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Indigenous transgender woman in Chile champions her communities

Claudia Ancapán Quilape fought six years for legal recognition

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Claudia Ancapán Quilape (Photo courtesy of AJ+ en Español)

Being a transgender woman in South America is not easy when her average life expectancy in the continent is 35 years. It is even more difficult for those who are of indigenous descent.

Claudia Ancapán Quilape, an indigenous trans woman with a Huilliche father and a Mapuche mother, has turned her fate around.

Ancapán is 46-years-old and lives in Recoleta in the Chilean capital of Santiago. She is a midwife who works in a private clinic and recently earned a master’s degree in health. Ancapán is working on another master’s degree in gender and will soon begin a doctorate in public policy. 

She is also a spokesperson for Salud Trans para Chile, a trans rights group, and participates in Santiago’s “LGBTQA+ Roundtable.” 

Ancapán for six years fought to have her identity legally recognized, long before Chile passed its Gender Identity Law. She won that battle on May 20, 2014, and Ancapán later lobbied lawmakers to approve the statute.

Claudia Ancapán Quilape in 2014 won her 6-year legal fight for Chile to legally recognize her gender identity. (Photo courtesy of Claudia Ancapán Quilape)

The road on which Ancapán traveled in order to become a woman has been difficult.

“I am a person who has had to struggle with being a woman, trans and indigenous,” she told the Washington Blade. 

In addition to the discrimination she suffered, a group of neo-Nazis in 2005 attacked her in Valdivia, a city in southern Chile where she was studying. The attack, which could have cost her her life, motivated her to become a queer rights activist.

Ancapán told the Blade her family’s indigenous culture allowed her to be herself in private since she was a child. Outside of her home, however, she had to pretend to be a man.

“My family allowed me to develop myself and that changed my life,” she told the Blade. “I was always a woman to my father, mother and siblings because my parents were not prejudiced against it. However, they protected me from society and I acted like a man once I walked out the door of my house because people outside our culture would not understand.”

Most indigenous groups in South America did not view LGBTQ people negatively before European colonization. They included them in their respective communities and respected them.

European colonizers exterminated many of them and buried their culture.

“Christopher Columbus arrived on his ship with religious cultural impositions that were imposed and everything was turned into sin,” Ancapán told the Blade. “If you review the history of our native peoples in Chile, they stand out because they had no conflict with homosexuality or gender identity.”

Since ancestral times there were “machis” called “weyes,” who had an important social and spiritual role within a Mapuche community. They were known for their ambiguous gender roles that could vary from feminine to masculine. “Weyes” could also incorporate feminine elements that had a sacred connotation and were allowed to have same-sex relations with younger men.

The “machi weyes” until the 18th century had a lot of authority and influence because they were recognized as a person with “two souls.”

“Pre-Columbian cultures saw the integrality of the human being linked to nature, so sexuality was an integral part of a whole (person),” explained Ancapán. “So it was not so sinful to fall in love or love a person of the same sex or for a person to present themselves with an identity different from the one they should have biologically.”

“That makes me respect my indigenous background,” she emphasized. “That’s why I am so proud of who I am and of my native belonging.”

According to Elisa Loncón, the former president of Chile’s Constitutional Constitution and a leading expert in Mapudungun, the Mapuche people’s native language, the Mapuche always recognized LGBTQ and intersex people through their language. Gay men were categorized as “weyes” and lesbian women were known as “alka zomos.” “Zomo wenxu” meant “woman man,” while “wenxu zomo” translated to “man woman.”

There is currently no indigenous LGBTQ or intersex organization in Chile, but Ancapán noted there are queer people who are indigenous.

“I know Diaguita people. I am also aware that there are trans Easter Islanders. I have Mapuche friends who are trans. And lately I made a friendship with an indigenous person who lives with two spirits,” she said. 

Claudia Ancapán Quilape participates in a protest for the rights of queer indigenous people. (Photo courtesy of Claudia Ancapán Quilape)

Ancapán said two-spirit is “a category of gender identity that is not well known in Chile, but it is linked to native people.” 

“In fact, they have always been there, but very little is known about it. This is related to the native peoples of pre-Columbian America, where they saw identity and gender as a way of life where they saw identity and the expression of sexuality as distinct,” she explained to the Blade.

Many people who claim to be two-spirit say they feel neither male nor female, escaping from the traditional gender binary.  

“These manifestations are also in the indigenous peoples of Canada and Mexico,” said Ancapán. “They are known more in the north of North America. Two-spirit is basically spiritually associated, where two identities, two spirits, coexist in you. And that speaks of breaking down the binary system.”

“So these manifestations come from the integral vision of different sexuality and from the acceptance that existed in some cultures about sexual and gender dissidence,” she further stressed. 

“I believe in nature and the power of the elements,” added Ancapán. “I am very close to my culture that talks about the connection with the spiritual of nature and the respect for nature. And from that point of view it linked me to my original people, to my native peoples.”

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South America

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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South America

Lesbian couple dies after man sets Buenos Aires boarding house room on fire

Suspect has been charged with homicide

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Buenos Aires, Argentina (Photo by JOETEX1/Bigstock)

Editor’s note: Andrea Amarante on Sunday died from injuries she sustained in the fire. 

