La Pesada Subversiva: Battling Anti-LGBTQIA+ Digital Violence in Bolivia

Thanks to Digital Defenders Partnership, they received critical support and training to protect themselves, and now have tools to fight against online aggression.

Originally published on Hivos’ website.

La Pesada Subversiva (The Subversive Troublemaker), a trans, feminist, and sexually diverse collective in Bolivia, has emerged as a form of resistance to patriarchy and gender-based violence. Founded in 2018 in Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s most conservative regions, the collective uses various art forms — audiovisual, writing, street happenings, and social media content — to express their views in demonstrations, protests, and the virtual realm.

Cristian Egüez, one of the founders, explains, “In this region, far-right and ultra-religious narratives are prevalent, pushed by very conservative authorities. In such a tough context, collectives are needed with the courage to confront them and maintain a critical approach to the violence that occurs.”

Pride Month and Ensuing Violence

The Altillo Benni Museum, the largest in the city, commemorated Pride Month for the first time on June 1, 2022. They opened an LGBTQIA+ art exhibition called Revolución Orgullo (Pride Revolution) led by La Pesada Subversiva. The collective’s groundbreaking LGBTQIA+ art exhibition faced vehement opposition. “We adorned the museum facade with trans and LGBTQIA+ flags,” Cristian recounts, “but it lasted less than a day because a group of neighbors came to protest violently and aggressively.” Despite this, the exhibition attracted over 400 visitors, demonstrating growing public support for their cause.

Pride exhibition Bolivia
The Revolución Orgullo Exhibition, organised by La Pesada Subversiva

Confronting Online Harassment

To the collective’s surprise, the museum’s director defended the exhibition, stating that no artwork would be removed and the exhibition would remain until the end of the month. But then an unimaginable wave of digital violence hit them. Cristian recalls the aftermath: “The event left us emotionally devastated. Throughout that year, every day, we had to endure threats and harassment online.”

Alejandra Menacho, another founder of La Pesada Subversiva, shares her experience, saying, “They threatened to rape me, to teach me how to be a woman. It overwhelmed us; it started to really hurt because we felt […] everything we said or did was being surveilled.” The collective faced constant harassment on social media, with anti-rights groups monitoring their activities and scaring them with false threats.

Seeking protection from Digital Defenders Partnership

As the onslaught escalated, the collective sought refuge and support. They applied for a grant from Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP) to get digital protection and security. With DDP’s assistance, they underwent comprehensive training in digital security measures, enabling them to protect their online presence effectively. The members learned to protect themselves and their accounts, not to publish certain things, and to be cautious about disclosing their whereabouts. DDP’s training gave them a comprehensive understanding of digital security tools and provided clear guidelines for dealing with future incidents and how to report them.

In addition to these digital security skills, they learned physical self-defense techniques, blending martial arts with a feminist approach. “This has strengthened us immensely. Now we understand digital security holistically and are always safeguarding our networks,” Alejandra emphasizes.

The ongoing struggle of online resilience

Despite the challenges, La Pesada Subversiva remains steadfast in their mission. “Digital security must be integrated across the board; it’s not something you attend a workshop for and forget. It must be practiced continually,” Cristian asserts. For Alejandra, even though they have experienced a lot of frustration and anger, learning to combine these digital tools with psychology and art has helped them express themselves and achieve emotional balance. “Because we are rebellious, we want to do these things. Also because we don’t want these injustices to continue in Santa Cruz. That’s why we keep coming back and reinventing ourselves.”

La Pesada Subversiva’s journey exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalised communities in the face of adversity. Through collective empowerment and solidarity, they navigate the complexities of digital violence, emerging stronger and more united in their pursuit of equality and justice.

Originally published on Hivos’ website.