By Geanini Hackbardt
from the MST webpage
“I was a black woman in the middle of a bunch of white guys. So I was discredited”. This is how Débora Gomes Lima describes the hostile experience she lived at university, when she was studying Chemistry. Black woman, LGBT and Quilombola, the 24-year-old from Aragominas-TO, faced countless forms of oppression when seeking academic training outside the community where she was born.
The ancestors of the Pé do Morro Quilombo were guided by the matriarch Antônia Barros, in her fifties, to a distant land, where they took their prayers, blessings pilgrimages, penance, demijohns and other medicinal knowledge. Dona Antônia de Barros, called “Velha” (Old Woman) by all, received the land in a “vision”. The girl says that there was nobody there, the forest was closed, there were no machete bites. And Velha always said that “the passage through that land would be little, because she had the mission to take them there and then she would be taken to the bosom of Padre Cícero and the entities that protected her”. Thus, the community built its churches, its religiosity syncretized between Catholicism and the African matrix, did its planting and the culture proper to the territory.
Seeing the movement of people and the food they sold in the city, years later, the land grabbers arrived. Débora says that her father and mother were illiterate, as were most of the founders of the Quilombo. When the land grabbers arrived, they brought papers and representatives of public power. Through psychological violence, threats and coercion, they managed to remove the families from the area.
“At the foot of the hill, where our territory is, there is the cemetery where our ancestors are buried. It also has several churches, spaces for prayer and various cultural manifestations. And this place is still there. Some people still live there, two elders who resist. Until then nobody moves them, but they can’t do anything on the land until it is titled. They stay there more as a matter of symbolism, of resistance”, she recalls nostalgically.
Currently, 200 families resist in the city of Aragominas, two kilometers from the land. “Putting everyone together, grandchild, son, nephew, there are 1,200 people”, who live in an urban space, in the hope of having the recognition of the area, which after going through six stages, awaits the president’s signature. But Débora has no illusions about the “misgovernment” of Bolsonaro: “Before, in the previous administrations, until we had something in our favour, we had a little more momentum in the fight. Now everything is worse. His own campaign was based on not giving an inch of land to indigenous people, to quilombolas.
Débora is one of the young leaders of the community and divides her time between her studies and learning the traditional knowledge of her family and her elders: “The right to grow, to care, to really belong to the territory was taken away from my generation and the generation before me. We had to grow up being urban”. The young woman points out that the public schools in the city, despite receiving them, were not prepared to receive quilombola people pedagogically, just as the health system was not prepared to receive quilombola people either. “When we take back the territory, we’ll have to start from scratch. We will have to set up a quilombola school, we will have to set up a quilombola health unit, all the basic issues,” he plans.
She is currently studying nursing at IFTO (Federal Institute of Tocantins). It was at university that she started to affirm herself as LGBT, while facing racism, machismo, lesbophobia and ethnic prejudice. By organizing in the student movement, she learned about the rights they were denied, found references, peers, and studied social issues. “We had to occupy the university. That was one of the things that most affected my psychological health. These situations made me realize how hostile the university is for quilombolas, for black people, for people who belong to the movement. I saw situations that the quilombolas went through in the university and we couldn’t see that and just sit there and study”.
That’s how she affirmed her sexuality, in front of her family and community, which has a very religious and conservative characteristic, even knowing of her sexual and affective attraction to women since she was 13 or 14 years old. “If inside the big city, where people have (in quotes) freedom – a limited freedom because Brazil is the fourth country that most kills LGBTs – in the interior is even more complicated. You explain and explain and nobody understands. I tried to hide so that nobody would see me and tell my family”.
When Débora revealed that she was a lesbian, the people of the Quilombo started to see her differently, making comments, and the “gossip” spread, which motivated her to stop participating in the Quilombo’s activities. “They started not seeing me in the same way, so I stopped participating. People marginalize the LGBT body. They already call us vagabonds and other things. They thought that the Debora that they saw growing up wouldn’t be the same Debora.
It was time that made things more “bearable”, because people realised that her orientation did not affect who she was. Although lesbophobia is glaringly obvious, she understands that it takes a lot of time and dialogue for people to understand and respect her. “If for me, who am LGBT, it took years to understand, imagine in their heads. So I understand up to a limit, but I don’t let people make fun of me, as my mother says”.
For other women and young people going through the same oppressions, she asks for patience and study, but it is necessary to come out of the wardrobe and put yourself in society as a whole. “I can’t be a black, lesbian, quilombola woman and talk about only a part of myself. I know people who wanted to break down the door of the wardrobe, and I understand, because we get tired, but it was traumatic, it was sickening, it was difficult. We have to be patient, not for others, but for ourselves. It’s for mental health, for self-care. I armed myself with knowledge, I armed myself with feelings so that, when the people I love, like my mother, my sister and family asked me, I could answer”, she concluded.
*Edited by Fernanda Alcântara