LGBTQ+ storytelling in the aftermath of conflict: the Colombian Truth Commission

LGBTQ+ storytelling in the aftermath of conflict: the Colombian Truth Commission

A Colombian flag flies in front of the Cartagena skyline


To celebrate Pride Month, we are sharing some of the LGBTQ+ research taking place in our Department at the moment.

The Colombian Peace Process stands out for its inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community, recognising them not only as victims of the conflict, but as participants in building peace. 

The instruments of justice developed to address the legacies of violence and human rights abuses in Colombia (part of what is called transitional justice) are unique in their approach to including LGBTQ+ voices, developing new methods and protocols for understanding the impact of conflict on LGBTQ+ people. 

Such radical inclusion, however, has also been met with significant backlash from the anti-gender ideology movement, and concerns about the gender and LGBTQ+ perspectives are considered a key factor in the failure of the national plebiscite on the Peace Agreement in 2016.

Emma Pritchard, DPhil student under the supervision of Professor Leigh Payne, is studying the processes of inclusion in the Colombian Peace Process, focusing particularly on LGBTQ+ storytelling about conflict in ‘state-led’ versus ‘community-led’ spaces. 

Her work explores how LGBTQ+ stories of human rights abuses were told through the Colombian Truth Commission. The Commission was the first in the world to have a specific mandate for collecting LGBTQ+ testimonies, and the published report includes a chapter dedicated to the impact of the conflict on LGBTQ+ people. 

Storytelling in this space is shaped however, not only by the needs and desires of LGBTQ+ victims of human rights abuses, but by the standards of transitional justice and the goals of the Commission. 

Increased inclusion in the Colombian Truth Commission offers both the potential for greater acknowledgement of the impact of conflict on LGBTQ+ people, as well as broadening our understanding of post-conflict reconstruction.

However, it also raises questions about how stories are told in such institutional processes, and whether this meets the needs of survivors of human rights abuses. In Colombia, many LGBTQ+ people and activists chose to participate in this process, but many also did not.

Emma is currently preparing for fieldwork in Colombia, funded by the Leverhulme Trust through a Study Abroad Studentship. Through this fieldwork, based at the Universidad de los Andes, Emma will bring together interviews with members of the Truth Commission, LGBTQ+ activists and organisations who supported the Commission, and those who chose not to, and participant observation in community-led cultural spaces of storytelling. 

Through this, she looks to build a rich theory of storytelling in the aftermath of conflict that takes into account both how LGBTQ+ people participate in and resist institutional places of storytelling, and also engage in their own forms of storytelling in alternative spaces.

Scholars have argued that the inclusion of LGBTQ+ voices in transitional justice is essential - both for addressing societal discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, and for building broader understandings of peace and justice in the aftermath of conflict.

Yet the Colombian case raises questions over whether inclusion in existing structures is enough to meet the needs of victims or allows for full access to human rights. 

Emma’s research contributes to work on both the sociology of storytelling and of human rights in exploring how LGBTQ+ people participate in and challenge institutional processes of justice after conflict. In looking at a contemporary process of transitional justice, this research informs not only academic literature on the subject but has implications for policy and activism around LGBTQ+ engagement in post-conflict reconstruction.

Through her doctoral thesis, Emma will lay the foundation for future research into the relationship between LGBTQ+ movements, storytelling, and human rights in transitional societies, exploring topics such as the current mobilisation by LGBTQ+ activists in South Africa around truths untold in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission there.

You can get in touch with Emma here.