bolivian Public Defense Office in La Paz and is in charge of creating and sharing educational initiatives for the rights of marginalized communities.
2. Pamela Geraldine Valenzuela Rengel
Pamela Geraldine Valenzuela Rengel was born on July 22, 1967, in Potosí, Bolivia. When she was around 8 to 9 years old she knew she did not identify with her assigned gender and that her religious and machista community would not accept her. Rengel ran away from her family home in Potosí to La Paz so that she could live as her authentic self at 14-years-old. To support herself, Rengel became a sex worker and gradually began to build community with other trans womxn. Unfortunately, she along with the rest of the trans community at the time had to live through Bolivia’s military dictatorships and dealt with constant police violence during the 1960s to 1970s. Community meetings held at chicherías (places mainly run by Indigenous womxn selling chicha, a popular low-alcoholic drink made from fermented maize) became the few safe spaces for marginalized folks to gather and talk about socio-political issues affecting their lives. It was there that Rengel and other prominent members of the trans community gradually began their own grassroots organizations to fight for their civil rights throughout the 1980s to present-day.
Rengel became one of the many prominent activists that fought for the trans community and advocated for the Gender Identity Law. When the law passed in May 2016, she was one of the first people to change her name and sex on her identity card. She is currently one of the representatives for Bolivia’s first national organization called TRÉBOL (Trans Red de Bolivia) and she works as president of the Citizen Council for Sexual and Ethnic Diversities in La Paz.
3. Tamara Nuñez del Prado
Tamara Nuñez del Prado was born in La Paz, Bolivia to a prominent political family who were supporters of radical progressive social reforms and were apart of the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) which at the time was a political organization that actively resisted the dictatorships that were prominent in Bolivia and throughout all of Latin America and the Caribbean. Her family was deeply hated by Bolivia’s right-wing parties and they were targets of Operation Cóndor which eventually pushed her family to live in exile in Peru for the early years of her childhood.
Nuñez del Prado was raised and surrounded by people deeply involved in socio-political activities. As a child, she did not identify with her assigned gender and all her attempts to express her femininity were thwarted by her family. When she was finally able to come out to both her spouse and family, she quickly became one of the leading voices fighting for trans rights and supported many organizations that pushed for the Gender Identity Law to be passed. After the signing of the law in 2016, she held up the historically significant signed document for all the LGBTQ2S organizations present.
Nuñez del Prado continues to be an advocate for trans rights and for other major LGBTQ2S grassroots organizations and has made a short documentary about her life. She also owns a catering business called La Fábrica de Tamara.
4. Romina T. Apala Ignacio
Romina T. Apala Ignacio is a Quechua Lesbian womxn who is a Teacher and the President of the TLGB Collective in El Alto, Bolivia. Apala was born in Potosí, Bolivia and grew up in a close-knit Quechua community and absorbed many of the values and teachings of her community. Her family eventually moved to La Paz, Bolivia and because of the rampant racism against Indigenous people her parents stopped speaking Quechua and Aymara to their children in favor of learning Spanish to assimilate. When she was eight-years-old she learned about the term “lesbian” and gradually began to understand various aspects of her feelings and identity. Unfortunately, she experienced racism in queer communities because she did not fit the Eurocentric beauty standards and dealt with immense misogyny in Indigenous communities for not adhering to the narrow frameworks of womxnhood.
As a professor, Apala offers support to her students who often come to her with questions about sexuality, gender identity, and reproductive rights. She supported their efforts to pursue higher education, especially young girls affected by colonialist misogynistic attitudes persistent in some Indigenous communities.
Noticing that weren’t many womxn in leadership positions of queer organizations, Apala gathered support from womxn who felt isolated in queer organizations and who supported her election as the president of the TLGB Collective.
