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Gay man’s murder in Argentina underscores growing concerns over hate crimes

Alejo Portillo stabbed 42 times last month in Misiones province

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Alejo Portillo (Photo courtesy of Alejo Portillo's Facebook page)

Authorities in Argentina’s Misiones province on Dec. 30 found a 20-year-old gay man dead with 42 stab wounds to his body.

Alejo Portillo was found in the town of Colonia Azara. His murder underscores an increase in hate crimes in Argentina over the last year, even though queer people have more rights than almost any other country in Latin America.        

Data from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Federation of Argentina indicates hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity increased in Argentina in 2022. The group recorded 129 deaths last year, compared to 120 the previous year. 

Portillo’s mother, Alejandra Benítez, found his body after she tirelessly searched for him when the Argentine police refused to help her. She said she sensed that something “horrible had happened to him” from the moment her son disappeared.

The main suspect is a 20-year-old man with whom Portillo was in love and with whom he had a hidden relationship. Argentine media reports indicate Portillo’s body was found naked and showed signs that he had been raped.

Benítez spoke with Misiones Cuatro TV, a local television station.

She said she saw her son for the last time on Dec. 28 when she said goodbye to him after he borrowed his sister’s bicycle. 

“He was invited by someone he knew to the place where my son went,” said Benítez. “He wasn’t going to go to that place for nothing. He knew who he was going to meet.”

She said on Dec. 29 she was already worried because her son did not return to the house where he lived, and he was not answering her WhatsApp messages. Benítez began to search for him herself, even though she did not have access to a vehicle. 

“I don’t know what happened, I can’t understand,” Benítez told Misiones Cuatro TV. “My son was not hurting anyone.” 

A march took place in Colonia Azara a few weeks ago. Participants demanded justice for Portillo’s death and urged authorities to classify it as a hate crime.

Trans Travestis No Binarie Maricas Gay y Lesbianas de Oberá Misiones, a local queer rights group known by the acronym TTNBMGLOM, condemned Portillo’s murder and pointed out “we want to publicly pronounce our voices and feelings in relation to the murder of Ema Portillo (self-perceived as Alejo,) that occurred in the town of Azara-Misiones.”

“In view of the facts, we believe it is important to highlight and underline that the homicide of Alejo Portillo is a case of hate crime,” said TTNBMGLOM on Instagram. “Alejo was stabbed because he was homosexual, because of his orientation and gender identity. For being a person of non-heterosexual identity.”

“Alejo Portillo’s hate crime is clearly a symptom of the reality that LGTB existences and identities live in the province of Misiones, especially removed from the large urban epicenters,” María Alejandro, a nonbinary activist from Misiones, told the Washington Blade, referring to Buenos Aires, the country’s capital.

María Alejandro added “(people with) LGBT identities live in a situation of extreme discrimination, marginalization and violence. And this was what was happening to Alejo in his community. He was one of the few people who publicly expressed his identity and sexual orientation, therefore, he was clearly pushed towards exclusion and discrimination.”

María Alejandro said “the particularity of the crime, the excessive and symbolic violence that provokes Alejo’s death and the deep context of discrimination, stigmatization and marginalization that he lived in his community allow us to sustain that it is a hate crime. Alejo’s body shows clear signs of an act committed with a high degree of violence. There are 42 stab wounds.”

María Alejandro mentioned to Blade that they demand an investigation similar to the case of Evelyn Rojas, a transgender woman who was murdered by her partner in Misiones. 

Authorities determined Rojas’ murder was a hate crime, and her partner last year received a life sentence.

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South America

Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera dies in helicopter crash

Previous head of state signed marriage equality, gender identity laws

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Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera (Public domain photo)

Former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera died on Tuesday when the helicopter he was piloting crashed near Lake Ranco during heavy rains.

Initial reports indicate Piñera, 74, was piloting his private helicopter when it plunged into the lake, which is located in the Los Ríos Region of southern Chile. One of his sisters was among the three other people who was on board.

The former president owned a summer house on Lake Ranco. Family members and people close to him say he was in the area to have lunch at the home of businessman José Cox, a close friend and associate. Piñera boarded his helicopter after 3 p.m. local time (1 p.m. ET) and the accident occurred a few minutes later.

Reports indicate his relatives managed to survive after they jumped into the water, but Piñera was not able to escape. The helicopter sank in more than 130 feet of water.

