Around the World: An Interview with Esperanza Monteiro, Madrid, Spain

Aug 3, 2016 | 2016 Summer - Labels, Around the World, Articles

Esperanza, 38, has been an activist since 1997, when she was a student at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. In 2009, she founded the bi group within COGAM, a community-based organization in Madrid advocating for legal and real equality for LGBT people and served as president of this group from 2012 until 2015. She is active in Podemos, a political party led by Pablo Iglesias, and is also active in Ahora Madrid, part of the left-wing coalition that gained 20 seats in city government, including that of Manuela Carmena, their current mayor, in 2015.

First, Espe, tell us about yourself. How did you come to identify as bi? How old were you? What happened?
When I was 17, I fell in love with a woman. There were not so many bi role models in Spain at that moment, so I thought I needed to choose. I feel more emotionally attracted to women, so I identified myself as a lesbian.
It was a complete contradiction, not fitting completely in any label. I fell in love with some guys and I always felt guilty because I was betraying the word “lesbian.”
In 2008 someone introduced me to Arantxa Sanchez, Vice President of COGAM, and she said, “I’m Arantxa, I am bisexual.” And I realized, “I’m Esperanza, and I guess I am bisexual, too.” I felt an amazing sense of relief.

What is your religious background, if any, and what impact did this have on your coming out experience?
Well, I studied in a religious school. But it wasn’t at all a problem for me, personally. I am not religious.

Despite being a Catholic country, with churches everywhere, Spain was the third country in the world to adopt marriage equality back in July 2005. What made that possible? Were you involved in the movement to make it happen?
It happened because of many activists working together, despite demonstrations of the “Foro de la Familia” (Family Forum), an organization advocating for a classic model of family. I was not yet involved in activism at that time. I remember watching the news on television and feeling grateful to all of the activists who were changing my life: Pedro Zerolo, Sylvia Jaén, Beatriz Gimeno, Boti and others.

You founded Madrid’s bi group in 2009. Please tell us about it. How many folks are on your mailing list? How often do you meet? What kind of meetings or events do you have, and on average, how many folks show up?
The bisexual group operates within COGAM, a larger LGBT organization that was founded in 1986. We are about 30-40 bi people who meet every two weeks to speak about We have around 200 people on our mailing list.

Are bi folks well-integrated into Madrid’s sexual minority community?
Not everyone. It is still complicated sometimes to identify as bisexual because of biphobia. But it is changing a lot with the help of some of our monosexual allies.
Associations are making special efforts to address this problem. Next year will be the bisexual year for the more than 50 associations of our national organization, FELGTB (La Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gais, Transexuales y Bisexuales) in Spain.


As an activist, what is an accomplishment of which you are particularly proud?
Well, activist accomplishments are always because of a group of people, not a particular activist. I am proud to belong to a movement that made it possible for any person to get married to the person they love. I am proud of the Bisexual Year that will happen next year in Spain. I am proud that IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, celebrated May 17) finally bisexuality, biphobia and feminism, but to have fun, too. includes biphobia. I am proud that because of the work of feminists we stopped the Partido Popular abortion legislation, which would have outlawed almost all abortions in Spain.
But we still have a lot of problems. The public health system discriminates against bisexual and single women in assisted reproduction. One in ten students in high schools in Madrid who are out of the closet are subjected to physical violence in their school. The HIV policies are not a priority in this moment for some, and yet we definitely need this to be a focus. Bi people are still invisible and very discriminated against.

Madrid is Spain’s largest city, and there is obviously an active bi community there. Do you know of bi groups in other parts of the country?
Of course! Some of them are part of LGTB associations (COGAM, Gamá, Arcópoli, Lambda, Xega) and some of them are specific bi groups (Moebius in Valencia). I’ve grown up as an activist with Xurxo, Elena, Miguel Obradors, Josito, Valeri, Antonio, María – activists from different associations here in Spain. We work together when it’s needed.

Are you in contact with bi activists in other countries? Do you see a value in transnational activism?
I work also in Eurobinet (an email-based coalition of European bi activists). I think it is needed because bisexual issues aren’t always a priority agenda of the LGTB movement. We need to work together.

And finally, Espe, the theme of the last issue of BWQ was “Out at Work – Or Not.” What do you have to say on this subject? What experiences have you had of being out – or not – as bi in the workplace?
It is not an easy decision, because it means amazing consequences but sometimes terrible consequences. I’ve met many people facing discrimination in the workplace. I am usually out as bi in the workplace because I’d never want to work for a company that discriminates against anyone by gender identity or sexual orientation. I remember one particular story when I was president of COGAM: I started work as a sales director for a company and in the first weeks I didn’t come out as bisexual. One day everyone was acting weird, looking at me and speaking in roundabout way. The CEO arranged a meeting with me and he began: “Well, someone has Googled your name…” I responded, “Oh, well, you have learned I am President of COGAM. I thought you already knew when you interviewed me for the first time.” From that moment on, I was out at work.

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