Recommended: “OUR SIN WAS BEING INDIGENOUS, LEFTIST, AND ANTI-IMPERIALIST” — A PRIMER ON BOLIVIA’S US-BACKED COUP
5. Ronald Céspedes
Ronald Céspedes is a Quechua q’iwa writer, poet, community organizer, academic researcher, and sociologist whose research centers philosophy and theology in regards to the connection that QTBIPOC have with their own bodies and to the land. Ronald explained that while the term “q’iwa” is commonly used to describe gay men, it’s actually not accurate, if forced to be given a definition “q’iwa” means “two-spirit”. Céspedes was the national spokesperson for LGBTQ2S movements in Bolivia and was the first q’iwa person to be elected as an assembly-person in the Municipal Assembly of Sucre in order to advocate for LGBTQ2S rights in 2006 to 2007. In Aug. 2018, he was a panelist at the International Conference for LGBTQ2S Indigenous leaders in Colombia and helped organize Bolivia’s first national conference for LGBTQ2S Indigenous people.
Ronald is currently the president of the Fundación Diversencia, which is an organization that focuses on the political and social advancements of LGBTQ2S communities and he is also an advisor at GayLatino Network which is a collective of regional leaders throughout Latin America and the Caribbean that focus on political advocacy for gay men, trans men, and intersex folks.
6. Roberta Benzi
Roberta Benzi was well-known as an activist, writer, fashion designer, chef, and beautician who died in 2019. Born in 1964 to an upper-class Bolivian family, she was well-known to be one of the first trans womxn legally recognized by the Bolivian government in 1986. Her case set the precedent for the Gender Identity Law years later. She fought for her truth and participated in community organizing for the rights of trans and queer communities during Bolivia’s military dictatorships. In 2006, Roberta was a candidate for the Bolivian Constituent Assembly and she was a spokesperson for the womxn’s political forum.
7. Adriana Guzmán Arroyo
Adriana Guzmán Arroyo is an Aymara Lesbian womxn who was born in La Paz, Bolivia and is part of two organizations called Feminismo Comunitario Antipatriarcal and Feministas de Abya Yala. She studied science at the University of San Andrés in La Paz. Arroyo developed her socio-political consciousness during the Gas Wars in 2003. Community conversations helped her understand the effects of colonization on her family and she began to assert her Aymara identity. Arroyo’s work centers on how the white supremacist, cis-hetero patriarchy has been imposed on Indigenous communities and has effected Andean knowledge systems. She has also been critical of mainstream feminist movements for being racist and disinterested in decolonization. Arroyo created many workshops to have these discussions with different communities in Bolivia and traveled to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to represent her organizations in order to connect with other Indigenous communities about these issues.
For further reading and information, learn more about the Movimiento MaricasBolivia and check out the recent two-day conference that took place in La Paz called “Parlamento de las Mujeres”, Day 1, Day 1 (Continued) and Day 2 were broadcasted on Muy Waso. Despite the intense violence on the streets, community organizers came together to create a dialogue about what is happening in Bolivia and shared their thoughts for the future. It has also been announced that more “Parlamento de las Mujeres” are scheduled to take place all over Bolivia and will be recorded for everybody to watch at their own convenience. For more information, please follow Mujeres Creando and Muy Waso. Also, follow AfroSaya (they have a podcast).
I want to end this piece by quoting a sample of the conversations that took place at the first Parlamento de las Mujeres:
“Evo Morales left, but the hope for a Pluricultural Bolivia is not gone, the hope that the wiphala represents us in different variations is not gone, the hope of ending racism is not gone.”
– Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui (Aymara/Quechua/Mestize) at the first Parlamento de las Mujeres in La Paz on Nov. 12, 2019.
“The fight for Indigenous people did not start with Evo Morales and it will not end with him.”
– Yola Mamani (Aymara) at the first Parlamento de las Mujeres in La Paz on Nov. 12, 2019.
ThatNerdyBoliviane formerly known as ThatLatinxChick was originally born in New York City and essentially lived there until the age of 17 when they had to move to Toronto for reasons. They are currently struggling to survive in this weird ass world that does not celebrate awesomeness enough. They self identify as Queer Quechua (Mestize) Bolivian-American who is involved with social justice work of all kinds. Aside from that, they are an avid lover of anime, manga, cartoons, (on rare occasions live-action TV shows if it’s good), and having amazing discussions with other folks about nerdy things. You can visit their blog Home to my Bitter Thoughts or you can follow them on twitter @LizzieVisitante.