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First transgender congresswoman in Chile details legislative agenda

Emilia Schneider was student protest leader before election

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Chilean Congresswoman Emilia Schneider. (Photo courtesy of Emilia Schneider)

VALPARAÍSO, Chile — Emilia Schneider, a well-known activist and student leader, on March 11 became Chile’s first transgender congresswoman. Her path to politics, however, began years earlier.

Schneider gained public notoriety in 2018 through her role as spokesperson for the Chilean 8M Feminist Coordinating Committee during the feminist demonstrations that took place in the country that year. She became the first trans president of the University of Chile Student Federation in 2019.

Schneider’s great-grandfather was Gen. René Schneider, who commanded the Chilean Army from 1969 until his assassination the following year.

Before her election, Schneider was a candidate for the Constitutional Convention, the body in charge of drafting Chile’s new constitution. She lost that election, but she won a seat in Congress a few months later.

For her, being the first trans woman in the Chamber of Deputies is “a great joy.”

“It gives a sense and a projection to the social struggles in which I have had to participate: The student struggle, the feminist struggle, the struggle of sexual dissidence,” Schneider told the Washington Blade. “So, I think for me it was like feeling a recognition for the work I have done and also in collective terms the responsibility of representing a community that had never had representation in a space like this.”

“It is an honor for me, it is a pleasure to represent our community, but a great challenge,” added Schneider. “I know that there are many demands, many issues, because there are many years, decades, centuries of exclusion, discrimination and violence through which the trans community has lived. It’s a very structural issue, so it is a challenge, but I am also very grateful because the (LGBTQ) organizations that worked before me made it possible and paved the way for (me.) It’s a very, very big joy in personal and collective terms.”

Schneider is a member of Comunes, a leftist political party that is part of the Frente Amplio coalition whose candidate, Gabriel Boric, won the presidential election.

She told the Blade she has “felt comfortable because we have been able to put our stamp on the deputy’s office.”

“I am also very grateful for the team we have formed, which has worked very well with the Congress’ workers and also with the trust we have developed with our Frente Amplio and Apruebo Dignidad (a political party aligned with Boric) benches and some of the pro-government benches and well,” said Schneider. “The biggest challenge has been to learn to be part of a Congress that is part of a government, that is pro-government.”

When asked if she had experienced transphobia inside the Congress, the congresswoman said “not on the part of the officials of the Congress, to the contrary.”

“They have received my team very well; which is a team composed mainly of women, people of sexual diversity,” said Schneider. “But undoubtedly there is a far-right bench in Congress that constantly tries to provoke fictitious discussions that question the rights of trans people.”

“We have had to listen to several hate speeches coming from the ultra-right wing bench, but it is also very interesting to see how the struggle of (people of) diverse sexualities has also advanced in Congress,” she added. “Before they were small groups of deputies fighting for our rights and today I think it is something much more transversal. In fact, we recently presented a bill to improve the Gender Identity Law, to include trans children and non-binary identities, among other issues, to improve it and it has the signature of different benches, something very transversal and also of Erika Olivera, who is a right-wing congresswoman.”

Schneider added she believes “this also shows that if there is a will, it is possible to build these dialogues despite the differences.”

A law that recognized the right to identity and allows trans people to amend their birth certificates administratively took effect in 2018. Some of the LGBTQ organizations that celebrated the advance, however, have said it is insufficient and must be reformed. They have called for public policies that will benefit trans people who have been historically discriminated against by the State and society.

“I would say that there is a radical absence of public policies, and therefore a tremendous abandonment that is evident not only in those who have not managed to access education and do not find a job, but also to the large population of trans women who are engaged in sex work,” said Schneider. “The economic precariousness, the mental health problems, the lack of access to education and continuity of studies, the lack of access to health care, the number of trans people living on the streets.”

“I would speak of a tremendous lack of public policies and a very radical abandonment of the trans population in Chile, in spite of the fact that in the last time we have obtained symbolic advances and in very big cultural terms,” lamented the congresswoman. “I believe that today there is a common sense of the majority citizenship that it is important to recognize the rights and equality of trans people and to make a reparation also for the bad things that have happened to our community.”

Schneider said Boric’s presidency could mean an improvement in trans people’s life.

La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace, on March 31 hosted an event that commemorated the International Transgender Day of Visibility. Schneider participated in the ceremony during which the trans Pride flag was raised.

“We are on the right track because the government has already announced a working group that has begun to operate in various ministries and also with the sexual diversity bench in Congress,” she said. “I believe that this situation of neglect and lack of public policies will change. This government has had a very clear commitment with the community and sexual diversities in general.”