Two people died and at least five others were injured on Monday when a man threw a Molotov cocktail into the room of a Buenos Aires boarding house in which two lesbian couples lived.

The fire took place at around 1 a.m. in a house at 1600 Olavarría St., between Isabel la Católica and Montes de Ocoa in Buenos Aires’s Barracas neighborhood. The blaze forced roughly 30 people to evacuate, and the injured were taken to local hospitals.

Police say Justo Fernando Barrientos, 68, sprayed fuel and set fire to the room where Mercedes Figueroa, 52, lived together with Pamela Fabiana Cobas, 52, and Sofía Castro Riglos, 49, and Andrea Amarante, 42.

Figueroa and Cobas both died. Castro and Amarante are hospitalized at Penna Hospital in Buenos Aires.

Witnesses say the fire started on the second floor when Barrientos threw a Molotov cocktail inside the women’s room, and it soon spread throughout the property. LGBTQ organizations in Argentina have described the blaze as a hate crime because Barrientos had already threatened to kill the women because they are lesbians.

“We are in a rather complex context, where from the apex of power, the president himself and his advisors and downwards permanently instill a hate speech, instilling it when they close the (National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism or INADI), stigmatizing the population that is there and the vulnerable groups,” Congressman Esteban Paulón, a well-known LGBTQ activist, told the Washington Blade.

“All this is generating a climate of violence,” he said. “The fact that it happened in the city of Buenos Aires, which is terrible … has to be investigated.”

Paulón said President Javier Milei’s government has installed in the public discourse speeches and actions against the LGBTQ community that have provoked more violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

“All that is installed … and then there are people who fail to make a mediation of that, that fail to make a critical analysis of that and can end up generating an act of hatred like this, which is tragic and that already took the lives of two people,” he said.

The Argentine LGBT+ Federation on social media said it was looking for the victims’ families and friends, but has yet to be able to connect with them.

“We are going to stand by them, making ourselves available for whatever they and their families need, and we will closely follow the court case so that there is justice,” said the organization. “But we cannot fail to point out that hate crimes are the result of a culture of violence and discrimination that is sustained on hate speeches that today are endorsed by several officials and referents of the national government.”

100% Diversidad y Derechos, another advocacy group, demanded the investigation address the attack “with a gender perspective and as motivated by hatred towards lesbian identity.”

Barrientos has been arrested, and will be charged with murder. Activists have requested authorities add discrimination and hate provisions to the charges.

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South America

Argentina government dismisses transgender public sector employees

Country’s Trans Labor Quota Law enacted in 2021

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Sofia Diaz protests her dismissal from her job at Argentina's National Social Security Administration. (Photo courtesy of Sofia Diaz)

Protests have broken out across Argentina in recent weeks after the dismissal of transgender people from their government jobs.

President Javier Milei’s action is in stark contract with the progress seen in 2023, where the government’s hiring of trans people increased by 900 percent within the framework of the Trans Labor Quota Law that had been in place since 2021. 

Among those affected is Sofia Diaz, a “survivor” who shared her testimony with the Washington Blade hours after she traveled from Chaco Province to Buenos Aires to protest her dismissal.

Presentes, an LGBTQ news agency, reported the government dismissed more than 85 trans employees in less than two weeks.

Diaz, 49, holds a degree in combined arts. She joined the National Social Security Administration (ANSES) in 2022 under the Trans Labor Inclusion Law. The layoffs began in January and left many people feeling uncertain and anguished. It was her turn a few days ago.

Diaz in an interview recounted how the situation became progressively more complicated, with difficulties in accessing information about her employment status and the eventual confirmation of dismissals through WhatsApp messages. This government action, according to Diaz, violates the law.

“We were on a Friday, I think on March 24, in the office and we have a WhatsApp group of other colleagues from all over Argentina who entered through the trans labor quota and they tell us if we can get our pay stubs on the intranet,” Diaz recalled. “So, I tried to enter, I could not, I talked to two other colleagues and they told me no, they could not, and so we went to another person. He couldn’t either.”

“Some people told us that it could be a system error. Well, we were never calm, let’s say not how this issue of installing fear and the perversion with which they do it ends,” she added. “This sadism of … inflicting pain and speculating with your misfortune and so on … is something that characterizes Javier Milei’s government.”

Diaz recalled a list of those dismissed from the agency began to circulate from the union in the afternoon. A colleague passed it on to her, “and well, unfortunately I was also on that list.” 

“At that moment the whole weekend went by with anguish, crying, and talking with other colleagues from other places, not only trans, but everyone, everyone and everyone,” she said. “On Monday when we went to try to enter, we could not enter with the biometric, which is the thumb we had to use every morning to enter.”

Despite the difficult moment through which she is going, the trans activist stressed to the Blade that she will continue protesting and will even sue the government because her dismissal is illegal and “violates the constitution itself.”

The LGBTQ community and its allies have mobilized and organized demonstrations, highlighting the importance of defending the rights won and fighting against discrimination and exclusion. Diaz emphasized the fight is not only for the people affected today, but also for future generations, saying the historical memory of the struggles for inclusion and social justice must be kept alive.

“The Argentine government thus faces a key challenge in human and labor rights, where public pressure and social mobilization can play a determining role in protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ people,” Diaz said. 

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