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This queer climate activist is stripping off to protest the destruction of the rainforest

Luis Fernando, a member of Extinction Rebellion's queer movement the Rainbow Rebellion, on the fight to save the rainforest in South America and the people being killed trying to protect it.

2019-12-26

Words and Photography: Markus Bidaux

For Attitude’s January 'Activists & Allies' issue - out now to download and to order globally - I met and photographed eight members of Rainbow Rebellion, a group within the global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion, during two weeks of protests in October.

Luis Fernando arrived with a friend to the Winston Churchill statue in London’s Parliament Square, there was no protesting going on in the Square, but there were hundreds of members of Extinction Rebellion down the road in Trafalgar Square protesting.

There was a heavy police presence and I had witnessed many people being arrested for blocking the road on my way to meet Luis.

I had intended to photograph Luis like the seven other protesters the day before, a simple portrait amongst the mass protest. But he had other ideas.

Luis moved to the UK 27 years ago from Colombia and he was going to use this opportunity to protest on behalf of his people. He had arrived with a huge bottle of water and a duffle bag, which I thought was a bit odd.

After introductions, without warning he started stripping off all his clothes until he was in nothing but a thong and then produced a magnificent feather head dress from his duffle bag, which he then filled with his discarded clothes and gave to his friend for safe keeping.

He started splashing himself with fake blood and added some to the huge jug of water. He said, "When I get arrested just keep taking photos."

And then he started his one-man protest, splashing red water on the streets in front of the Houses of Parliament, while also carrying a sign reading, “We are being Killed #DefendtheDefenders”.

Within seconds, the police were calling out to him. He ran down Whitehall towards the mass protest in Trafalgar Square, I followed with my camera in hand. He is encountered by more police officers who stopped him. They ask where his clothes are and are actually quite nice to him.

Soon they let him proceed, but insist they must escort him to the gathering of protesters in Trafalgar Square. He walked in an almost trance-like state and when he arrived to Trafalgar Square, where dozens of protesters were sat on the road blocking traffic, he walked amongst them.

It is fair to say they were shocked to see a nearly naked protesters, but soon they were applauding him.

After his protest, Luis and I get a chance to chat...

Who were you protesting for?

At present, there are hundreds of people being killed for defending the environment in which they and their families live. These atrocities are taking place all over the world, but especially in the Southern Hemisphere, and the ones closest to my heart are the indigenous people of the Amazon Rainforest. There is a genocide being carried out in the jungles and no one is doing anything to stop it. It is not only that the people trying to protect the rainforest are getting systematically exterminated, but it's also the plants, the animals and the knowledge, a millenary knowledge that will disappear with the rainforest.

They live a simple life in the Amazon with the environment and they are being attacked by corrupt multinationals that want to get their lands for industrial exploration. From London, we can do a lot to stop this injustice because many of those multinationals are based and trade in the London Stock Market. They operate unregulated and free to generate enormous profits without paying for the consequences of their devastating actions.

What did you think of the other protester's reactions?

It was great, I didn't tell anyone else about my action, so my arrival to the Assembly in Trafalgar Square was a surprise for everyone. In the beginning, they didn't recognize me, because they have not seen me under this light ever before. In Extinction Rebellion, I do Arrestee Support, going to the police station and Court of Justice to support our rebels, fully dressed of course. The main objective of my performance was to take them to a completely different reality to the one they were present and I hope it was achieved.

Were you worried about being arrested?

In the past, I was arrested once. Being arrested, taking into custody and then going to court to be judged is a very traumatic experience. I think because I am from a racial minority the police treatment of me was harsh. I don't like to be arrested, but the historical moment in which we are living is crucial, this is an emergency and we must do what we can to bring attention to the eminence of the danger humanity is facing. So, I will keep going out to protest on the streets, even if I have to face my fears of being arrested.

What did you think of the police's reaction?

The police's reaction to me in this particular action was very gentle, I believe it was because the police were very much aware of members of the press taking pictures.

How I got involved with the Rainbow Rebellion?

I joined Extinction Rebellion after the April Rebellion. I was very inspired by the film Pride, about the early days of the LGBTQ movement, it reminded me how important to fight for what you believe in and I always thought there should be an LGBTQ group and I made some noise suggesting we should start one, but nothing ever happened until right before the October Rebellion. Someone formed a Facebook group, but because of work and my commitments to arrestee support I could not get as involved with the Rainbow Rebellion group as I wanted to during the October Rebellion.

Why is it so important for Extinction Rebellion to have an LGBTQ movement within it?

We believe in a very diverse planet so I think it very important that that diversity should be represented in everything we do. Extinction Rebellion is an inclusive movement, they want to motivate everyone to get involved. Everyone is welcome, because this is a problem facing all of humanity.

What do you think people need to do to help the environment?

We all have to change the way in which we live, we must go back to basics, consuming less, living a more simple life and show care for others even though we haven't met them and probably we never will. Also, people need to demand their government to take action to protect our environment by stopping producing energy by burning fossil fuel and create a transparent economy where the social capital is the principal objective of the market.

What do you think the UK government needs to do?

The government must tell the truth, demanding transparency and accountability from the private sector and markets 2. The government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025 3. The government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice 4. Must work with International organizations like the International Court of Justice to make ecocide a crime punished by international law.

For more information on Extinction Rebellion's queer affinity movement Rainbow Rebellion visit their Facebook page.

Read more from the Rainbow Rebels in Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue, out now to download and to order globally.