Schneider is one of four out LGBTQ women in Congress.

She told the Blade they will work to reform Chile’s anti-discrimination law and include non-binary and intersex people and children in the Gender Identity Law. Schneider also said they support a trans labor quota in the public and private sector.

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South America

Report finds more Argentina businesses adopting LGBTQ-inclusive policies

Activists condemn new government’s rolling back of rights

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More than 1 million people took part in the Buenos Aires Pride parade in Argentina on Nov. 4, 2023. A new report finds more businesses in the country have implemented policies for their LGBTQ employees. (Photo courtesy of Esteban Paulón)

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and LGBT+ Public Policy Institute of Argentina last week released their third annual report on the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the country’s workplaces.

The Global Workplace Equity Program: Equidad AR evaluates major Argentine and multinational companies and policies for their LGBTQ employees.

The total number of participating companies in this year’s survey increased from 76 to 82, which reflects a growing commitment to creating LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices in Argentine workplaces. The report also notes 224,649 queer employees, which is a 120 percent increase over last year.

The HRC Foundation’s AR Equity Program is based on the HRC Corporate Equity Index, the leading survey that assesses LGBTQ workplace in the U.S. Companies that lead the way in LGBTQ inclusion and equity earn the HRC Foundation’s “Best Places to Work LGBT+ 2024” designation.

Fifty-five of the 82 participating companies in Argentina earned this certification this year. They represent 26 different business sectors.

“As we’ve seen countless times, when organizations implement LGBT+ policies, everyone wins: Workers are better able to reach their full potential and employers reaffirm their commitment to treating all people with dignity and respect,” said RaShawn Hawkins, senior director of the HRC Foundation’s Workplace Equality Program. “We are very proud of our partners for the work they have done to advance LGBT+ equality in their workplaces and look forward to continuing to work with them as partners in this fight.”

The commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practicies is significant in a different way for the community in Argentina this year.

HRC indicated “recent public administrative changes focused on the LGBT+ community motivated the private sector to generate more opportunities to grow and develop its diverse workforce through business.”

President Javier Milei and his government have faced criticism over the closure of the National Institute against Discrimination and the Ministry of Women, Gender, and Diversity. 

“The complex context that Argentina is experiencing of difficulties, hostility, and refusal of the national government to sustain many of the public policies that were carried out in recent years, puts the private sector at the center, which clearly has all the conditions to make an important contribution and become a decisive factor to support from another place different from the one we have been used to because the State has run away,” gay Congressman Esteban Paulón told the Washington Blade.

The congressman added “the private sector, and from the cooperation between the public sector and the private sector, can work and sustain many of the achievements that have been achieved in these years.” Paulón said they include implementation of a labor quota for transgender people that Milei’s government is no longer implementing, but “could be sustained” with a “firm commitment” from the private sector.

Onax Cirlini, HRC’s AR Equity implementing partner, said that “beyond the institutional efforts highlighted in this report, we see the dynamics generated by activism organized by employee resource groups (ERGs)/business resource groups (BRGs) or affinity groups.” 

“This internal momentum, often led by people in the community itself, enhances institutional equality efforts by providing continuity and persistence,” said Cirlini.

Dolores Covacevich, another HRC AR Equity implementing partner, stressed the group recognizes “the importance of every role within companies and organizations as they work toward the integration of diversity, equity and inclusion policies, and the commitment to LGBT+ inclusion efforts.”

“We know that none of this work would be possible without inclusive leadership that promotes these processes,” said Covacevich.

HRC has worked with groups in Mexico, Chile, and Brazil to implement similar indexes in their respective countries.

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Chilean capital Pride parade participants, activists attacked

Men wearing hoodies disrupted June 29 event in Santiago

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A group of hooded men attacked participants in the Chilean capital's annual Pride parade on June 29, 2024. (Photo courtesy of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation)

A group of hooded men on June 29 attacked LGBTQ activists and others who participated in the Chilean capital’s annual Pride parade.

Witnesses said the men punched and kicked activists and parade participants, threatened them with a skateboard, threw stones and paint at floats and damaged parade infrastructure. The men also broke a truck’s headlight.

The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBTQ rights group known by the acronym Movilh, strongly condemned the acts of violence, calling them deliberate attempts to disrupt a peaceful and safe demonstration.

“Vandalism that seeks to transgress the peaceful trajectory of our demonstrations and that is only useful to the interests of the homo/transphobic sectors,” denounced Movilh.

The attack occurred when the hooded men tried to break through the security fence protecting the participants and the truck that was at the beginning of the parade.

