Lucy (Health 61) lives in a medium-sized and highly conservative city in the valley of Matagalpa. Lucy participates in a weekly radio program that addresses sexual and reproductive health topics. She and the staff at the station wanted to cover the topic of sexual diversity, or LGBTQ issues, but people who identify as part of the LGBTQ community in their town do not feel comfortable speaking about the topic on the radio. Isabel (Health 61) works with an LGBTQ center in León, a slightly more liberal city, and knows a few outspoken LGBTQ activists who jumped at the chance to bring their cause to a larger audience. Isabel asked Helen Alfaro, the coordinator of a local LGBTQ center, Casa de Colores, to be interviewed, then sent the recording to Lucy, who broadcasted it on the radio with commentary from Milo, the host of the program, and with commentary from Lucy herself.
Radio Así was founded in 1998, and was the first local radio station to operate in this small Matagalpan town. The station was an installment of FUPADE (La Fundación Para el Desarrollo),a social development NGO, where the married couple Esther and Milo Arrales worked. After the NGO closed down, they continued the radio station as a personal and independent project. They are now the directors of the radio station and continue to explore social topics on-air because they are passionate about the station. A note from Esther:
“We thought it would be interesting to cover this topic because of the different cases we had heard about within our community, where we heard about young people having suicidal thoughts due to their feeling rejected because of their sexual orientation. So we think it’s important to stimulate reflection among parents and the general community about this and to start thinking of it as normal. To know that these different orientations are not sins. We should accept these young men and women, because they are human beings, they are part of our community and our society. This is so they don’t feel excluded, which may lead them to have suicidal thoughts. We thought that maybe we could add in our grain of salt by doing this radio program, and that with these kinds of reflections; maybe we could instigate some acceptance in our society of these young people.”
Lucy wants to explain that she strove to maintain a semblance of neutrality and had to stifle her actual strong support of Helen during the broadcast because her site is so conservative that she did not want to alienate future work partners by being seen as promoting LGBTQ lifestyles. Lucy and the directors of the radio station also had to edit the actual interview to avoid offending listeners. At one point, Helen referred to the Bible as a “supposedly sacred” book, and that would not have gone over well with the local audience.
Isabel found it interesting that Helen stopped short of definitively stating that people are born gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. In the U.S., “born this way” is used as a political tool to ensure equal rights under the law, but here in Nicaragua that construction isn’t as politically salient or important.
We highlighted an excerpt of the interview, but readers should listen to the podcast to hear about rural vs. urban LGBTQ issues, to learn about why it’s an important public health issues to talk about “taboo” topics, to hear a caller disagree with Helen’s cause, and to experience Lucy’s hastily-chosen background music.
Without further ado, here is a highlight of the hour-long radio program:
Isabel: And when did you find out or think that you were gay, and what was the experience like?
Helen: Well, to talk a little about myself, when I was thirteen years old and a teenager, I belonged to a teen center in my municipality. It was organized since I was little, and I learned a lot about sexual and reproductive health, about sexuality, about self-care. I was a very extroverted girl and wanted to know about sexuality, more than the little that they taught us in high school. So, I didn’t understand, because no one…now I am 28, but when I was 13, no one in my town talked about sexuality. So, we started out reading books, but I didn’t understand why I felt attraction for other girls when I was 13, of course no one explained it to me.
So time went by, I didn’t pay too much attention to it, and when I went to college I was 17, I went to León, left the town and went to the city, and my education grew, obviously. I heard more about the topic. I never worried about questioning myself deeply about why I liked boys as well as girls. So, I never questioned it but a moment arrived when I felt a lot of fear, I felt fear to talk to my family or friends. So what I did was remain silent.
However, when I got to my twenties, I started to have a sexual relation at 22 with someone of my same sex, with another girl. So I continued, without questioning it, and just lived it and enjoyed it. I spent 2 years with this person and when I was almost 25, I decided to tell people, and talk about it, and assume the role that I was behaving like a homosexual person, because of this experience with a woman. Later, I went and worked on a whole bunch of personal things, that had to do with my orientation and my likes, and I began to question exactly what it was I wanted. As an adult, then, without problems and with total freedom, I assumed the identity of a lesbian woman, but it cost me a lot to identify as such, because of the context of where we live, because of my cultural formation, because of how I was raised, because of social pressure, more because of fear of what people would say, how people would react in the street, your own people that you love, your friendships, your family, at work, so for those reasons I was afraid to break the silence and identify as a woman who likes women, as a lesbian woman, and I think that happens a lot.
I think that many people who are listening will identify with this story. So, my experience was more or less that, my story of how Helen is now someone involved in activism, in the defense of women’s rights, someone who fights for her beliefs in the streets, through the work we do in the House of Colors, and the recognition of the rights that we don’t have in the state, I feel that the work I do has to do with my personal experience.
Everything that I have gone through has been very enlightening, and I feel that if there are other women with the same fear, I would like to defend the rights of those women who cannot do so, and it hasn’t been easy. You ask me here what it has been like with my parents and with my family, it has been extremely hard. I already mentioned a little bit earlier, the way in which we are raised, especially in a small town, with a conservative, principled family that at first did not understand homosexuality because it is something that they, my mother, did not experience before. So they don’t know, and there is this lack of knowledge on their part, and my nuclear family, my siblings, and the rest of my family, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, don’t know a lot about the topic.
What they normally hear about homosexuality is generally what we see on television, on social networks, what their neighbor tells them, and above all, the gay person that they know in their neighborhood, the homosexual that we meet in the street, who we make fun of, and who we discriminate against, that is what is known about homosexuality. But generally, nobody talks about homosexuality from a more emotional point of view, in a normal state. For example, that you will fall in love with someone of your same sex, without any problem, just like how your mother and father fell in love.
So, yes it is difficult, but I am one of those people who always have said, “I understand that you don’t understand me.” I have tried to respect those who don’t understand me, but also my independence, my autonomy and my position of being sure of who I am and who I want to be has contributed to the fact that while my family doesn’t entirely accept it, they tolerate it. And they know about the work that I do, and that I identify as such, and they stop saying things to me. Now everything is calmer.
To listen to the entire Spanish radio program join the shared Dropbox folder by clicking here