Welcoming Remarks (CLAGS Meeting—Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana 4 August 2003)

Racism, xenophobia, discrimination,
homophobia, sexism…these are some of
the names of intolerance. The fear of the
other, of the different, of the one who has
another skin color, another religion, other sexual
preferences…The other becomes a threat, to
what? To one’s own identity? Is there something
like “one’s own identity?” In a moment when
intolerance receives the name of “holy war” or
“infinite justice,” when god is waved as a flag to
justify the greatest atrocities, when we are paying
the consequences of the war fantasies of a
megalomaniac playing president, when the
“enemies” are those wearing turbans and “masks”
(pasamontañas) those who speak “unintelligible”
tongues, but also those who “provoke” simply for
being young women in Ciudad Juárez, and of
course those who wake up next to someone of
their same sex (“I woke up again between your
arms…,” sings José Alfredo, provoking sighs of all
colors); in a moment such as this it is good to
think again about a theme such as tolerance, and,
if I am not mistaken, that is one of the main
themes of this meeting. It is good to begin again
to see ourselves as militants for the acceptance of
the other not because that other and I are equal
but precisely because the other is different;
militants for the celebration, then, of difference and heterogeneity, but not as a pasteurized tune (let
me make clear that I am not financed by Benetton), but more as a way to work on the complex
intersections of the different, a way to question and unpack prejudices and binaries that impoverish
thought; I am talking of a celebration that is aware that difference does not justify inequalities: hunger,
poverty, the impossible access to a minimum level of well being. We know that while in some places—
more each time, fortunately—the rainbow flag proudly waves, in many, very many others, what is
compulsory is hiding, silence, hypocrisy. “Ay, secret voice of dark love!” Federico García Lorca wrote
Once again it is useful to cite the most perfect and brief short story of the world, “The Dinosaur”
of Tito Monterroso: “And when I woke up the dinosaur was still there.” And the dinosaur in this case is
not only the opinion of the Vatican, which I am always surprised to find surprises some when we get
examples of their retrograde and intolerant postures every day—maybe in 500 years they will
apologize—but all of the information that overwhelms us daily. Here are some examples as tokens of
the Latin American reality. (I talk about Latin America because it is what I know best, but we can find
similar information about many other places in the world.)
The list is long and atrocious: assassinations, threats, persecutions, police raids, extortions, violence
of all kinds…In some countries, such as Nicaragua, homosexuality is penalized by law; in practically all
countries the police has a very wide and permissive margin to arrest homosexuals. Torture is, more
than tolerated, encouraged, let alone the scorn and negligence when dealing with these cases. The
impunity of the “forces of order” in their struggle to protect “good manners,” as said by one of our
mayors from the Partido Acción Nacional (Party for National Action), is absolute.
In Mexico, according to the Citizen Commission Against Hate Crimes Because of Homophobia,
between 1996 and 1999, there were 190 people assassinated for this cause. And the report of the
Commission clarifies textually: “the promotion of homophobic hatred basically comes from the
authorities.” Of course, I cannot forget the two homosexuals killed by hammer blows last month in the
city of Nogales, Sonora.
The report underlines that “of particular importance are the executions of adolescents and young
gay people between the ages of 14 and 20.” Many of us work in the universities with youth of these
ages. I wonder if we do not have anything to say about the matter.
“With 35 assassinations of homosexuals per year, Mexico occupies the second place, in absolute
numbers, in this kind of crime, followed by the United States, with 25 persons assassinated.” Brazil
occupies first place. In 2001, there were 132 assassinations of homosexuals in Brazil (88 gays, 41
transvestites and 3 lesbians). Every three days a homosexual is assassinated savagely. Of course, there are
no prosecutions in the majority of these assassinations.
Let us not forget other cases in our continent like the suspicious burning down of a gay disco in
Valparaíso two years ago, which produced dozens of deaths and that, following the pattern that
predominates in the region, has not been clarified yet.
I offer all of these examples without even beginning to talk about other types of violence such as
