The Gay Liberation Movement in Spain dates back to the late 60s, a period marked by social conflicts. There were student riots in Paris in May 1968. In the same year, the American demonstrations against the war in Vietnam took place while the Civil Rights Movement progressed unstoppably, despite the deaths of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, which happened in 1968 as well. Mention should be made about the Prague Spring and the subsequent Soviet Military Invasion, the brutal bloodbath of students in Tlatelolco square, Mexico DF, just before the Olympics, the Italian Hot Autumn and The miners’ strikes in Great Britain in 72 and 73.
The turbulent generational shift that took place in the West during the late 60s and the beginning of the 70s turned this period into a very tumultuous one. The baby boomers, who were far better educated than their parents but did not share the same values their previous generation had, were claiming for a change in society, so they pushed to break those bonds that made them feel socially restrained. Such a deep change in mentality explains why the Gay Liberation Movement in Spain began to take place by that time.
All this pressure to change and modernise society came from many varied organisations and movements, including the gay, feminist and ecologist communities, and even new cultural and artistic trends.
This series of movements also arrived in Spain, but in a moderated way. The Spanish dictatorship led to an opening in terms of economy; however, the country remained stuck in conservatism when it came to social rights. Students, workers, feminists and homosexuals, among many others, raised their discordant voices, but Franco’s regime answered with more repression, which paradoxically helped to empower the Gay Liberation Movement in Spain, forcing this community to establish itself and take action.
The Social Danger and Rehabilitation Act (Ley de Peligrosidad y Rehabilitación Social), drafted in 1968 and approved in 1970, was one of those repressive actions. It was conceived to control all those elements considered to be “antisocial”. The long list of antisocial elements included homosexuality, the sale of pornography, illegal immigrants, begging or anything that could be considered amoral or socially dangerous under the criteria of a national Catholic regime.
This law, along with the Law on Public Scandal (Ley de Escándalo Público), was used for the repression of transsexuals and homosexuals during the last stage of the Franco regime, and this repression could include punishments such as confinement in prisons or psychiatric centres for up to five years.
Armand de Fluvià, one of the founders of the Homophile Grouping for Sexual Equality (Agrupación Homófila para la Igualdad Social, or AGHOIS), an organization which represents the creation of the Gay Rights Movement in Spain, explained what the situation was like in an interview from 2001 (REIS Magazine, Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas):
“In 1970, the homosexuals were “a danger to society” during the dictatorship. We were “mentally sick” and “potential criminals”… we could be convicted for “public outrage” because […] the members of the Court always considered that homosexuality itself was already a public outrage. Homosexuals were always judged because they were described as “children’s abusers”. In addition, we were depraved, evil queers and, for the Church, we were sinners, and we still are”.
In Spain, it was very common for many homosexuals to have meetings in private flats during those years. Those that took place in Barcelona, unlike in other cities, were mainly focused in claiming and fighting for social rights. The Social Danger and Rehabilitation Act served as a catalyst for this fight. It was in 1970 when AGHOIS, the first organization to defend the gay and lesbian rights in Spain, was founded in Barcelona. It was later renamed MELH (Movimiento Español de Liberación Homosexual), which stands for Spanish Movement for Gay Liberation, and promoted the creation of groups in cities like Madrid or Bilbao.
The MELH, which fought against the Social Danger Act and even succeeded in easing its effects, organised weekly meetings, in which there were debates on how to address problems in the gay community, made connections with similar organizations in other countries and was even able to publish a magazine called AGHOIS. Thanks to the support of Arcadie and Revolt, two magazines from France and Sweden respectively, the first-ever gay magazine that focused on political and social affairs saw the light of day in Spain.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that it was distributed from France and given the pressure exerted on the French Government by the Franco dictatorship, AGHOIS magazine had a very short life, and it disappearedonly one year and a half after it was created and having published 18 issues.
Sadly, the MELH had a similar fate, and despite having originated the Gay Liberation Movement, it had to give in to the Police pressure and cancel the meetings in 1973/74. It wasn’t until Franco’s death, in 1975, that it could come back to life, this time under the name of Gay Liberation Front from Catalonia or FAGC, which stands for Front d’Alliberament Gai de Catalunya in Catalonian.
Despite its short life and the pressure it was under, the role of the AGHOIS/MELH organization was essential to understand the Gay Liberation movement in Spain. It was the first organization that succeeded in raising awareness about the need for Gay, Lesbian and Transsexual rights to be recognised and socially accepted.