March 11, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Pro-LGBT Chilean president takes office

Michelle Bachelet, Chile, Socialist Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (Photo by Ricardo Stuckert of Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet officially took office on Tuesday amid hopes she will bolster efforts in support of relationship recognition for same-sex couples and transgender rights in the South American country.

Vice President Biden, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos are among those who attended Bachelet’s inauguration that took place in the coastal city of Valparaíso.

Bachelet, a left-leaning Socialist who was the country’s president from 2006-2010, defeated Evelyn Matthei by a 62-38 percent margin in a December run-off election.

Bachelet last year endorsed marriage rights for same-sex couples during the campaign to succeed then-President Sebastián Piñera. She also supports a bill that would allow trans Chileans to legally change their name and sex without sex-reassignment surgery, hormonal treatments and psychiatric or psychological evaluations.

Bachelet backs efforts to strengthen Chile’s LGBT-inclusive hate crimes and anti-discrimination law named in honor of Daniel Zamurio, a 23-year-old man who a group of self-described neo-Nazis beat to death in Santiago, the country’s capital, in 2012 because he was gay.

She also met with Chilean LGBT rights advocates during the campaign.

Juan Pablo Fuentealba of the Chilean It Gets Better Foundation (Fundación Todo Mejora in Spanish) told the Washington Blade on Monday that Bachelet “expressed her concern” over high rates of suicide among young people and bullying in the South American country.

“The declarations of the president help to pave the way for organizations like Todo Mejora that are fighting to ensure that the legal changes are not simply just on paper, but that they are also implemented in a good way,” said Fuentealba.

Andrés Ignacio Duarte Rivera, founder of the Organization of Transsexuals for the Dignity of Diversity, told the Blade last December while in New York for the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the U.N. that he feels the inclusion of the trans rights bill in Bachelet’s platform is “a position of absolute support.”

Jaime Parada Hoyl, who in 2012 became the first openly gay political candidate elected in Chile when he won a seat on the municipal council in the wealthy Santiago enclave of Providencia, questioned Bachelet’s commitment to advancing the issue of relationship recognition for same-sex couples in the Chilean Congress.

She included civil unions in her platform during her first presidential campaign in 2005. The Chilean Senate in January voted to consider a civil unions bill that Piñera first proposed in 2011.

“We made a more inclusive, more respectful and less discriminatory society towards minorities and those who think differently,” said Piñera on Sunday during a televised speech from the presidential palace in Santiago.

The president of Bachelet’s party is among those who has publicly opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“She has said that ‘she will open a debate about marriage equality,’” Parada told the Blade. “She does not show any conviction on this topic. Chileans have already been debating this issue for years, but what is missing now is a bill.”

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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