Gays Persecuted by Franco Lose Criminal Status at Last
December 12, 2001 http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,617816,00.html
By Giles Tremlett in Madrid
Spain’s parliament yesterday pledged to wipe clean the criminal records
of gays locked up by the former dictator General Francisco Franco, and to look
at ways to compensate them for the years of torture and imprisonment.
Thousands of homosexuals were jailed, put in camps or locked up in mental
institutions under Franco’s homophobic dictatorship, which lasted for 40
years until his death in 1975.
Prison terms of up to three years were imposed under laws covering
"public scandal" or "social danger". Homosexuals, almost
all of them men, were packed off to mental hospitals where some were given
Yesterday’s decision means that sentences for homosexuality will be taken
off police files and the parliament will seek a way to redress the damage
One of those demanding compensation is Antonio Ruiz, from the eastern city
of Valencia, who was sent to prison at 17 in the dying days of the Franco
regime after he told his mother that he was gay and she asked a nun for
"The nun went straight to the police and I was arrested and sent for
trial," he recalled yesterday. "I spent three months in prison. I
was raped there and in the police cells and psychologically tortured by both
the guards and the prison doctor."
Five years ago, when stopped by police officers who checked his identity
over the radio, he discovered that his homosexuality was still registered on a
police file. "Watch out, that one’s queer," one of the police
It took until last year for him to get his record formally destroyed. Now
he wants compensation. "It is not a question of money, but of moral
restitution for someone who was brutally persecuted and had his life
ruined," he said.
The exact numbers of those affected by the measures agreed yesterday are
hard to determine. At least 1,000 gays were jailed during the last decade of
"A lot of them do not want to recall what happened," said a
historian, Pablo Fuentes.
Those who suffered were mainly from the lower classes, Mr Fuentes said.
"It is not uncommon to hear homosexuals from the upper classes and the
aristocracy speak about the Franco period as a great time."
The persecution did not end with Franco’s death. When thousands of
political and other prisoners were pardoned the following year, homosexuals
were left to serve out their sentences. They could still be jailed until 1979
by the courts under the law on so-called "social dangers and
Pedro Zerolo, president of Spain’s Federation of Gays and Lesbians,
welcomed parliament’s decision but hoped more would be done. "What we
want is a declaration of moral rehabilitation for those people who had part of
their lives stolen by the state," he said.
The Franco regime and its Falangist supporters considered homosexuals a
threat to their ideal of a "macho" Spanish male. "Any
effeminate or introvert who insults the movement will be killed like a
dog," General Queipo del Llano, Franco’s favourite broadcaster, once
Among the most prominent homosexuals killed by the regime was the leftwing
poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, whose writings were considered
At the end of Franco’s regime, homosexuality was increasingly viewed as
an illness rather than a crime. "Homosexuals should be seen more as sick
people than as criminals. But the law should still prevent them proselytising
in schools, sports clubs and army barracks," one psychologist, Lopez Ibor,
wrote in 1968.
The conservative People’s party of the current prime minister, José
Maria Aznar, voted yesterday against an amendment that would have
automatically given financial compensation to former gay prisoners, but agreed
a committee should study the matter.
In recent years parliament has compensated former political prisoners and
anti-Franco guerrilla fighters.
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