March 14, 2018 at 8:08 am EDT | by Nicolás Levy
Chile LGBTI activists question impact of new president

Sebastián Piñera, Chile, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBTI activists in Chile have differing opinions of the impact that new President Sebastián Piñera will have on their issues. (Photo public domain)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on Sunday ended her government and Sebastián Piñera once again took office.

It is the second term for the right-wing leader, who was president for the first time between 2010-2014.

Unlike his first government’s platform, which included initiatives to protect the LGBTI community’s rights, Piñera returned to power with a more conservative stance. He highlighted his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples and giving legal rights to transgender children during his campaign.

On this last matter, Piñera’s position has changed slightly in recent days after the impact generated by “A Fantastic Woman,” the first Oscar-winning Chilean film about trans people’s reality.

A few days before the change of government, Piñera told his ministers the gender identity bill should be quickly approved in Congress, especially after the Chilean Senate approved it before Bachelet left office.

This instruction — which was very controversial among members of Piñera’s conservative coalition — raises questions among leaders of Chile’s sexual diversity movement about what position the new president will take towards the LGBTI agenda. Opinions are diverse, ranging between slight optimism to clear pessimism.

Óscar Rementería, spokesperson for the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, thinks Piñera is not as conservative as he was during his first term.

“Lately, he has shown greater openness towards the LGBTI demands,” said Rementería.

The activist added, in any case, Piñera will have to ensure compliance of the friendly agreement the Chilean state signed with the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation around marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights mediated.

“The agreement contains a series of demands that have to be accomplished by the state in order to avoid an international lawsuit against Chile,” explained Rementería.

Fundación Iguales President Juan Enrique Pi noted the expectation is to keep the progress made on all LGBTI-specific bills going.

“The equal marriage bill is already entered and gender identity is one step away from being law,” he said. “We hope they are not blocked and the new administration will work on their processing. Likewise, we expect Piñera keep the advances in administrative matters and that they will not restricted just to areas of public health or education.”

Erika Montecinos of Agrupación Rompiendo el Silencio, a Chilean lesbian advocacy group, is more pessimistic.

In spite of the effort of organizations that work beyond political ideologies, she said “there is consensus that there will be a ‘freezing’ of our rights during the next four years.” Montecinos does not have any good expectations and, despite Piñera’s public statements, believes LGBTI-specific bills will not progress properly.

“The president’s statement about gender identity is poor,” said Montecinos. “The bill could be a law, but a very weak one.”

The difficulties of Piñera’s second term

Chilean LGBTI leaders’ main concern at the beginning of Piñera’s second term is the resistance they will find in ultra-conservative sectors of the new administration. The Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party is the biggest political force that supports Piñera, and at the same time is the one that is most hostile to the LGBTI agenda.

Montecinos fears Piñera will govern based on religious beliefs that oppose LGBTI rights.

“We have to create awareness about how harmful is a right-wing government for groups that defends human rights,” said Montecinos.  

“However, we have found some UDI deputies who are available to vote in favor of our initiatives,” added Rementería. “What remains to be done is to continue to make known the reality of our LGBTI population and the importance of protecting their rights.”

The grave of Daniel Zamudio, a gay Chilean man who was brutally beaten to death in the country’s capital of Santiago in 2012. President Sebastián Piñera during his first term signed a bill that added sexual orientation and gender identity to Chile’s hate crimes and nondiscrimination law. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Pi said he anticipates Fundación Iguales will work with more liberal members of Piñera’s government.

“We will keep permanent contact with the new ministers Gonzalo Blumel (General Secretariat of the Presidency) and Cecilia Pérez (General Secretariat of Government), both members of Piñera’s political committee and public supporters of sexual diversity,” added Pi.

Montecinos disagrees.

“The few ministers in favor will be stopped by the most conservative leaders,” she said.

Hope in the new Congress

Piñera arrived at La Moneda with a strong popularity, but also with a Congress without a majority for his administration. Frente Amplio — left-wing candidate Beatriz Sánchez’s coalition in the last presidential election — is the third political force in Congress that broke the traditional balance of power between the traditional right and center-left wing parties.

There are 17 new members of Congress, with most of then under 30 years old — who balance Piñera’s power. All of them are strategic allies of LGBTI community and will add support for the approval of important bills, such as marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples. Some of the younger lawmakers who are members of the right-wing parties have expressed support of them.

Activists have incorporated them into their main strategy with Piñera in office.

“There is a majority in both Chamber of Deputies and Senate to turn bills into laws,” said Pi. “The work we have to do is cross parties.”

Rementería agrees with Pi.

“We trust we can discuss about all pending legislative matters easily. We will approach all political sectors,” said Rementería, referring to “some groups of the right-wing.”

For Montecinos, the priority will be “make alliances with feminist caucuses formed in the new Congress”. In any case, she does not rule out protests in the street.

“We will fight to maintain what little progress has been made,” said Montecinos. “We will continue our public incidence.”

Nicolás Levy is a Chilean journalist who specializes in LGBT human rights. He is a correspondent for the Washington Blade in Santiago, Chile.

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