June 28, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Gay U.S. foreign service officer speaks at Chilean LGBT rights march
Gay News, Washington Blade, Chile

An estimated 80,000 people took part in an LGBT rights march in the Chilean capital on Saturday (Photo courtesy of the Gay Liberation and Integration Movement)

A gay foreign service officer was among the estimated 80,000 people who took part in an LGBT rights march in the Chilean capital on Saturday.

Jason Jeffreys of the U.S. embassy in Santiago spoke at the Gay Liberation and Integration Movement’s annual Equality and Human Rights for Sexual Diversity March. Jacqueline Vera, whose son Daniel Zamudio was brutally beaten to death in a downtown Santiago park in March, Education Minister Harold Beyer, a number of presidential candidates and lawmakers and Jon Benjamin, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Chile, were among those who also participated.

“As the Human Rights Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, one of a number of policy objectives that Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton has determined is the concept of equal protections for all, including the international LGBT community,” Jeffreys told the Blade. “I wanted to participate because I wanted to share with Chile the fact that the [U.S. government] stands with them in this regard.”

Jeffreys, whose boyfriend is Chilean, added that Zamudio’s death affected him personally. He attended candle light vigils and marches and spoke with Chilean politicians about what he described as the importance of anti-discrimination laws. Jeffreys also delivered a letter on behalf of the U.S. ambassador to Chile, Alejandro Wolff, to Zamudio’s family at his funeral.

“I jumped at the chance to be able to speak at this event to continue with this support,” he noted.

Chilean lawmakers in April passed an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination bill that had languished for seven years. President Sebastián Piñera and other leading politicians backed the measure in the wake of Zamudio’s death.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in March ruled in favor of lesbian Judge Karen Atala who lost custody of her three daughters because of her sexual orientation. Piñera last August introduced a bill that would have allowed same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, but lawmakers rejected it.

“Twenty-one years have passed since we began this fight and the country has changed for the better,” Movilh President Rolando Jiménez told Bio Bio Chile on Saturday. “We want these transformations to become more profound and we demand total and full equality for every human being.”

President Obama last December issued a memorandum calling upon all government agencies involved with American foreign aid to promote LGBT rights. The White House released the directive on the same day that Clinton delivered her landmark speech on gay rights in Geneva.

Jeffreys said the embassy continues to support Movilh and other Chilean LGBT advocacy organizations. He further stressed that he feels progress on LGBT rights remains possible in the traditionally conservative South American country.

“I want to see Chile in a different place when it comes to the social acceptance of gays, lesbians and transgendered people,” said Jeffreys. “I am tired of hearing Chilean friends say that they will never be like ‘Argentina’ or ‘Brazil’ when it comes to the gay community, and, therefore, they don’t want to even try.  This is not acceptable to me, and therefore, I am willing to speak and attend Pride events if for nothing more than to encourage Chile and to demonstrate that this is not an impossible, unobtainable goal.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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