Wednesday 11 March 2015

Around The World In 80 Gays : Part 5 - An Inquisition

Last time : 10) Tom Waddell founded the Gay Games in which he, 9) Jacques Snyman Wiechiech and 12) Shaun Mellors have competed. Jacques was a member of the gay rugby club of which 11) Tim Sullivan is Chair, and who was an Olympic torch bearer, as was Shaun Mellors and 13) Prudence Mabele.
13) Prudence Mabele (b.1971) was the first black woman in South Africa to reveal her HIV status in 1992. Like 12) Shaun Mellors Prudence has become a leading activist and educator for fellow HIV patients, and both were chosen to carry the Olympic torch in 2004 in recognition for their work. Prudence is a founder member of the Treatment Action Campaign and the National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS.

As well as being honoured by carrying the Olympic torch Prudence has received many other international awards for her HIV/AIDS work. In 1999 the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) presented Prudence with their Felipa de Sousa Award. This award is named after a Brazilian woman called 14) Felipa de Sousa (1556-c.1600) and is presented to individuals and organisations who have made a significant contribution to AIDS research and education.

14) Felipa de Sousa was born in the Alvarge, Portugal, and was known to have been well-educated for a 16th century woman of working class background. She was probably educated in a convent school, for the IGLHRC says on its website that Felipa was expelled from a convent for “sodomy”.

The year of Felipa’s arrival in the Portuguese colony of Brazil is not known but it is recorded that she was a widow. It doesn’t appear to have been long before she married again. Her second husband was a baker called Francisco Pires. Apparently there were no children from either marriage.

In 1591 the Catholic Church of Portugal decided to begin an Inquisition into what it saw as heretical practices in the empire. Most of this was anti-Semitic in origin, though witchcraft and sodomy were to be included. The Inquisition had been in Brazil before 1591 but in this year it arrived in Bahia, the main Brazilian province, with the main intent of dealing with alleged sodomy.

There were many cases of homosexuality, lesbianism and cross-dressing reported to the Inquisitor and they were put on trial. In December 1591 Felipa de Sousa was accused of lesbian contact with several women. By this time Felipa was widowed again, and it isn’t clear if the sexual activity she was accused of began before or after her husband’s death.

Felipa confessed to her “sins” and said that she had been having sex with other women since 1583. It was the most recent of her lovers, Paula de Siqueiro, who had reported her to the Inquisitor. The penalty for “sodomy” for both men and women was death, but the Inquisitor let it be known that he would be lenient with those who confessed. This would be why Felipa revealed her affairs, and why other women came forward to accuse her and escape prosecution.

Of all the women in the provincial capital of Salvador who were accused of sodomy only Felipa was put on trial. There was no question from the start that she would be found guilty. On 4 January 1592 she was condemned to exile from Brazil. Before that, however, she was whipped through the streets and had to pay the trial costs.

Another person who was investigated during the same 1591 Inquisition and after whom an award is also named, is 15) Francisco “Xica” Manicongo (exact dates of birth and death unknown). Xica was a slave from West Africa. She always wore female clothes and behaved like a woman at all times, so complies with our modern concept of a transsexual rather than a cross-dresser. A male by birth, she was baptised as Francisco, and her given surname Manicongo was a common title in the African tribes from which she was kidnapped. Whether this means Xica came from the ruling class of her tribe isn’t known.

It was common knowledge among the other slaves that Xica preferred sex with men. In her native West Africa Xica would have been referred to as a “quimbanda”. Her owner ordered her to stop wearing women’s clothes several times and she eventually complied, reluctantly. After being presented to the Inquisitor she was “denounced” for wearing female attire. After that Xica disappears from the records.

The Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals in Rio de Janeiro (ASTRA-Rio) declared 9 March as Xica Manicongo Day, and presents their Xica Manicongo Award each year to people and allies who have made a significant contribution to the trans identity in Brazil.

With such an open celebration of Brazilian transgender identity it seems at odds with the statistic that most transgender murders occur in Brazil. This is made apparent every year during the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999. However, it wasn’t a Brazilian murder which was the catalyst but the murder of 16) Rita Hester (1963-1998). We’ll look at how and where the Day of Remembrance began next time.

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