As in many Latin American countries, lesbians in Paraguay are not criminalised, but neither are they legally protected. Existing in this vacuum has negative implications for those that need protection — for instance, lesbian mothers or binational couples — and especially for those that are more vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace or to attacks in public or private spaces because of their ethnicity, class, age, gender expression, and other factors. Pentecostal churches, which actively campaign against sexual rights, have increased their power and influence in Paraguay. Against this backdrop, Aireana Grupo por los Derechos de las Lesbianas was established as a lesbian feminist group in 2003.
Initially part of an umbrella gay and lesbian group, Aireana’s founding members realised the agenda was set by the men, leaving little space for their issues as lesbians; so they created their own group. Aireana is concerned not just with lesbian liberation or the ‘LBQ collective’, but with the liberation of all oppressed peoples, including trans people, other sexual and gender dissidents, cis-straight women, and all those who are economically and racially oppressed.
Their intersectional approach is embodied in the visible presence of their drums band which performs in other movements’ demonstrations, such as those led by peasants or by the families of victims of institutional violence and in their leadership of a multi-stakeholder coalition, including people with disabilities, Indigenous and rural peoples, and migrants, among others, that led to the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Paraguay.
Aireana works at many different levels ranging from political advocacy (nationally and regionally) to running a hotline. However, they view their cultural change work — projects like their theatre group or drums band — as having the greatest and most lasting impact.
Their view of liberation also translates into autonomy in their activism, organising, and advocacy. For example, they are selective about what funding they accept (e.g., from feminist funders or foundations whose resources do not come from sources that Aireana would find politically objectionable).
In 2005, Aireana opened La Serafina, a lesbian-feminist cultural space that is open to all people. Encountering hostility in public is a daily experience for sexual and gender dissidents, feminists, leftists, and other progressive people, and La Serafina offers a space that feels free and safe. It has also been effective in making people more open and accepting towards sexual and gender diversity through enjoying the space together. While the space has never made a profit, Aireana values the freedom it offers in a hostile context. Someone told them once that, at peak time, La Serafina looked like one of the “Sense8* orgies”, and they feel very proud of that. [“Sense8” is a Netflix television series that has been recognised for its portrayal of LGBTQ characters and diverse sexualities and sexual expression.]
“Life is to be enjoyed. We don’t want Aireana ever to be a chore, a burden for us, but rather something that we – and others – can enjoy. And nurturing creativity in us and in others is the best way we have found to do that.”
Since 2005, Aireana has hosted an annual LesBiGayTrans Film Festival, drawing an increasingly large audience each year. Aireana has found that film provides a good entry point for people who have limited access to discourses about sexual diversity, for example, teachers bringing entire high school classes to attend events, and inviting Aireana members to join discussions afterwards.
Another important cultural project is the Tatucada, Aireana’s drums band which is open to interested cis or trans women or non-binary people. Tatucada is well-known in social justice demonstrations in Asunción, from environmental justice to Indigenous rights, or in support of justice for victims of Paraguay’s long military dictatorship. It has allowed Aireana to have a fluid relationship with other social movements and to open up dialogues with them. Tatucada allows its members to experience rhythms and become a ‘force of nature’ while playing, and this is valued highly by Aireana. The name Tatu means armadillo in Guarani, and it is also used to refer to the vulva (the reason it was chosen).