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Chilean government seeks to implement LGBTQ, intersex rights agenda

Conservative newspaper incorrectly reported ministry plans legislation

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The' LGBTIQA+ Roundtable'’s first year of work ended on Jan. 6, 2023. Forty-two organizations from across Chile participated. (Photo courtesy of the Women and Gender Equity Ministry)

A conversative Chilean newspaper’s article on Sunday that said the Women and Gender Equity Ministry was preparing to introduce a bill that would create an LGBTQ and intersex rights undersecretariat prompted mixed reactions across the country. 

The ministry in 2022 launched its first “LGBTIQA+ Roundtable” that includes representatives of different public institutions, organizations and Chilean LGBTQ and intersex activists who are working to improve the quality of life for the country’s queer community that over the last year has seen an increase in attacks and hate crimes.

LGBTQ and intersex rights in Chile have gained ground over the last decade.

Civil unions, marriage equality, transgender rights and an anti-discrimination law are some of the successes that took time to take effect. There is, however, no state institution or public policy that works to ensure historically discriminated LGBTQ and intersex Chileans are included. This is why activists feel the “LGBTIQA+ Roundtable” that President Gabriel Boric’s government is promoting is an unprecedented opportunity. 

Jaime Nazar, left, Javier Silva with their two children shortly after they married in Santiago, Chile, on March 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Forty-two organizations from across Chile participated in the roundtable during its first year, which culminated on Jan. 6 with the signing of an agreement between the Women and Gender Equity Ministry’s Women and Gender Equality Undersecretariat and the Interior and Public Safety Ministry’s Crime Prevention Undersecretariat to assist people across the country who are victims of anti-LGBTQ attacks. The roundtable at the same time also announced it will send a bill to Congress later in 2023 that would expand the ministry’s mandate to ensure “the LGBTIQA+ community is included.”

There has yet to be an announcement on the creation of an LGBTQ and intersex undersecretariat.

Most Chilean media outlets covered this report after El Mercurio published it on Sunday. José Antonio Kast, an extreme right-wing politician who is a former presidential candidate, on his Twitter account criticized what turned out to be inaccurate.

“Chile is poorer, more violent and insecure than a year ago and the inept government is dedicated to enlarge the State to deepen its ideological agenda, instead of solving social urgencies,” wrote the Republican Party leader. 

The ministry told the Washington Blade that “the roundtable with organizations from the LGBTIQA+ community has just been finalized.”

“One of the demands is to have an institutionality,” said the ministry. “During 2023 it will be defined which is the progressive path, while the anti-discrimination law is improved at the same time.”

Women and Gender Equity Undersecretary Luz Vidal Huiriqueo on her social media networks said “we met with LGBTQ+ organizations for seven months” and the ministry made “security, employment and health priorities.” 

“On the 1st we advanced in an agreement with (the Crime Prevention Undersecretariat) to properly address and for the long challenges we committed to propose an institutional mechanism,” said Vidal. 

Vidal said in an exclusive interview with the Blade before El Mercurio published its inaccurate report that “finding and giving answers to the demands of the LGBTIQA+ population in Chile is a commitment for President Gabriel Boric’s government that will not be put aside for anything.”

“We at the (Women and Gender Equality Ministry) have embraced the day-to-day needs that this community, in many cases, has to survive,” said Vidal from her office. “That is why, from our ministry, we have created this intergovernmental roundtable to have a fluid and permanent communication with LGBTIQA+ organizations.

Vidal added Boric “instructed us to move from discourse to action.” 

“We have to get to work. We have to implement the agreements,” said Vidal. “We can’t just make pretty announcements and that is our commitment. The commitment we have today is to work for women, for gender equity, for and with the entire population, in favor of all citizens and of those who lack the presence of the State.”

Chilean authorities after signing an agreement to provide additional government assistance to hate crimes victims. (Photo courtesy of the Women and Gender Equity Ministry)

The undersecretary told the Blade the need to incorporate the queer community into the ministry’s work is important because “the State, as of today, has no powers to specifically address the LGBTQ+ population.”

“We need to create a progressive path that, whether an institutional or other figure, allows us to implement public policies,” she said.

That supposed institutionality was the one that sparked controversy last Sunday and it will not be an easy path, regardless of the mechanism that Boric’s government ultimately chooses to implement.

“I think it is not going to be an easy process,” said Vidal. “It is not going to be a project that we can say, we are going to take them out at the end of the year, that is clear to us. Even today it is difficult to move forward with projects or the work that the ministry is doing because we currently have a Congress with political forces that are against inclusion and respect for diversity. This is present in our Congress, and it is also present in several Latin American countries.” 

Emilia Schneider, Chile’s first trans congresswoman, on the other hand told the Blade that “it seems to me that the announcement of an institutional framework for the LGBTI community within the Women’s Ministry, and also in what has been working with the Justice Ministry to advance in an institutional framework against discrimination, regarding the reform of the Anti-Discrimination Law are two fundamental steps to advance in dignity and rights for sexual diversities and dissidences.” 