Piñera, who was Chile’s president between 2010-2014 and 2018-2022, was the country’s first right-wing president since democracy returned to the country in 1990. Piñera’s government enacted most of Chile’s LGBTQ rights laws: The Anti-Discrimination Law in 2012, the Gender Identity Law in 2018 and the Equal Marriage Law in 2021.

Then-Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, right, greets Javier Silva and Jaime Nazar, the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Chile, on March 10, 2022, at the Presidential Palace in Santiago, Chile. (Photo courtesy of Hunter T. Carter/Instagram)

His first administration sent a civil unions bill to Congress, and it became law in 2015. Piñera also implemented public policies that sought to improve queer Chileans’ quality of life. 

Javiera Zuñiga, spokesperson for the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, the main Chilean LGBTQ organization known by the acronym Movilh, told the Washington Blade that “our organization is deeply saddened by the death of the former president, who played a crucial, leading and pioneering role for a president in the promotion and defense of the human rights of LGBTIQ+ people, same-sex couples and same-parent families.”

María José Cumplido, executive director of Fundación Iguales, another advocacy group, said “our condolences to the family of former President Sebastián Piñera for his passing.”

“We remember his commitment to the enactment of the Anti-Discrimination Law, the Gender Identity Law and the Consolidation of Equal Marriage, historic achievements for the LGBT+ community in Chile,” said Cumplido.

“I am very sorry for the death of President Piñera,” said Pablo Simonetti, an activist and writer, on his X account. “From the right he opened paths towards the integration of LGBT people and led the great milestone of equal marriage. My condolences to his family and friends, especially to (his wife) Cecilia Morel.”

President Gabriel Boric’s government also mourned Piñera’s death and announced a period of national mourning. A state funeral for Piñera will also take place.

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South America

Removal of sexual orientation question from Chilean Census criticized

Advocacy group on Jan. 4 wrote letter to President Gabriel Boric

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La Moneda, the Chilean Presidential Palace, in Santiago, Chile (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Chile’s National Institute of Statistics (INE) in an unexpected move has decided to remove the question regarding sexual orientation from the questionnaire of this year’s Census that will take place between March and June. 

The questionnaire, which consists of 50 questions, seeks to collect essential information to update demographic data that is fundamental for the formulation and continuation of public policies. Nationality, disability, native language, Afro-descendance and gender identity are among the new topics to be included in the Census, but activists have criticized the INE’s decision to omit the question about sexual orientation.

“We met with both the deputy technical director and the national director of INE to demand that this question be included,” Maria José Cumplido, executive director of Fundación Iguales, told the Washington Blade. “Unfortunately, the answer they gave us was that due to methodology and privacy protocol, this question could not be included in the Census because, according to their protocols, the question must be asked in a one-on-one interview and the head of household is interviewed for the Census and he or she answers for the family group.” 

The activist added “it is also very striking because there are questions about gender identity, for example, if you are trans or nonbinary.” 

“In the end, this protocol would not apply, which is very strange because both questions are sensitive,” said Cumplido. 

Cumplido said it will not be possible to have useful statistics to help create public policies without the question on sexual orientation.

Congresswoman Emilia Schneider, who is transgender, on social media also expressed her opposition to the INE’s decision. 

She said the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the Census is crucial to combat discrimination through effective public policies. Schneider added the INE — and not the government — is responsible for the decision because it is an autonomous body.

Lawmakers from various political parties have also urged the INE to reconsider its decision. El Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Movilh), another advocacy group, expressed their concern in a letter it sent to President Gabriel Boric on Jan. 4.

The Blade on Thursday obtained a copy of it.

“These exclusions are undoubtedly a civilizational setback for LGBTIQ+ rights,” reads the letter that Movilh President Gonzalo Velásquez signed.

The letter notes 18 laws “that protect sexual orientations, gender identities and expression that especially justify protecting and improving the previous Census’ questions about diversities” have been approved since 2012. One of these laws, which extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in Chile, took effect on March 10, 2022, the day before Boric’s inauguration.

Movilh in its letter notes an agreement it signed with former President Michelle Bachelet’s government and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2016. Bachelet’s government, as part of the agreement, agreed to introduce bills to extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. (Movilh in 2020 withdrew from the agreement after it accused then-President Sebastián Piñera of not doing enough to advance marriage equality in Chile. Piñera later announced his support for marriage equality, and the law that allowed same-sex couples to tie the knot took effect the day before he left office.) 

“We have been working together with the INE and the Census over the last few years and the official version was going to include questions about sexual and gender diversity,” reads the letter. “Today, however, we learned that this promise will not be fulfilled.”

