by Mónica Enríquez-Enríquez
I attended the 8th Annual Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) Film Festival in San Francisco from June 8th through 10th, alongside 3,000 other attendees. The festival was entitled “I do and I don’t: LGBTQ People of Color & Same-Sex Marriage” and this year was held at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the largest venue the QWOCMAP has used. It was thrilling to see a theater of nearly double capacity as last year’s filled with festival goers. We were invited to participate in a community conversation that followed UNFENCED/SIN VALLA, a showcase of five documentaries featuring stories of resilience and struggles for self determination of queer, trans and gender-non-conforming people in Chile and Colombia. The films were produced through the South American Audiovisual Academy Al Borde led by Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice grantee partner Mujeres al Borde (MAB).
Panelists Elisa Diana Huerta, Claudia Corredor (Mujeres AL BORDE), Mónica Énriquez-Énriquez, and María Cristina Rodríguez (Mujeres AL BORDE)
“Al borde” translates into “on the margins” and both QWOCMAP and MAB, two long-term Astraea grantee partners, do important work in featuring perspectives that are on the political, identity, and social margins. What I took away from this historic film festival which featured “al borde” videos from Chile and Colombia as well as “al borde” films from the U.S.- is that the only way to survive is to break isolation both at local and global levels. We can no longer afford to do our work without coming together in collaboration. LGBTQI people of color living and surviving in the U.S. must connect with LGBTQI people living and surviving in the global east and global south and vice versa. In this way, we can exchange strategies, build friendships, translate our different experiences, celebrate difference, and, as a result, forge new possibilities. And these modes also define the culture of Astraea’s commitment to the communities we support.
A former QWOCMAP participant and festival curator, I was thrilled to represent Astraea as one of its Program Officers, and to experience the community screening. I was moved by several QWOCMAP films, especially those that highlighted the struggles for gender self-determination and the empowerment of LGBTQI communities of color living in the U.S. These stories are often invisible in mainstream media. And, in the cases they are visible, they are often told by people outside the communities in question. It was powerful to see stories such as that of a transgender youth living in poverty and accessing chest reconstructive surgery, another about queer migrants resisting harmful immigration systems, and lesbian parents carving spaces for their voices and their families. I was impressed by narrative use of fantasy to question normative constructions of gender and to imagine alternatives. In conversations about same-sex marriage, I was thankful for wise community responses that re-framed issues to focus on the urgent needs queer and trans people of color have such as access to dignified healthcare, education, non-discrimination in the workplace, jobs, immigrant rights, accessible housing and anti-ageist youth services.
It was beautiful to witness the powerful and meaningful transnational connections between QWOCMAP and MAB who have been in collaboration since they met in 2010 at the VIII Latin American and Caribbean Lesbian Encuentro in Guatemala City. MAB developed their “Audiovisual Academy Al Borde” based on QWOCMAP’s free video workshops and QWOCMAP was invited to participate in the XII Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Encuentro that took place in Bogotá, Colombia last year, forging links with other Latin American organizations that use art and culture as a strategy for social change.
During our post-screening community conversation, MAB members Maria Cristina and Claudia told the audience about Al Borde’s logo, an image of a transgender camera wearing a tie and heels. This transgender camera is able to cross both gender and national borders, and to capture magic, fantasy and survival. They went on to share that LGBTQI people experience institutional, interpersonal, psychological and physical violence in Latin America. In Colombia, LGBTQI people are targeted on the basis of gender and sexuality in so-called “social cleansing” campaigns led by paramilitaries who are often aided by the military. MAB has witnessed the violence and suffering caused by discrimination and hate. MAB uses not only video, but also Al Borde theater, radio, a caricatoon series, sex education and children stories to respond to violence. They believe that deep social transformations start with individuals. And they mobilize affect and laughter to build bridges, formulate a critique, protest institutional oppression, deconstruct gender and create strong social change networks. Their films portray important stories: experiences of gender-non-conforming youth, trans womens’ access to education, mothers supporting their children’s sexual and gender choices, lesbians questioning the limits of monogamy, and trans mens’ reflections on desiring other men. These films document the incredible strength it takes to love ourselves and to be in a world that imposes, often through violent means, gender and sexuality norms.