Tag Archives: Chile

State of Queer: being gay in Latin America

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IGUALES: an organisation promoting a wider inclusion of minorities into the society

Many countries in Latin America have been quick to adopt legislation towards the greater inclusion of LGBT individuals in society, but the struggle is far from over. México, Chile and Guatemala illustrate some of the differences, and the challenges looking forward. For a bigger picture, have a look at this map.

Edgar Sosa Meyemberg was an openly gay man and an active member of Ave de México, an organization that promotes awareness of HIV – a problem that is even greater among the homosexual community in México. He was last seen 24 February 2014, only to be found dead a month later. Ave de México, where Sosa served as director of development, demanded a prompt investigation of the case, but it ran into institutional and societal indifference. Though the authorities are not exclusively negligent in cases that involve members of the LGBT community, impunity being the norm for most Latin American countries, but they are quick to dismiss crimes like these on the grounds that they are usually crimes of passion. Both the attorney of the Texcoco and Nezahualcoyotl municipalities declared the crime to be so, after a photograph of Edgar with a rainbow flag surfaced in the investigation.

This sort of stereotype, says Carlos García de León, a fellow activist and friend of Sosa, is not rare in Mexican society. “Cases like these bring to light the sheer ignorance of the reality and dynamics of homosexual individuals by the authorities, as it is guided by stereotypes and indifference”, he claims. He also cites the death of another Ave de Mexico team member that was never investigated, Francisco Estrada Valle, who died in 1992, and the more recent killing of a 24 year old gay activist, Christian Iván Sánchez, in July 2011. Sánchez was involved with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who is friendlier among Mexican political parties when it comes to LGBT issues. General violence and hate crimes, based on the victims’ sexual orientation, is a grave issue in Latin America. Between 1995 and 2005, around 400 victims lost their lives to violence due to their sexual orientation in México, whereas 312 were killed in Brazil during 2013. There is hope, however, as a wave of legislative changes have mobilised the region towards greater acceptance of LGBT individuals as part of society and will continue to do so in the following years.

A silver lining

A crime, in fact, can be a trigger for change, as the case of Daniel Zamudio in Chile illustrates. Zamudio was a 24 year old man who was attacked and tortured in 2012 when his attackers learned about his homosexuality. He was severely injured and died three weeks later, but the media attention and the prompt response by local activist organisations sped up public discussion and legislation against discrimination. Then President Sebastián Piñera urged the Chilean parliament to speed up the adoption of a law against discrimination, which banned discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, appearance and disability. Also under Piñera, a project to regulate civil unions for non-married couples, heterosexual and same-sex alike, was introduced for discussion partly through the pressure of civil society and activist organizations. It is now known as the AVP, as the Spanish acronym for life partnership accord. Political momentum was not enough, as the discussion of the project has been delayed for about 4 years and is only now in the final stages of approval.

Luis Larraín, knows that the project is only a step in the direction of greater acceptance for the rights of LGBT individuals, which is the long-term goal of the organisation he presides over; Fundación Iguales. In fact, the AVP has been disputed both by hard-line activists, who don’t want civil unions to overcrowd the diversity agenda thereby pushing other topics off the table, as by conservatives, who perceive it as a threat to the institution of family. But Larraín and his co-founder, writer Pablo Simonetti, and the team at Iguales all agree on the necessity for gradual change. Civil unions are just one more milestone in a longer path: “Though the discussion has amplified from the AVP to equal marriage, the legal project has been pending approval for 4 years, and is coming close to finally being sanctioned. Introducing a new project right now would take at least a few months to get approval”, stated Larraín. “The time that passes translates into lives of people whose relationships and rights are not duly recognised”, he clarifies.

In fact, the delay has been put to good use, as public debates have engaged Chilean citizens in an honest discussion about the inclusion of all citizens to democratic processes – a wave that also encompasses changes in education and tax reform, as well as better treatment of women, migrants and indigenous peoples. “Next steps include the gender identity law, which would allow trans individuals to adjust their identity documents, which we hope will be approved next year. We’re also proposing adoption by same-sex couples, though not yet at the legislative level, and are socialising a proposal for equal marriage. Hopefully, it will be granted its proper importance and will be voted as part of [current President Michelle] Bachelet’s term”, Larraín explains.

