Lesbi Saúde Caravan

Collective of Lesbian and Bissexual Women of the State of Bahia (LESBIBAHIA) / Patrícia Santana


At the age of 37, after several relationships with women, the Bahian communicator and activist Patrícia Santana heard from an aunt the revelation that her mother “always knew she was a dyke”. "Then why didn't you tell me?" replied Patricia, laughing. Born and raised on the outskirts of Salvador, in a conservative family, her discovery of sexuality was not an easy and open path. “I tried to go on with my life trying to fit in with society, I even got to be engaged to a man. When I came out as a lesbian in college, my mother tried everything, from a Catholic priest to a “mãe de santo” [a priestess in Afro-Brazilian religions]. It took me a while to realize that I didn't need any spiritual treatment to heal me”, she says.

Although she speaks with good humor about this period of her history, Patrícia knows that the lives of LGBTI people, especially in the poor outskirts, can be painful and difficult. She understands the multiplicity of her loneliness. Not only the loneliness of being a woman and a lesbian, but also of being a woman, lesbian and black. This understanding made her forgive her family, including her parents, for all the mishaps. “Black families are already suffering from poverty, racism and persecution beyond sexuality. There are so many other types of violence that a black family from the outskirts of a town just wants its members not to go through anything else. What my family does not want is for me to suffer what I suffer”, she explains.

It is to fight against daily suffering that Patrícia Santana joined social movements. Being aware that the prejudice she experienced herself every day also affects the sexual and reproductive health of lesbian women, she saw in the Ela Decide Call for Projects a chance to propose change or, as she defines it, “make the revolution”. Designed in partnership with the LesbiBahia collective, her project, the Lesbi Saúde Caravan, was conceived to provide information on sexual and reproductive health to six municipalities in Bahia.

More than that, the caravan was an opportunity to take to isolated places the news that it was possible [for these women] to exist in a healthy and safe way.

We certainly learned a lot more than we had to teach.”

Everywhere she visited, Patrícia and the team came across stories that made the project even more necessary. She heard a woman tell she had lost her partner to cervical cancer, in her opinion due to medical negligence and prejudice; she heard other women tell they were not able to register the birth of their own children. “Our lives and our health are not a priority. In the meantime, we are dying”, she sums it up with astonishment.

Patrícia took another important lesson from the caravan: that when it comes to the outskirts of a town, you need to know how to listen. “Many people visit these places to engage in conversation but do not know how to speak to the locals. Why are you going to take written material to a quilombo [a former refugee slave community], for example, if half of the people there can’t read?”, she asks. “What we learned from the caravan is that it is necessary to speak and listen, we do need to bring information, but it is possible to educate even under a tree. We certainly learned a lot more than we had to teach.”

With a total of 101 people reached, Patrícia, full of energy, would have liked to go further. "I keep thinking that I wish I had made the revolution," she sighs. Wherever the caravan has gone, however, groups have already appeared rethinking continuity, other ways of discussing the health of LGBTI people, like seeds that are starting to germinate. She allows herself to be proud when she thinks about it.

“Maybe this is already the revolution, right?”, she concludes.

Project: Lesbi Saúde Caravan

Location: Salvador

People directly benefited by the project: 90 women and 11 men.

Through workshops and rounds of conversation, the Collective of Lesbians and Bisexual Women of Bahia (LESBIBAHIA) has promoted actions in four municipalities in Bahia: Santo Amaro, Lauro de Freitas, Itabuna and Rio Real and collectively produced informational materials on preventing sexually-transmitted infections and on reproductive rights of Lesbians and Bisexuals.

Photography: Carol Garcia / Writer: Fabiane Guimarães e Rachel Quintiliano / Editor-in-chief: Rachel Quintiliano / Content review and approach: Anna Cunha, Juliana Soares and Michele Dantas / Artwork and Composition: Diego Soares

This story is part of the publication “Driving Force: stories and actions undertaken by women and for women in Bahia”, that shows the result of a partnership between the United Nations Population Fund and the Elas Fund to support projects led by women residing in the Brazilian State of Bahia, who work to promote actions involving training and information on sexual, reproductive health and rights. To learn more about the project and other stories, visit brazil.unfpa.org/forcamotriz