No step back in the right to love
By Monica Benício
This op-ed was written by Monica Benício, the widow of Marielle Franco, a courageous women human rights defender who was murdered in Brazil in March 2018. It was originally published in Portuguese in O Globo on June 12th, to mark Brazilian Valentine's Day.
“The roses of resistance grow out of asphalt. We might receive roses, but we’ll keep clenching our fists from where we stand against the powers that be and the forces that affect our lives.”
That was what my partner Marielle Franco said in the plenary session of Rio de Janeiro City Council on 8 March this year. That date, which has always represented women's struggle, also marks our resistance to all forms of oppression. And at a time when conservatism is gaining ground, the struggle and resistance for two women who love each other is a daily reality.
It was with that struggle and resistance that Marielle faced some very difficult days in her work as a city councillor, since being a black, lesbian, feminist, left-wing woman from the favela on a council full of rich, white men who symbolize sectors that represent the political backwardness of this country was a constant act of persistence. One of the most painful days on that journey was the attempt to secure approval of the Lesbian Visibility Bill.
The bill was rejected by two votes and she was extremely frustrated. It was a debate that concerned Marielle personally; it was a clear expression of the denial of her personal life, the denial of our love. The strength she demonstrated in the council meeting melted away when we were together.
Deeply upset, she went to the toilets to call me and wept as she told me the bill had been vetoed. As always, we calmed each other down and gave each other encouragement. Because when we love, we're partners in the full poetic and political sense of the word! Although she was sad, she went to the plenary session nonetheless, as she always did, and denounced the fundamentalist, racist, homophobic councillors who dominate the council. Marielle was aware of her responsibility to our causes and struggles.
Remembering this almost three months after the brutal crime that took my partner’s life means reaffirming our love and our struggle to live it. Considering that Marielle was executed in a political crime, in the centre of one of the world’s most important cities, we will continue to demand answers about her murder. But not just any answers. Every day, we will keep up her fight and will never take a step back in demanding the right to love.
In the country with the highest LGBTI murder rate, where rights for so-called political minorities are denied, Marielle and our love story represent a force of inspiration for the struggle, but also, and most importantly, for freely expressing affection and feelings. We will keep constantly reaffirming that we exist and that our lives matter. For Marielle and for ourselves, we will continue fighting to ensure that nothing holds us down and that what defines us is always love.