Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Michelle Cliff

Grace Amato 

The LGBTQ Struggle for Legal and Cultural Equality in Latin America

Society’s Negative Influence on Black Female Identity in Michelle Cliff’s Works

Society’s Negative Influence on Black Female Identity in Michelle Cliff’s Works The LGBTQ Struggle for Legal and Cultural Equality in Latin America The female protagonists of Michelle Cliff’s literary works face obstacles that prevent them from discovering and expressing their authentic identity. Her protagonists range in nationality, sexuality, and class, but they are bound together by their gender, their race, and their desire to express themselves. In Into the Interior, the unnamed narrator speaks about her university years in England as a Jamaican-born bisexual woman. In England, she feels alienated from her white classmates who simultaneously hold the view that black people are inferior while assuring her not to worry because she is “not like the rest.” They dismiss her Jamaican identity because they feel that she is “civilized” according to their society’s standards. The narrator searches for words to define her identity throughout the novel but can never find the perfect word to match because it does not exist. The society in which she and the other protagonists live does not value their identities that meet some white standards of goodness or beauty while failing to meet others.

Similar to the struggle that Michelle Cliff’s queer Jamaican and American characters face, the LGBTQ community struggled to overcome discrimination in Latin America throughout modern history. Homosexuality was present in pre-colonial Latin America and was even celebrated in some cultures. However, the conquistadors enforced Christianity upon the indigenous peoples, instilling the negative view of homosexuality witnessed there today. In many countries, homosexuality was decriminalized by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the culture had yet to accept homosexuality as “normal.” As a result, the police harassed many members of the LGBTQ community in order to uphold the “ethics” of society. Catholic presence in Latin America also shaped anti-homosexual measures, such as conversion therapy, a practice still used by many Latin American countries today. There’s been a growing movement for LGBTQ rights in Latin America, and as a result, some countries have passed new legislation protecting the rights of LGBTQ communities. Despite these advances, Latin American society has a long way to go in terms of treating LGBTQ members with full equality and the respect they deserve.

Major Works Consulted:

Cliff, Michelle. Abeng. New York: Penguin, 1995.
---. Into the Interior. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010.
Encarnación, Omar G. “Beyond Machismo.” Foreign Affairs. Last Modified Jan. 11, 2016. Accessed Feb. 14, 2017. machismo.
Siker, Jeffrey S. Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007.
Photo Credit: Furie, Noel. “Michelle Cliff Sometime in the 1980s.” Books, The New York Times, Feb. 12, 2017, sm-and-racism-dies-at-69.html?_r=0.