“As we do every year, we fence the truck with our volunteers to prevent anyone from being run over or hurt by the wheels,” said Movilh. “The hooded men approached the fence to break it, hitting our volunteers and people outside of our organization with their feet and fists who, in an act of solidarity, tried to dissuade them.”

The motives behind this attack seem to be related to previous calls on social networks to boycott the event, although the organizers stressed that violent acts are alien to the parade’s inclusive and celebratory purpose.

Movilh spokesperson Javiera Zúñiga told the Washington Blade that “after the attack that we faced during the Pride March, we published in our social networks the few images that were available from that moment.” 

“What we are basically asking is that anyone who has seen something and can recognize any of the aggressors write to our email or (contact us) through our social networks so that we can file complaints and do whatever is necessary to find those responsible.”

Zúñiga stated that “not only was there aggression against people, but there was also damage to private property because they broke one of the truck’s headlights.”

“So for these two reasons we are looking for anyone who may have information to contact us,” she said.

The incident has generated widespread condemnation within the LGBTQ community and outside of it. They say it highlights the need to protect human rights and diversity and promote respect for them.

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Chilean lawmakers reject proposed nondiscrimination law reforms amid tense anti-LGBTQ debate

Statute named after gay man who was killed in 2012

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Transgender Chilean Congresswoman Emilia Schneider, center, speaks to reporters on June 4, 2024, after the country's Chamber of Deputies rejected proposed reforms to the country's Anti-Discrimination Law. (Photo courtesy of Emilia Schneider)

A political earthquake took place in Chile on Tuesday when the Chamber of Deputies rejected proposed reforms to the country’s nondiscrimination law.

The proposed reforms’ objective is “to strengthen the prevention of discrimination and to promote and guarantee in a better way the principle of equality.” Lawmakers in 2012 approved the law, also called the Zamudio Law, named in honor of Daniel Zamudio, a gay 24-year-old man who lost his life after a group of neo-Nazis attacked him in San Borja Park in Santiago, the country’s capital.

Lawmakers by a 69-63 vote margin rejected the proposed reform that President Gabriel Boric’s government introduced. Thirteen deputies abstained.

The Chilean Senate has already approved the proposal. A commission of lawmakers from both chambers of Congress will now consider it.

Most ruling party members supported the bill, while the opposition rejected it as a block.

Congressman Cristóbal Urruticoechea, who is close Republican Party ally, defended his vote against the bill. 

“Of course we must respect the deviation of others, but it does not have to be an obligation to applaud them or to tell our children that there are more than two types of sexes, because that is not discrimination,” he said.

Emilia Schneider, the country’s first transgender congresswoman, said “unfortunately the majority of the House (of Deputies) has rejected the protection of victims of discrimination.” 

“This is not understandable, it is unacceptable and we are here with a group of civil society organizations to call upon the majority of parliamentarians to reconsider so that we can fix this disaster in the mixed commission,” she said. “We have been waiting a long time for a reform to the Anti-Discrimination Law. We have been waiting a long time for an institutional framework that promotes equality and inclusion in our country because today lives continue to be lost due to discrimination and we cannot continue to tolerate that.” 

“Unfortunately, today the Chamber of Deputies is once again turning its back on the citizenry,” added Schneider.    

Rolando Jiménez, director of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, the country’s main queer organization known by the acronym Movilh, in a statement said “today we went back to the past, to the 90s, to the darkest moments for LGBTIQ+ people and discriminated sectors.” 

“Far-right congressmen went to the extreme of describing LGBTIQ+ people as deviants during the debate in the Chamber,” he said. “We are in the presence of the worst legislative scenario for nondiscrimination of which we have ever had record. It is, by all accounts, a civilizational setback.”

María José Cumplido, the executive director of Fundación Iguales, another Chilean advocacy group, told the Washington Blade that “lies were installed” during the debate.

“This is not a bad law,” she said. “It is a law that follows international standards that prevent discrimination and that improves people’s quality of life.”

“We have been talking about security and discrimination for years, it is a security problem that hundreds and thousands of people live with,” added Cumplido. “We want this project to continue advancing so that the State can prevent discrimination and that people can choose their life projects in freedom.” 

‘We will continue the fight’

The proposed reform’s rejection represents a significant setback in the fight for nondiscrimination and equal rights in Chile. 

The proposal sought to establish an anti-discrimination institutional framework, as well as to broaden the possibilities of compensation for victims of discrimination. It also sought to raise the maximum fines for discriminatory acts and to strengthen the State’s anti-discrimination policies.

“We will not lower our flags,” said Jiménez. “We will continue the fight in the Joint Commission.” 

Movilh has urged LGBTQ Chileans and families to protest against the vote during the annual Santiago Pride march that will take place on June 29.

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