Barcelona’s Groundbreaking Monument to Trans History

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When traveling, or thinking of where to visit to memorialize civil rights events and advances, it’s all too easy for straight people to forget about LGBTQ monuments. That’s partially because of the lack of proper sites memorializing LGBTQ rights. But on today’s episode of the History Fangirl Podcast, I talk with someone who completely changed my perspective on travel. We’re talking with José Ramón Harvey of the travel blog My Normal Gay Life about the Barcelona transsexual monument in Parc de la Ciutadella, how and why it was created, and why it is unfortunately so singular.

Barcelona’s history of gay rights

As José tells me, Barcelona was actually ahead of the curve of many European cities when it came to gay rights, even if “being ahead of the curve” can still seem so backwards. In the 1970s, for instance, it decriminalized “engaging in homosexual acts,” long before other places took those laws off the books. But in the 1990s, there weren’t many protections for trans people, and in 1991, Sonia Rescalvo, a trans woman, was murdered by six Neo-Nazis because of her gender identity.

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Who was Sonia?

Sonia Rescalvo was a trans woman who ran away from home when she was 16, after her family rejected her identity. She was able to work in theater for some time, but as José tells me, she had to resort to prostitution, as many trans people had to, because it was difficult for her to find work. So because of these circumstances, she was sleeping in a park at night, in a bandstand. And during this time, the Olympics were coming to Barcelona, and there was a crackdown on sex workers, making it extra difficult for someone like Sonia. The bandstand became a place where many homosexual and trans people who had been marginalized would meet and sometimes sleep at night. And it was there that six Neo-Nazis brutally attacked Sonia and two of her friends, killing her and badly injuring her friends.

How the monument came to be

In 1993 a gay liberation organization go into the Parc de la Ciutadella and place a plaque near the bandstand where the murder happened. And the authorities allowed it to stay, and for more than a decade, that’s what the monument was. Then in 2011, an official plaque is put in place by the city, and then in 2013, the bandstand is renamed in Sonia’s honor, with a new plaque to ensure visitors understand the significance of the location. The plaque specifically spells out that the bandstand is where Sonia was murdered by Neo-Nazis, and that the city of Barcelona rebukes anyone who would infringe on the rights of someone because of their gender identity.

Other LGBTQ historical sites in Barcelona

Of course, the bandstand is not the only place of historical significance for LGBTQ people in Barcelona, and José walked me through the other sites he visited during his time in the city. This is a really eye-opening episode for me, and as I said José’s approach to travel completely re-oriented my thinking on what to see when I visit a place, and the need to recognize not only LGBTQ historical sites but important people like Sonia, whose lives continue to impact us to this day. I hope you’ll give this episode a listen.

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If you have two or three days in Barcelona, you can easily fit in a few of these important sites during your time in the city!

Outline of This Episode

  • [7:30] Being aware of issues for LGBTQ travelers
  • [15:06] Environment around the time of the murder
  • [18:41] How the press reacted to her murder
  • [22:52] LGBTQ rights in Spain
  • [26:08] How the monument came to be
  • [31:32] Other LGBTQ sites
  • [36:00] Food recommendations
  • [42:00] Where else to travel for LGBTQ history

 

Resources Mentioned

 

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