Schneider said it is important “to make a permanent change in the State, which recognizes the importance of having a space that responds to the needs of the queer population and takes charge of combating inequality, discrimination and violence to which our community is exposed.” 

“It seems to me that this is one of the most important commitments, which if realized would be a fundamental legacy of this government in matters of sexual diversity and dissidence,” she said.

Ignacia Oyarzun, coordinator of public policies for Asociación OTD Chile, the country’s most important trans rights organization, said the implementation of an institutional framework to advance LGBTQ and intersex rights “is an advance that goes in the direction of establishing what will be a trans labor quota to achieve a greater integration of the community in society.”

Oyarzun noted employers do not hire people who are trans, or fire them without reason. This lack of employment opportunities, according to Asociación OTD Chile, makes trans people more vulnerable to violence.

Jorge Muñoz of Movimiento Organizado de Gays, Lesbianas, Trans y Heterosexuales (MOGALETH) in Puerto Montt, a city that is roughly 640 miles south of the capital of Santiago, also participated in the roundtable. Muñoz told the Blade that “any approach from the central power to civil society, and especially to the regions, is positive.” 

“In this context, we consider it an advance in terms of the demands of the collective in the struggle for the recognition of the historical violation of our rights,” said Muñoz. “The State’s recognition of mistreatment and hate speech towards dissidents has historically been centralized. The regions where we also suffer harassment, mistreatment, difficulties in access to health, education and work have been relegated throughout history. In this sense, what we value most is the recognition of our demands in the territorial context.”

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South America

La Pesada Subversiva battles anti-LGBTQ digital violence in Bolivia

Santa Cruz-based collective is trans, feminist, and sexually diverse

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Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

In Bolivia, the collective La Pesada Subversiva faced an onslaught of digital violence they could have never imagined after showcasing their LGBTQ artwork. Thanks to Hivos’ Digital Defenders Partnership, they received critical support and training to protect themselves, and now have tools to fight against online aggression.

La Pesada Subversiva (The Subversive Troublemakers), a trans, feminist, and sexually diverse collective in Bolivia, has emerged as a form of resistance to patriarchy and gender-based violence. Founded in 2018 in Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s most conservative regions, the collective uses various art forms — audiovisual, writing, street happenings, and social media content — to express their views in demonstrations, protests, and the virtual realm.

Cristian Egüez (he/him), one of the founders, explains, “In this region, far-right and ultra-religious narratives are prevalent, pushed by very conservative authorities. In such a tough context, collectives are needed with the courage to confront them and maintain a critical approach to the violence that occurs.” 

Pride Month and ensuing violence

The Altillo Benni Museum, the largest in the city, commemorated Pride Month for the first time on June 1, 2022. They opened an LGBTQ art exhibition called “Revolución Orgullo” or “Pride Revolution” led by La Pesada Subversiva. The collective’s groundbreaking LGBTQ art exhibition faced vehement opposition.

“We adorned the museum facade with trans and LGBTIQ+ flags,” Egüez recounts, “but it lasted less than a day because a group of neighbors came to protest violently and aggressively.” 

Despite this, the exhibition attracted over 400 visitors, demonstrating growing public support for their cause. 

Confronting online harassment

To the collective’s surprise, the museum’s director defended the exhibition, stating that no artwork would be removed, and the exhibition would remain until the end of the month. But then an unimaginable wave of digital violence hit them. Egüez recalls the aftermath: “The event left us emotionally devastated. Throughout that year, every day, we had to endure threats and harassment online.” 

Alejandra Menacho (she/her), another founder of La Pesada Subversiva, shares her experience, saying, “They threatened to rape me, to teach me how to be a woman. It overwhelmed us; it started to really hurt because we felt … everything we said or did was being surveilled.” The collective faced constant harassment on social media, with anti-rights groups monitoring their activities and scaring them with false threats.

Seeking protection from the Digital Defenders Partnership

As the onslaught escalated, the collective sought refuge and support. They applied for a grant from the DDP to get digital protection and security. With DDP’s assistance, they underwent comprehensive training in digital security measures, enabling them to protect their online presence effectively. The members learned to protect themselves and their accounts, not to publish certain things, and to be cautious about disclosing their whereabouts. DDP’s training gave them a comprehensive understanding of digital security tools and provided clear guidelines for dealing with future incidents and how to report them. 

In addition to these digital security skills, they learned physical self-defense techniques, blending martial arts with a feminist approach. 

“This has strengthened us immensely. Now we understand digital security holistically and are always safeguarding our networks,” Menacho emphasizes. 

Members of La Pesada Subversiva in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. (Photo courtesy of La Pesada Subversiva)

The ongoing struggle of online resilience

Despite the challenges, La Pesada Subversiva remains steadfast in their mission. 

“Digital security must be integrated across the board; it’s not something you attend a workshop for and forget. It must be practiced continually,” Egüez asserts. 

For Menacho, even though she has experienced a lot of frustration and anger, learning to combine these digital tools with psychology and art has helped her express themselves and achieve emotional balance. 

