A lesbian who spent 10 years in prison, and 23 years fighting, has received a public apology from the Colombian government.
For years Columbian Marta Álvarez was denied the right to conjugal visit because her partner was a woman, despite straight couples having the right to the visits.
‘The director of the prison at the time – argued that it was immoral,’ she tells Huck Magazine. ‘That it wasn’t a good example for everybody else.’
So two years into her sentence, in 1996 she took her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
In 2014 finally agreeing with Álvarez, the IACHR says the Colombian State was violating her rights. It was their view it was wrong to deny her the intimate visit of her girlfriend to jail.
And now, the Columbian State has apologized for denying those visits and the discrimination she faced for years.
At the Buen Pastor prison in Bogotá for the first time as a free woman, now 58 – she has got her apology.
Arriving at the prison on December 6, she got a loud applause from a waiting audience of family members, activists and inmates.
In the crowd were 50 current inmates from the prison’s lesbian group. They made a pride flag with only prison materials for the occasion and dressed all in white.
Speaking to the crowd Álvarez proclaims: ‘I was a prisoner and now I am free. I’m now empowered and I have a lot of people supporting me, I have a lot of people who are proud of me. I’m not an inmate anymore. It’s like wow I’m here again, and I’m free.’
The Colombian Minister of Justice, Enrique Gil Botero speech officially asks Álvarez forgiveness on behalf of the State:
‘Denying an inmate the right to an intimate visit because of their sexual orientation was a fact of extreme discrimination,’ he told the audience.
When the case was settled in 2014 Álvarez had multiple demands. This included the public apology last week at a women’s prison – but so was having her diary distributed in prisons.
She also won additional LGBT training to help educate those who work prison system.
Prison transfers as punishment for being a lesbian
‘The lawyer asked me if I was sure I want to do this because “it is going to be ugly”,’ she recalls to Huck.
‘I said sure, somebody has got to do it – and that’s going to be me.’
But making this choice made her already bad treatment in the system, much worse.
Moreover, she explains how prisoners could face three months of solitary confinement just for kissing another woman.
But there were also punishments for ‘lesbian behavior’ including beatings and prison transfers. All in all, Álvarez was transferred 15 times in the 10 years she spent in jail.
Then at every new prison, she arrived at her reputation would follow her. This would lead guards to find any excuse to put her in solitary confinement.
However, resilient in each location she would join or form a human rights group at every prison.
Self-organized groups are have become well known recently after one women’s prison opened a restaurant.
In what was one of the worst experience, Álvarez remembers a prison transfer where packed onto a piping hot bus the inmates began to be sick from gasoline fumes. They passed around a single bag to vomit into.
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