Blog post

The history of LGBTQ+ rights in Spain

Opening the future to the dreams of the past

In a crowd of people, a woman with curly hair is waving the pride flag.
by
Mar Racamonde (opens in new window) (RTVE)
Jolan Wuyts (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Throughout history, culture and art have been used as a means to discuss topics of gender and sexuality. Some artists throughout history have been part of movements to legitimise the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Painting, literature, plastic arts and other forms of artistic expression open the viewer’s mind to the multifaceted reality of an increasingly diverse community that demands human rights and acceptance

Between 1931 and 1936 Spain was governed by a republican system known as the Second Republic, which saw women gain more rights under the law and saw homosexuality taken out of the Spanish Criminal Code in 1932. For the LGBTQ+ community, the Second Republic began a period of increasing cultural awareness and intellectualism in Spain.

Federico Garcia Lorca, the famous Spanish poet who explored the taboo topics of classism and homoeroticism in his works, was killed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. His remains have not been found to this day. After the Civil War, during the regime of Francisco Franco in Spain, LGBTQ+ people were viciously persecuted. Under Franco's dictatorship, homosexuality was made illegal through multiple national laws and decrees, and LGBTQ+ people were sent to internment camps, jailed, or killed. The Spanish documentary 'Mama, soy gay' (Mom, I'm Gay), gives an overview of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights in Spain over the past forty years.

After Franco's death and the end of the dictatorship in 1975, homosexuality remained illegal until the government of the Kingdom of Spain overturned this law in 1979. But even during the dictatorship, countercultural LGBTQ+ scenes emerged in the sixties in Barcelona, Sitges and Ibiza.

One of the most famous examples of these underground communities during the era of oppression was ‘El Comodín’, the first nightclub and cabaret with a marked homosexual atmosphere and open to anyone from the public in Spain, opened in 1957. In recent years, it has become a place of worship with its drag shows. It is a curious meeting and provocative reference point in the town of Sitges, located in the province of Barcelona, where the first monument against homophobia was erected in 2006.

The coastal town of Sitges is one of the most popular places for gay people because they can enjoy an atmosphere of equality in every sense

Even though the history of LGBTQ+ rights often focuses on the struggle for equal rights for men who love men, the structural oppression of cis and trans women, lesbian women and queer women is often not highlighted as much or even minimised. Recognition of the fierce battle that women of colour, lesbian women, queer women and trans women waged in the war for equal rights is therefore so important. It was trans women of colour and lesbian women of colour that stood on the front lines of the Stonewall riots, like Marsha P Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, and Sylvia Rivera. In Spain, too, the role of the lesbian community in the fight for equal rights was crucial and indispensable. The documentary 'Violet: the lesbian revolution' talks about the historical struggle of lesbian women in Spain.

This documentary episode covers the last forty years of LGBT history in Spain and focuses on the struggle of the lesbian community. It contains statements from activists who led the struggle and continue to do so today.

In 1981, an invisible enemy that decimated drug addicts and homosexuals was quietly claiming victims. To date, it is estimated that 39 million people worldwide may have lost their lives to AIDS. In the 40 years since the start of HIV infections, treatments have been developed that ensure a life quality and expectancy similar to that of the rest of the population.

The first HIV/AIDS cases in Spain were reported in 1983. Spain had a higher prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the nineties than most other European countries, in 1997 Spain's cases amounted to a quarter of the HIV infected population of Western Europe at the time. These days, Spain has relatively as many seropositive people as other national averages.

The documentary covers the last forty years of LGBTQ+ history in Spain and focuses on the impact that the AIDS had in Spain and still has in relation to the gay community, as well as the advances in healthcare to treat HIV patients. It contains first-hand accounts from various people who offer their opinions and experiences of the illness.

In 1988, homosexual unions were recognised through civil partnerships in Catalonia, and in 2001, de facto same-sex unions were approved in Madrid.

In the following years, Andalusia, Extremadura and Madrid have continued to add rights for the LGBTQ+ community against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

On 21/11/1995, lesbians and homosexuals hijacked the Civil Registry of Madrid because they wanted to get married and consolidate the rights that already existed in society. The documentary includes testimonies of activists and politicians who made the legislative advances possible.

Spain has been recognised as a country at the forefront of LGBTQ+ rights. It is the third country in the world with the most citizens in favour of same-sex marriage, as well as defending their right to adoption.

Gaining a spot in this society has never been easy for minoritised groups of people, and current generations know that they are, with their refreshing strength, the ones who are opening the future to the dreams of the past.


This post is part of the editorials of Europeana SUBTITLED, a Europeana Generic Services project including seven major national broadcasters and audiovisual archives from seven European countries.

Under the theme of 'Broadcasting Europe’ our editorials showcase how society has been reflected on the television screen in the past eight decades during times of conflict, restrictive regimes, political change, and peace. To this end, we’re using a diverse range of material from Europeana, with a focus on lesser-known and newly aggregated AV content. For more information about Europeana SUBTITLED, visit this page on Europeana Pro.