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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

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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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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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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