Ecuatorian woman kidnapped and tortured at her parents’ request for being a lesbian.
Originally by Bruno Bimbi for the Argentinian LGBT blog Tod@s. Translated by me.
When, near the end of March of this year, Zulema decided to tell her parents she was a lesbian, her life became a living hell. Firmly believing that homosexuality is “a disease”, they took her to a psychologist, who told them they were wrong and had to accept her the way she is. Zulema herself (an Ecuatorian psychology student in the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Ecuador) tried to explain it, but it was futile. “I’m in that hard stage where your parents take you to a psychologist and to a spiritual guide who will cure your preference for women”, wrote the young woman on twitter. A few days later “A suitcase and I, the only things I need. My parents have declared war on me, they think that taking everything away from me I will stop being a lesbian. They told me that if I didn’t accept their rules I had to leave my house and leave them the keys to my car. And so I did.”
Zulema decided to move in with Cynthia, her 21 year old girlfriend, whose parents gave her the acceptance she could not find in her own family.
But on the very day she left, she started getting calls from her mother and father, threatening her. “I will have to tweet about my personal life, because it will be the only proof of what I’m going through and of what could happen to me” wrote Zulema when she had been out of her house for two days, and she told her father had threatened her with getting her fired from her job, getting her locked up or making her disappear, and even kill her girlfriend. “And, sadly, he can do all that, because he has the economic and political power and he is a friend of the president of Ecuador.”
—I did not give birth to a lesbian —said her mom on the phone—. I gave birth to a lady who likes men. Do not challenge me, Zulema, I am your mother and I am acting as God. Things started getting more and more tense and she decided to record her.
Afraid, the girls went to the police on the 30th of March to report the threats and showed them the recording. Two days later, Zulema stated on twitter that she had recieved a “negociation” and the threats had stopped “for now”. On the 9th of April, prosecutor Richard Gaibor ordered an investigation.
On may the 17th —ironically, International Day Against Homophobia—, Zulema got a call from her father, Guillermo, who invited her to have lunch, “to settle things”. He told her it was “a gesture of peace”, that he wanted to “smooth things out”. She though things would be the same as before at last. She was happy. But, as her girlfriend suspected, it was a trap. “Please don’t go alone”, said Titi —that’s how Zulema calls her girlfriend— but she did not listen. She trusted her dad.
Her last tweet said: “despite the problems, family is family.”
When she got out of work, her father picked her up in his car. But halfway, he stopped violently and a group of men brought her down with force, tearing part of her clothes, while her dad observed. They handcuffed her and put her in another car to take her to the Center of Femenine Restoration for Teenagers “La Esperanza”, a center of psychological and physical pain for homosexual young women in the city of Tena, in the center-north region of Ecuador, where she was kidnapped for three weeks with the complicity of her own family.
The trip was seven hours long, the torture was 21 days.
She was recieved in a sort of chapel. There, a group of women in uniform warned her that the rules were clear: running away, stealing, and being a lesbian were forbidden. She was assigned a guard, 34 year-old Paulina, addicted to pills, and a roommate, 14 year-old Miriam, locked for an addiction to alcohol and drugs. Since these kinds of places are illegal in Ecuador, they work under the guise of rehabilitation clinics for addictions, run by the fundamentalist evangelist mafia. In August of 2011, the Ministry of Health closed nearly 30 “unhomosexualization” clinics that worked this way, evading the law. […]
In “La Esperanza” were locked a total of nine women, five of them underage.
Zulema was filed as an alcoholic and drug addict, and forced to follow a treatment as one. “I am not addicted to anything”, she said, and got as an answer that lesbianism was “a deviance” and that, in her case, it was a consequence of her addiction to alcohol and drugs. She was fed potatoes with worms, told tirelessly about the Bible, saying that “God made us man and woman”, assuring her that she would stay for “between six months and a year” and she was not allowed to use the bathroom for over a few seconds, always with the door open and being watched.
Zulema was nowhere to be found and her girlfriend was in despair. She did not know what to do. “I want all this to be a nightmare”, tweeted Cynthia a day after the kidnapping. And on the 22nd of May: “I’d give anything to see you smile, to know you’re alright.”