Movilh spokesperson Javiera Zúñiga told the Blade a government minister has expressed a “willingness” to “meet with us,” but added he “told us that he cannot intervene in technical decisions of INE.”

“Therefore, it does not change the decision, nor the determination to exclude sexual orientation and data on LGBT people in the Census,” said Zúñiga. “What seems to us quite bad and quite unrealistic — since it is necessary for policies to publish (the statistics) — but it is also the State of Chile’s commitment to generate statistics regarding the LGBTQ+ population.”

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Rejection of proposed Chilean constitution seen as a victory for LGBTQ rights

55.8 percent of voters opposed second draft

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Fundación Iguales Executive Director María José Cumplido (Photo courtesy of Fundación Iguales)

Chile has experienced a crucial turn in its political landscape with the results of Sunday’s referendum in which voters rejected a proposed constitution that generated concern among LGBTQ activists.

Chileans rejected the draft constitution with 55.8 percent of voters supporting the “against” option. Turnout was 84.5 percent.

The Republican Party, founded by the far right-wing former presidential candidate José Antonio Kast, led the effort behind the proposed constitution. Sunday marked the second time that Chileans went to the polls to decide on a new constitution — the process began after social protests rocked the country in October 2019.

A year after the unrest, more than 80 percent of voters were in favor of replacing the constitution, but the first attempt that independents and left wing sectors led, failed in September 2022, when 62 percent of Chileans voted “rejection.”

With the second rejection on Sunday, voters punished the right wing after opposing independents and the left wing. This result ended a cycle of euphoria after the social unrest with a high initial percentage for change. The current constitution, which took effect in 1980 during Augusto Pinochet’s regime and has undergone several changes, remains in force.

María José Cumplido, executive director of Fundación Iguales, expressed relief, noting the proposed constitution posed a significant risk to the rights of women and sexual diversities. 

“We are very relieved,” Cumplido told the Washington Blade.

As to how she perceives these results will affect the LGBTQ community in terms of rights and protections, Cumplido noted more voters consciously objected to the proposed constitution that could have resulted in constitutionalized discrimination. Cumplido, however, pointed out the 1980 constitution does not ensure real protections against discrimination, which means Fundación Iguales will continue to work in this area.

Cumplido highlighted the broad conscientious objection could allow discrimination on religious grounds. She further noted the lack of a sufficiently robust non-discrimination principle and expressed concerns about the weakness of the rights of children and adolescents.

“Conscientious objection has been used to reopen debates that had already been democratically resolved, usually in relation to specific groups, such as LGBTIQ+ (people), whose rights were only recently recognized and whose implementation is sought to be avoided, even if this significantly affects the holders of those rights,” said Cumplido.

Ignacia Oyarzun, president and coordinator of legislation and public policy of Organizando Trans Diversidades, expressed relief over the referendum’s results. Oyarzun emphasized the proposed constitution would have limited the possibility of advancing transgender rights.

“It basically boils down to a sense of tranquility,” Oyarzun pointed out to the Blade. “Understanding that for particularly communities like ours, who are socially vulnerable, who have historically been excluded from political, social spaces, it implied the possibility of being able to suffer, let’s say, even more social and political vexations in relation to a constitution guaranteeing certain possibilities of discrimination directly towards our communities.”

Organizando Trans Diversidades President Ignacia Oyarzun (Photo courtesy of Ignacia Oyarzun)

Oyarzun affirmed the results guarantee the continuity of the advances in trans rights and for the broader LGBTQ community. Oyarzun also pointed out the proposed constitution threatened rights that the trans community has won, such as the recognition of gender identity. 

“It gave the possibility of going backwards in rights that we have already currently managed to achieve, such as for example identity recognition or for example circulars, in this case of Infancia Circular de Educación 0812, which enables the respect of the gender identity of girls and boys (and their ability to) use (their) social name, (their) use of (a) bathroom, (a) uniform,” Oyarzun emphasized. “All this would have been under the possibility of being eventually repealed or even not respected without any type of sanction for the educational establishments.”

Oyarzun added that “then, particularly these results, what guarantees us in a certain way is not to see a backward step basically in the rights we have acquired and to the continuity, let us say, of the advances we have achieved and the possibility of being able to continue advancing in terms of human and protection rights for our communities.”

In relation to the risk posed by conscientious objection and the lack of protection against discrimination for trans people, Oyarzun highlighted the concern about overt discrimination in educational establishments and stressed it could have led to a worse quality of life and an increase in violence that would directly affecting the life expectancy of trans people.

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