Lesbian women and participation in the agroecological production of the MST
Glaucia and Cris work in Copavi, in Paraná. They speak about living as a couple within the Movement and the agroecological practice
Breaking down all barriers and questioning the forms of sentimental relationships imposed by society so that all can be who they really are, are aspects that form a big part of the struggle of the MST, a movement that has a high level of participation of landless LGBT workers in its agroecological production.
“Landless LGBT subjects are and always have been part of the organizational structures of the Movement, whether they are lesbian women, bisexual, and transsexual people,” 29-year-old Glaucia Keli Back explained, who lives on the settlement. Glaucia, a lesbian woman, is the coordinator of the livestock sector and supports the Cooperative of Agricultural and Livestock Production Vitória (Copavi), located on the Santa Maria Settlement, in Paranacity, Paraná.
Glaucia explains that, since adolescence, she knew that she liked women, but she felt that something was wrong. To maintain heteronormativity, on different occasions she slept with men, before she accepted that she was lesbian.
She lives on the Santa Maria Settlement with her partner Cristina since 2018, but the story of their relationship started some ten years ago, when Glaucia participated in a comprehensive technical course in Agroecology in the Milton Santos school, in Maringá, where she graduated from in 2009. In this same year, their relationship developed and in 2011 they started living together. Both of them had to confront the reality of coming out as lesbian women to their families, to the Movement and to themselves.
“It was a challenge both on an individual level, and collective level, since we were part of an organizational space of the Movement, a center of political education, and in this moment there was not as much experience as we have today about sexual diversity and gender identity. The landless LGBT, were mostly, very hidden inside of the ‘closet.’ It was only when I participated for the first time in the Encounter of Political Education of the LGBT Collective in 2017, in the Florestan Fernandes National School, that I felt safe to affirm myself as LGBT in spaces of our organization,” Glaucia shared.
Since 2015, the topic of sexual and gender diversity has been integrated into the program of the People’s Agrarian Reform, bringing innumerable advances for the struggle for land. Lately, the MST has been reaffirming the importance of human diversity in its spaces of political education and in territorial spaces.
For Glaucia’s partner, Cristina Sturmer dos Santos, 27 years old, who graduated in Economic Science and currently works as the treasurer of Copavi, her own process of familial acceptance about her relationship with Glaucia involved less conflict.
“I had a different process of family formation, my family is not very traditional. So, I already had different ideas about what a relationship could be. When I met Glaucia, I really fell for her and I wanted to build something with her, but I did not think about what this meant. I only understood later when people put us in those boxes. That is the process of how I discovered I am lesbian,” she said.
Before moving to the Santa Maria Settlement, Cris and her family lived on an encampment in Ibema, municipality of Paraná, from 1992 to 1996. In 2009, along with her mother and sister, they moved to work in the Milton Santos School, the place where she met Glaucia. Cris considers the path of her mother as an important factor in building this perspective of acceptance for other ways to see life.
Daughter of Germans, Cris’ mother defied her family and found herself in spaces like the Movement of Peasant Women (MMC) and then the MST, where she met Cris’ father. “Glaucia and I were very lucky, I think. I had an initial moment of awkwardness and doubt, from our family, and within the space we were in, but after, especially from our mothers, we have had had tremendous support.”
The treasurer that also did a master’s degree in Agroecology and Sustainable Rural Development, admits that, despite that her and her partner did not have to suffer from direct discriminatory processes, after the initial moment, unfortunately, these still happen in spaces of the Movement.
According to Cris, “The MST, like any other space is a space in undergoing constant growth and political education, it is not excluded from the relationships of capital and the way that it permeates relationships. However, in these spaces you raise awareness to the existence of these subjects and people begin to understand that this is normal and that LGBT blood is also landless blood. The feeling that we had after building the LGBT Collective, is that this situation of invisibility is coming to an end,” she pointed out.
Agroecological production: new forms of relations
Glaucia is the granddaughter and daughter of peasants, an ancestral legacy that brought her to do the technical course in agroecology. She explains that agroecology is more than a mode of production, it is a way to produce life, since it represents the interaction of the peasant with their productive, social and cultural environment.
It is also a political definition, the counter-position to the exploitative way of capital. It is not possible to produce agroecologically without thinking about social relations. “For example, agroecology cannot be implemented in spaces with toxic, violent relationships, with prejudices and discrimination, whether it be racial, gender-based or on sexual orientation. This is why, the process of transition to agroecology is multiple and is being built,” she points out, when explaining why the practice has not been implemented in 100% of the territories of the MST.
However, the process is broad and is being expanded. Beyond the initiatives of development of agroecology, like with technical courses, the MST has the Latin American School of Agroecology, located in Lapa (PR). The Movement also promotes encounters to exchange seeds, seedlings, and knowledge during the Agroecology Week.
“In the Santa Maria Settlement, where we are, the whole area is certified as agroecological and 22 families are organized collectively to produce sugar cane, giving a new significance to this culture and region,” Glaucia explained. Before, the area was used by local sugar mills and today it also produces agroecological milk, vegetables, beans, yucca, sweet potato, sesame, fruit and birds.
For Cris, the presence of lesbian women in agroecological production, and the LGBT population in general, is a significant strength, since the agroecological movement itself is counter-hegemonic and led by those who are most dispossessed by capital, women and the subjects that do not align with the normative identity (White cis-hetero man).
In this mode of production, cooperation is fundamental, the deconstruction of social relations has to be done all of the time and it is in these spaces where the prejudices are also deconstructed, as “to do self-management, it is necessary to break down the barriers.”
Solidarity in the midst of a pandemic
As members of the Movement, Glaucia was in Haiti for nine months, after the earthquake devastated the country, as part of the Jean Jaques Dessalines brigade, and Cris was part of the International Brigade October 4, in Mozambique in 2019.
Both of them highlighted that solidarity is a fundamental pillar for the MST and pointed out the actions that the Movement has been carrying out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Glaucia emphasized that the pandemic exposed the necessity of having access to land, of the production of healthy food, and of giving the population access to this food.
“Now, during the pandemic, I see this principle a lot and how we have been able to put this solidarity into practice. It is not just about donating what is left over, but it is sharing the best that we have. We put this message out there for the society to see. It is impossible to say that the MST does not produce food, and you do not see other sectors of society standing in solidarity in the same way as us, and we have shown that it is possible to produce in another way,” she pointed out.
“We still have a long road ahead”
On August 29 the National Day of Lesbian Visibility is commemorated in Brazil, which has its origin in the first National Seminar of Lesbians (Senale) in 1996. The event had the objective to present the struggles and demands of lesbian women.
“To be part of a society that kills LGBT people every day and that makes these subjects invisible, is to be a survivor. This day is an important opportunity to show our affection in public, debate key points for the liberty of our bodies, and of sexuality,” Glaucia added about the National Day of Lesbian Visibility in Brazil on August 29.
For Cris, the day is a very important moment for the processes of deconstruction and also to understand that it is still necessary to talk about the issue. “Sometimes we are so stuck in our bubbles and we are unable to get out of them. We need a day to say that lesbian women exist and they deserve respect. It is sad, but it is necessary to strengthen our processes of daily struggle and we still have a long road ahead to continue building until we break all barriers that constrain us,” she concluded.