Clara Duarte Ceballos in the Park of Prado de San Sebastián / EMILY MILAKOVIC
Although same-sex marriage had been legal for years by the time Clara realized she was lesbian, the world she lived in had not caught up. “I thought I was the only girl in the world who liked other girls.”
Clara Duarte Ceballos, a 21-year-old Spanish Philology student, has part of her head shaved, blushes when she laughs, and wants to be a writer. She’s camera-shy and loves author Gabriel García Márquez. She is not defined by her sexuality, though she did not know how to define it at first. “It was curious, because my family didn’t talk about this,” Clara says. “My friend Claudia was one of the first people I told. I was 13 years old. At that time, I hadn’t talked to my family yet. My parents had never said what it was to be “gay,” to be lesbian, so I thought I was the only girl in the world who liked other girls. I thought I was alone.” Although she didn’t have a word for what she felt, or know that many other girls had the same feelings for women, she knew what she felt. “I think there’s always a time when you realize these things,” she explains. “I believe I was more or less 12 or 13 when I began thinking a lot about actresses. I liked Kristen Stewart, from Twilight. I was in love with her, I thought about her a lot, I had posters and everything, and finally, well, I told myself that I believed I liked girls.”
Life for LGBTQ people has changed a lot in Spain over the last few decades. During the 19th century and first part of the 20th century, there were no laws that forbid sexual relations between same sex people, although that does not mean that they were accepted. Being gay became illegal during Franco’s dictatorship. Many LGBTQ people were persecuted, imprisoned, or killed during this period, until December 26, 1978, when the Law on Dangerousness and Social Rehabilitation was repealed. However, until 2001, the criminal records derived from that law were not cleared. On July 3rd, 2005, under rule of the socialist party, then presided by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, same sex marriage became legal with a law that amended the civil code and allowed not only the right to marry, but also to joint adoption, inheritance and pension rights for same-sex spouses. Spain was the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
However, certain negative sentiments and discrimination still exist. In 2013, the Minister of the Interior of the new conservative government, Jorge Fernández Díaz, said that gay marriage should not have the same legal protection as heterosexual marriage and was a risk to “the survival of the species.”
Despite all of that, Clara is optimistic. “Spain really is the country in Europe that best accepts this, and that says a lot, because I experienced a lot of discrimination in my school,” Clara explains with a laugh.
The problem she faced is one of the biggest obstacles to the rights of LGBTQ people: religion. Although Spaniards are now less religious in practice than ever before, Catholicism still has a strong role in the society and culture.
“In Spain, there is much more Catholic tradition, a lot more religious tradition, than in the rest of European countries,” Clara said. “Obviously, there are many closed-minded Christians who use religion to justify their hatred.”
The official position of the Catholic Church is still that acting on homosexual desires is a sin and that gay unions should never be legal. It also states that LGBTQ people should be treated with respect and compassion; however, this does not happen all the time. In her Catholic high school, Clara had teachers and friends who supported her, but the voices against her could be stronger.
“In my school, yes, religion was an influence, even in many teachers. The English teacher is the one who told me the most that “the problem is you, not the others, you have to change and look for a boyfriend,” Clara remembers. “I believe that the teachers in general were very, I don’t know, positive and they helped me a lot, but children that were very Christian because of their parents already came with negative ideas from home.”
Messages like this from people in her life created some doubts in Clara, who felt that she had to like boys. Her first kiss in school was with a boy, though only because she liked a girl he had gone out with.
“Everyone goes through that period where they say, ‘who am I?’ I thought I also liked boys because you’re so obligated to,” she says. However, she was honest with herself and with others when she realized. “At that time, I remember I had a boyfriend and I said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t be with you because I’m a lesbian. I’ve come to realize it.’”
Fortunately, Clara received support from the majority of her family. She has introduced her serious girlfriends to her family, and her mother has accompanied her to “Pride.”
“In the beginning, it surprised my mom because it’s something that still seems a little weird. Now, my mother is the best with that topic,” Clara says. “She defends me a lot, my father too, and even my grandparents, who are from a different time. They are also people who accept it very well.”
However, there are other people close to her who prefer to pretend that she is not what she is. There are members on her father’s side who reject it, people who, according to Clara, don’t ask about anything because they don’t want to know.
“Some family members don’t say ‘she’s Clara’s girlfriend,’ but ‘she’s Clara’s friend.’ They always try to avoid the word ‘girlfriend,’” she complained. “It really annoys me because they are my girlfriends, not my friends, but okay.”
Although Spain is more progressive than many other countries, this does not mean that there is a strong LGBTQ culture. Leaders of the Foundation Triangle, founded in 1996 to achieve equal political and social rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans persons, explain that there were more gay bars and nightclubs in Seville in the 90s than now, and none specifically for women.
“The first girlfriend I had was at my school,” Clara explains. “Now, more from the Internet. The longest relationships have been long-distance. For example, my girlfriend lives in Madrid. It’s hard to find in Seville.”
Now, she doesn’t care if others accept her. She has accepted her sexuality without having to be defined by it. She is open to the world about her relationships and her truth.
“So yes, I suffered from homophobia when I was younger, but now I live completely openly,” Clara explained. “I am an open person, talkative, and very strong, very. And, that’s it.”