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social sciences

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During the 1920s, there was a notable relaxation of moral standards in progressive middle-class circles in Madrid. Scholars have linked this development to the proliferation of jazz clubs in the city center. By the time that jazz arrived in Madrid in the post-World War I era, it had become associated in the public imagination with sexual experimentation. Thus, clubs devoted to this type of music were regarded as havens from the pervasive rigorous Catholic morality.

Providing lyrics to many of the leading jazz singers in Madrid was Álvaro Retana (1890/8-1936), who has aptly been described as a Spanish Noël Coward. A popular songwriter, dramatist, and journalist, Retana cultivated a camp and extravagant public image. His elegant and often humorous writings often seem at once homoerotic and homophobic.

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In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the prominent Madrid medical doctor and cultural historian Gregorio Marañón (1887-1960) sought to promote social tolerance through academic studies, demonstrating the existence of homosexuality as a medical condition in prominent historical and fictional figures, such as Enrique IV, King of Castile, and Don Juan.

In keeping with the most advanced progressive ideals, the directors of the Residencia de Estudiantes (a men's residence hall in Madrid) deliberately fostered greater toleration of diversity throughout the 1920s. To discourage dependence on earlier moral systems, the Residencia forbade the establishment of any kind of chapel and arranged for avant-garde intellectuals and artists (such as André Breton) to make presentations to residents.

Liberated by the tolerant atmosphere of the Residencia, the writer Federico García Lorca (1898-1936) began to explore his homosexual desires. During the later 1920s, García Lorca and the sculptor Emilio Aladrén Perojo were among the men who openly displayed affection for one another in elegant cafés between the Puerta del Sol and Paseo del Prado. However, it is perhaps indicative of the limited tolerance for sexual deviance that García Lorca did not even consider staging any of his homoerotic plays in Madrid.

By 1931, there was a strong conservative backlash against the tentative displays of alternative lifestyles in central Madrid. Right-wing newspapers began to condemn the behavior of García Lorca and others who revealed their homosexual lifestyles in public.

However, it was the leftist Second Republic that recriminalized homosexual acts in 1933. The Ley de Vagos (Law concerning Vagrancy) mandated imprisonment for any male-male sexual acts. Reasserting biases of previous centuries, the supposedly progressive government maintained that homosexual acts were treasonous because they weakened the state by feminizing men. Throughout the later 1930s, factories in Madrid routinely fired men who "looked homosexual" because it was claimed that they were likely to steal and otherwise act to destabilize the socialist state.

The Franco Years, 1939-1975

García Lorca, Retana, and Hoyos were among the many homosexuals executed by Fascists in the early stages of the Civil War. Although Franco rejected most of the legislation created by the Second Republic, he retained the Ley de Vagos and fully utilized its provisions.

In 1954, Franco instituted additional statutes that mandated confinement in concentration camps for men convicted of homosexual acts and that forbade positive representations of homosexuality in any media. Inmates of the camps were required to undertake debilitating hard labor.

On the basis of investigations completed so far, it appears that most of those sent to camps were poor or of working-class origins. Upper- and middle-class men could avoid arrest by paying bribes to police agents. By the mid-1960s, a few shabby "underground" bars and cafés catering to homosexuals had been established in Madrid, but these were very dangerous places frequently raided by policemen, eager to collect money from fearful patrons.

Also, by the mid-1960s, the government had established in Madrid several "medical" centers for the rehabilitation of homosexuals. The existence of these centers was not acknowledged until 1970 when the Ley de Peligrosidad y Rehabilitación Social (Law Concerning Social Danger and Rehabilitation) was introduced. Whereas the earlier codes had penalized homosexual acts, this law targeted homosexuality as a state of being.

According to this law, any man who acted in an effeminate manner or otherwise revealed an inclination toward homosexuality was to be confined in one of these institutions. A team of researchers has established that 152 men in Madrid were sentenced to these centers in 1974, but statistics are not available for other periods. All sorts of medical procedures were carried out on the inmates of the rehabilitation centers, including electrical shock, induced vomiting, and experimental drugs.

Despite the dangers involved, a clandestine group, Movimiento Español de Liberación Homosexual (MELH), was formed in Barcelona in 1971 to work for sexual liberation, and, in 1972, this group also became active in Madrid. Modeled upon Communist workers' groups, the chapters of MELH met each time in a different place, in order to avoid detection.

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