The Queer Ecology of the Colombian Civil War

The former Luis Guillermo Baptiste began her transformation into Brigitte in the mid 1990s, when she was part of a cadre of scientists helping to establish the Bogota-based Humboldt Institute, a hybrid public-private biodiversity research foundation. With her rainbow-dyed hair, tattoos, and willingness to entertain just about any question put to her, the landscape ecologist, now 53, is one of Colombia’s most visible transgender citizens. Her wide acceptance as a public intellectual—she is a national columnist, a frequently cited environmental authority and now head of the Humboldt Institute—seemed in keeping with an increasingly tolerant Colombia.

When Baptiste arrived in New York this past summer, it was with the resolve of someone gearing up for the greatest challenge of her career. She took up a six-month residency at Columbia University to set priorities for what was being dubbed the pos-conflicto: the end of hostilities between her country’s military and the leftist guerillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Colombia is considered home to about a tenth of world’s biodiversity. But for five decades, the conflict stymied investigation in remote parts of the country, leaving species undescribed, ecosystems ill-defined, and vast ecological damage unchecked.

A changing landscape: A FARC commander walks through rainforest recently burnt by peasants to clear space for pastureland. The war made areas like these less accessible to scientific

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