censorship, silencing, exclusions of all types (like the mayor of Aguascalientes who prohibited the
entrance to a spa of “dogs and homosexuals”), and a very long list of terrible et ceteras.
It is for all of this that our challenge lies in all areas: in academic life, in quotidian life, in the mass
media, in political practice, in family relations, in the daily sharing with our partners, in activism. Our
challenge lies in reflection and action, knowing that sometimes the inequalities that separate one and
the other level are abysmal. The old discussion about the relationship between theory and praxis returns
to the scene with vigor and once again, it demands our attention. The dinosaur can invade any corner
and the best way to perceive its movements is being conscientious of the inequalities existing between
diverse spaces. We have, on the one hand, the possibility of discussing concepts such as queer and
queerness, to talk about the symbolic, webs of power, phallogocentrism, of “bodies without organs,” of
the becoming of desire, of gender as performances, etc. etc. We already have programs in Gay and
Lesbian Studies, or the first school for “diverse peoples” in New York; we have the peace and liberty that
our cubicles and desks often give us (although we know that there are exceptions to this too). And we
have, on the other hand, the assassinations, the discrimination, the gender-based violence, the hypocrisy,
the hiding, the closets shut with triple key, the fear that only disappears the day of the Gay Pride March,
the priests who call their followers to vote against the political parties who talk about homosexuals, the
priests who “love children.” Of course, seeing the landscape in this way may be too schematic, but one
of the challenges of groups like this one here today is to set those different realities in dialogue with one
another. To learn from grassroots movements, from quotidian struggles, and if the freedom and the level
of tolerance earned in the academic realm or in some spaces of public life can not help us also think
about what happens on the other side, to denounce it, to try to push for the extension of the respect of
diversity, of alterity, of free choice, to the defense of the body as a space of joy and creativity. If it is not
like this, all that we might theorize or reflect upon, sorry, but I do not think it is much use for anything.
I would like take this opportunity to thank all of you that you are here today; to express gratitude
to the colleagues at CLAGS for their initiative, their call for collaboration, their work to make sure that
this meeting could take place, especially to Alisa Solomon, CLAGS’s Executive Director, and the
wonderful Hilla Dayan. Thanks to Hilla’s enthusiasm and efficiency I am sure that our meeting will be a
success. I would also like to thank also, of course, Gabriela Cano, great friend and colleague of
vicissitudes in debate feminista and at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa, the coorganizing
institution of this meeting. I also take advantage of this opportunity to thank all of the
people at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, who have made their best effort to make it
possible for us to work these two days, especially Chancellor Carmen Beatriz López-Portillo.
And since the themes that interest us also have to do with skins and loves, with moods and words,
and since we are sheltered under the marvelous space inhabited by Sor Juana, a woman who knew so
much about discriminations and intolerances, about prejudices and sexism, I would like to end by
reading one of her love poems, written to the Countess of Paredes. Even though this may be hard for
the Sor Juana experts who prefer hagiography over biography, it is about time, as suggested by
Antonio Alatorre in our last conference, to also bring Sor Juana out of the closet.

This afternoon, my darling, when we spoke,
And in your face and gestures I could see
That I was not persuading you with words,
I wished you might look straight into my heart;

And Love, who was assisting my designs,
Succeeded in what seemed impossible:
For in the stream of tears which anguish loosed
My heart itself, dissolved, dropped slowly down.

Enough unkindness, now, my love, enough;
Don’t let these tyrant jealousies torment you
Nor base suspicions shatter your repose

With foolish shadows, empty evidence:
In liquid humor you have seen and touched
My heart undone and passing through your hands.


Sonnet translation by Electa Arenal and Amanda Powell included in The Answer/La Respuesta. New York:
The Feminist Press, 1994, 155.

Text translation by Carlos Ulises Decena.

Sandra Lorenzano is Professor-investigator at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (México).