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Activist Eugeni Rodríguez discusses Catalonia’s fight against homophobia

Por: | 04 de julio de 2015

Eugeni Rodríguez at the FAGC offices in Barcelona. Photo by Elisa Centurion Arriola

Spain marked 10 years of gay marriage this week, while last weekend the LGBT community took over many of the country’s city centers with Pride celebrations. The march in Barcelona — attended by the city’s mayor for the first time ever — was heaving with tourists. The city is among the top destinations for the LGBT community in Europe, while Madrid is among the continent’s unofficial gay capitals.

Outside of guaranteed sunshine and beaches, a contributor to this phenomenon is Spain’s reputation as a frontrunner for progressive LGBT legislation. After the Netherlands and Belgium, the country was the third on Earth to make gay marriage legal back in 2005, and Spain recently took first place in a poll that studied acceptance of homosexuals in 39 countries.

Modern Spain would be unrecognizable to a young Eugeni Rodríguez. Now spokesperson for Catalonia’s oldest gay rights group FAGC and President of L'Observatori Contra l'Homofòbia (OCH), Rodríguez was born in 1965 in the Franco years when homosexuality was illegal. Raised in L’Hospitalet by an impoverished family with a “very anti-gay component,” Rodríguez suffered beatings and discrimination on the streets of his working class neighborhood. He left the “entirely hostile environment” of that city at the age of 18.

While reading Foucault on an intercity train and struggling to come to terms with a traumatic adolescence, Rodríguez began formulating a personal philosophy that would lay the groundwork for a lifetime of activism.

“I promised myself I would not let anyone else be discriminated against and assaulted, I promised to defend the issue to the death,” Rodríguez tells me from FAGC’s modest offices in Gràcia, Barcelona.

Rodríguez and fellow activists were moved to set up what would later become the OCH following the murder of Sònia Rescalvo Zafra, a transgender woman who was beaten to death by neo-Nazis in Barcelona 1991. The OCH began as a FAGC initiative and later became an independent entity in 2008, chaired by Rodríguez. The organization is recognized as the driving force behind the controversial and pioneering anti-homophobia law — which enforces large fines and places the burden of proof on the defendant — that passed the Catalan Parliament last year.

Despite such efforts, LGBT related attacks are on the rise in Catalonia and Spain as a whole, suggesting a dissonance between legal, administrative and social progress with regard to LGBT rights.

Photo by Elisa Centurion Arriola

Referencing nationwide statistics for 2013, the Interior Ministry says the LGBT community is the minority most targeted by perpetrators of hate crimes. Forty percent of all hate crimes reported in 2013 were motivated by sexual orientation, whereas 37 percent that year were due to racial hatred. Contrast this with figures from England and Wales for 2013, where 84 percent of hate crimes were motivated by race and 10 percent sexual orientation, and numbers from the U.S. that same year where race and sexual orientation were the prime motivators in 49 percent and 20 percent respectively.

To be clear, there are no winners here (how would you like your country, more racist or more homophobic?), and comparisons between these countries must be heeded with a warning, as different criteria and definitions are employed in all three cases. Rodríguez himself has doubts over the official figures, as the OCH does not count certain victims and crimes — including exhibitionism and various sex crimes — used by the Interior Ministry in its own studies of LGBT related hate crimes.

While Rodríguez celebrates the passage of the anti-homophobia law as historic, he stresses that it runs the risk of being all but symbolic if there is not what he calls an “adequate diffusion” of its implementation on several levels. He says that many victims do not know that crimes committed against them fall under the protection of this law. Knowledge of laws, support networks and procedures appear essential to this issue. A survey of the LGBT community in Spain conducted in 2013 found that almost half of respondents had suffered some kind of homophobic abuse at one time, though only 18 percent had felt moved to report the event, with a third saying they thought such a report would prove useless.

A further concern for Rodríguez is that many departments and civil servants are unaware of the responsibilities the law requires of them.

“The law states that any public official in Catalonia has a duty to intervene in any case of discrimination and communicate it to the government,” Rodríguez said. “But what happens is that not everyone is aware of this law so it cannot be fully implemented.”

Rodríguez believes the law must be championed by an independent authority, to handle cases and get the word out there, an idea the government rejected.                              

He references a case in Girona, where a boy was told he ran “like a fag” by his gym teacher. During the ensuing investigation, it became apparent the school had not been informed that Catalonia had passed an anti-homophobia law. Rodríguez is certain this lack of communication between state-run institutions is the norm.

Rodríguez says that changing perspectives in the classroom is not as simple as slotting in a course on diversity into the curriculum.

“On school forms you had to fill out the name of your mother and father, there was no other option,” he explains. “Everything is spoken about in a certain language to reinforce this idea, in maths, science, all subjects — even a plug and socket are called ‘male and female.’”

For Rodríguez, living in a region where the legal framework is increasingly supportive of the LGBT community is a great source of pride. He has no plans to rein in the fight, however, while the standard model of binary gender identity remains deeply ingrained in Spanish society.

Additional reporting and photos by Elisa Centurion Arriola

Hay 2 Comentarios

ank you so much for this. I was into this issue and tired to tinker around to check if its possible but couldnt get it done. Now that i have seen the way you did it, thanks guys

ank you so much for this. I was into this issue and tired to tinker around to check if its possible but couldnt get it done. Now that i have seen the way you did it, thanks guys

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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