“It was a bit after noon and I was working on my computer with the expected anticipation of somebody who’s a few hours away from a three-day break. Suddenly, I got a direct message on twitter. Juan Pablo Argüello told me that the girlfriend of a very close female friend had disappeared almost a week ago without a trace. It was suspected that her family had locked her against her will in a clinic, since a few months ago she had told them she was a lesbian, and from that day her life had been a nightmare at home. I gave Juan Pablo my phone number so this girl’s girlfriend could contact me. Soon after I got another message from Argüello, saying her friend was terrified. She had been threatened by her girlfriend’s family, and suspected that her phone was being taped. She could not communicate with me for now.” told the Ecuatorian lawyer Silvia Buendía, who decided to take up the case. It was a thursday, the 23rd of May.
Buendía also got messages on twitter from Zulema’s university classmates, who were scared by her disappearance. They had even visited her house, where her parents told her she was on vacation in Costa Rica and that she would not be going to class this semester.
—But then she won’t be able to graduate… —they told them
—She does not care about that. —answered her father, and they did not believe him. Zulema was an excellent student and determined to graduate that year. It could not be true.
On wednesday, the 5th of june, Buendía finally met Cynthia Rodriguez in the People’s Advocate office of Guayaquil. “She’s a thin young girl, pink cheeks, huge dark eyes, sad; long, light brown hair, like that of the princesses in my daughter’s fairytales. She told us she was set on fighting to find her girlfriend, that she was no longer afraid, that Zulema was her life and that she would not stop until rescuing her.” narrates the lawyer. With her colleagues Marcos Pacheco, from the People’s Advocate office, Lía Burbano, from the lesbian organization Mujer y Mujer, and activist Verónica Potes, they designed the legal strategy to free Zulema Constante. Aside from reporting the case to the authorities (who did not want to accept it at first) and the People’s Advocate office, they would make the case public through social networks and the media. #Zulema became a trending topic on twitter.
Her family, in the meantime, tried to cover up with lies. They said that the report was made up, that Zulema was doing fine and that it was all a lie from those who wanted to hurt them. Billy Constante, one of their brothers, contacted the police and even the governor to say that Zulema was not missing. But a friend of Billy reported that he had confessed to him that his sister was admitted into a clinic because she was a lesbian. Other reports and non-matching versions also arrived: that she had left the country, that she was at home under sedatives, that she was in another province.
The public repercussions of this case scared the family and provoked an intervention from the government. According to Buendía, the governor of Guayas, Viviana Bonilla, called the young woman’s dad to pressure him: she wanted to know the truth. The parents called Zulema to the center where she was locked and told her that she would be freed as long as she said that she had been on a spiritual retreat by her own free will. The center’s director got her in a cab in the middle of the night, but she was mistrusting of what could happen, and convinced the driver to let her borrow his phone, and she called her girlfriend to tell her everything and ask for help.
Warned by Cynthia, Buendía, Potes and Lía devised a plan to rescue her. There was a moment of panic when, near 7:30 in the morning, Zulema’s phone died and contact was lost, but in the end everything went well. She asked the driver to stop on the way, saying she wanted to go to the bathroom, then she got into Lía’s car, who had been waiting, and they got away. The authorities had already been warned and were taking action and Zulema finally got her freedom back. […]
“I’m Zulema and I’m free since yesterday” tweeted Zulema on the 7th of June, after meeting with Titi again. “The first things these places try to do is to bring down your self-esteem with lots of insults, telling you you’re worth nothing, that you make your family suffer. They make you clean the bathrooms with your hands, the food they give you is infested with worms”, she said later in a TV interview. Now, with those who rescued her, she talks about what happened to her wherever she can, to avoid it from happening to others.
“We are using this case’s media attention to close these torture centers. It’s not the first case. This has to be over, it can’t happen ever again.” said Silvia Buendía to Tod@s [t/n: the site from which this article was taken]
“Zulema does not wish to report her parents and brothers, but they will face the law, that is unavoidable and she knows it. On the other side, the threats have us worried. This “clinic” belongs to a very dangerous mafia. This is a nightmare for the girls, only their love has been able to keep them whole.”