“Because we are rebellious, we want to do these things. Also, because we don’t want these injustices to continue in Santa Cruz. That’s why we keep coming back and reinventing ourselves,” Menacho said. 

La Pesada Subversiva’s journey exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalized communities in the face of adversity. Through collective empowerment and solidarity, they navigate the complexities of digital violence, emerging stronger and more united in their pursuit of equality and justice. 

The Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP), managed by Hivos, is an emergency grant mechanism for digital activists under threat launched by the Freedom Online Coalition in 2012. It provides a holistic response to digital threats and creates resilient and sustainable networks of support to human rights defenders.

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South America

Argentine authorities charge 10 police officers with murdering transgender woman

Sofia Fernández brutally killed on April 11, 2023

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Mabel Valdez demands justice for her sister, Sofia Fernández (Courtesy photo)

Argentine authorities have arrested 10 police officers and charged them with murdering a transgender woman in 2023.

In the historic development in the fight for LGBTQ justice in the country, the officers who were arrested on May 1 face murder and hate crime charges in connection with Sofia Fernández’s brutal death on April 11, 2023. The case has uncovered not only entrenched institutional violence, but also the ongoing struggle against impunity for hate crimes.

The initial investigation, which began last September, faced numerous obstacles, with only three points of expertise completed out of the 16 required for a formal indictment. Ignacio Fernandez, a lawyer who represents Sofia Fernández’s family, told the Washington Blade “the family’s lack of confidence in the initial prosecutor led to his departure, which coincided with my arrival to the investigation in September of last year, collaborating in an arduous but vital investigation.”

Ignacio Fernández described the long process to unravel the truth behind the brutal murder.

The legal and forensic teams faced numerous challenges that included coordination with gender-specialized prosecutors to the meticulous analysis of thousands of pieces of data on seized cell phones.

“The forensic report revealed the gruesome nature of the crime; Sofia was killed by asphyxiation with a piece of mattress and her own underwear, in addition to suffering beatings and physical torture,” Ignacio Fernández told the Blade. “Sofía was kept alone in a cell of the 5th Police Station of Pilar, under the custody of the police of the province of Buenos Aires, which triggered an intense scrutiny of the conduct of the police forces.”

The indictment, according to Ignacio Fernández, charges the three policemen with “triple homicide qualified by hatred of their sexual orientation, by the premeditated participation of three or more persons and by the abuse of their position as policemen; while the remaining seven policemen are implicated for the double qualified cover-up for being a very serious crime and for the abuse of their position as policemen in competition with the falsification of public documents.”

“The application of a gender perspective in the judicial process has been crucial, underlining the importance of recognizing and addressing violence directed towards transgender people,” he added.

Ignacio Fernández represents Sofia Fernández’s family (Photo courtesy of Ignacio Fernández)

The road to justice, however, has been far from smooth. 

Despite the arrests, defense lawyers have requested the dismissal of certain charges, arguing the lack of hearings with the victim and rulings that could be questionable in their gender-specific perspective.

Sofia Fernández’s family, fearful for her safety, hopes the defendants will remain in pre-trial detention during the judicial process. They also yearn for a speedy and fair trial, aware that prolonged time may undermine the search for truth and justice.

Ignacio Fernández indicated “the inaction of the Ministry of Women of the province of Buenos Aires” is serious because “on the other hand, the defense lawyers of all the police officers charged are from the Police Legal Department of the Ministry of Security of the province of Buenos Aires and have proposed as expert witnesses experts belonging to the same ministry, with the conflicts of interest that all this entails.”

Although the judicial investigation could take between two and four months, with possible delays due to legal appeals, it is estimated the trial could be delayed at least another year. The fight for justice, in the meantime, continues with the hope that Sofia Fernández’s case will set a precedent in the fight against transphobic violence and impunity in Argentina.

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Peruvian government classifies transgender people as mentally ill

President Dina Boluarte signed decree on May 10

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Government Palace in Lima, Peru (Photo courtesy of the Peruvian government)

The Peruvian government on May 10 published a decree that classifies transgender people as mentally ill.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday noted the country’s Essential Health Insurance Plan that President Dina Boluarte, Health Minister César Vásquez and Economic and Finance Minister José Arista signed references “ego-dystonic sexual orientation.” The decree also notes, among other things, “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorder in childhood.

Human Rights Watch in its press release notes the Health Ministry subsequently said it does not view LGBTQ identities as “illnesses.” Peruvian LGBTQ advocacy groups, however, have sharply criticized the decree.

“This decision is an alarming setback in our fight for the human rights of trans people in Peru, and it represents a serious danger to our health and well-being,” said Miluska Luzquiños, a trans activist who works with the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People, which is known by the Spanish acronym REDLACTRANS, on her Facebook page.

A lack of legal recognition and protections has left trans Peruvians vulnerable to discrimination and violence.

Luisa Revilla in 2014 became the first trans person elected in Peru when she won a seat on the local council in La Esperanza, a city in the northwestern part of the country. 

She left office in 2019. Revilla died from COVID-19 in 2021.

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