The main success for the cause of LGBT peoples in Latin America, however, has come from sharing a message that appeals even to non-LGBT peoples. Andrés Zúñiga, programmes manager at Iguales, sums it up: “Besides being gay, you’re also a student, a brother, a son, a poor or rich, right-wing or left-wing person. People are recognising that increasingly”. Both also noticed that the issue is closely related to the prevalence of homosexuality having a more prominent spot on the public agenda, but other gender identities have started to gain track in recent years. “It’s more than just about homosexuality; it’s about diversity”, adds Zúñiga, who is also a psychology student.

 An Unequal Transition

Chile has had a steady, though slow, progress toward greater inclusion. So has Argentina, the first country in the region where gay marriage was legal since 2010, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico. The middle to high-level income in those countries may be a one reason why social movements towards greater inclusion have been successful. In fact, inequality is a problem even domestically, as Zúñiga points out that “Lower-income constituencies are more at risk than their middle and high income counterparts. The underlying reason is their lack of access to education, and the corresponding influence conservative or religious leaders may have with them”.

But as Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst University points out, social movements are also strong in Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru, and their struggle to institutionalise change cannot be explained with recourse to education and income alone. “What seems to make a difference is … whether they forge strong ties with national-level political parties”, he writes  in the New York Times.

Worryingly, there are a few countries where the voices for LGBT activism are not nearly as organised. Such is the case in Guatemala. As the host country for the 43rd General Assembly for the Association of American States (OAS), held in early June 2013, the president Otto Pérez Molina was forced to take a stance on abortion and gay marriage, topics that were intensely discussed as part of the summit’s agenda. He promptly and almost candidly affirmed that “Guatemala is a conservative country, and is therefore against abortion and marriage between homosexuals”. A few dozen people had been protesting outside the meeting, calling for the defense of “life, family and marriage”. They later sent him a letter thanking him for his “resistance to pressures”, signed by 150 people. Jorge Lopez Sologaistoa, president of OASIS Guatemala, presented a public denunciation against the President and other government officials at the Office of the Human Rights Procurator. “That type of comments incite discrimination, and violates the universal human rights. You cannot recognise them in one place and not in other”, López explained , but the demand went mostly under the radar.

Sadly, people in most countries of Latin America still face enormous social pressure to conform to expectations about masculinity and femininity that are based in culture or religion, some of them live in countries without the institutions that might help provide a better council, or support. Then, most gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, queer and bisexual individuals are bound to negotiate their rights at a great disadvantage, even if it doesn’t translate into actual violence. Luckily, a high level of engagement and the work of courageous individuals point to higher grounds.

By Luis Eduardo Barrueto

Picture: Paola Ossandón

Burning flames in the hearts and streets of Santiago

Linn (2)Photo: Linn Helene Løken

 

Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile has left a highly privatised education system. Recently students have taken to protest in the streets to put an end the legacy of the dictator. Pandeia’s Ida Nordland translates a report directly from Santiago.

A blanket of polluted air covers Santiago. On the ground thousands of people have gathered. Drums are pounding the pace of the march they have started. The whistles join in, along with the loud shouts from the protestors: ”La education no se vende, se defende!” Chile’s educations are not for sale, they are to be defended.

“It is only during the last couple of years that people have realised that education is a right, not a privilege for the wealthy,” says Roberto Reveco, a film student at the University of Chile.

Today, most of Chile’s public schools and universities are private. While less and less public funds are spent on the public educational system, many choose to pay for a private education of better quality. The price for a bachelor’s degree in Chile varies, but may cost around 2000 euros. In comparison, the average income in Chile is 4.000 euros a year.

Pinochet’s Legacy

The privatisation process began 40 years ago. In 1973 Augusto Pinochet took the power from socialist president Salvador Allende in a military coup. Pinochet ruled Chile for 17 years and more than 40.000 people were victims of torture, random arrests, killings or abductions.

Pinochet left behind a strong market-oriented policy. Only between 1980 and 1981 were 87% of all schools transferred from public to private control. The current education system is a result of this total privatisation.

Today, there are private institutions everywhere, but lately the students have begun to speak up, especially against the profit-seeking principals. The former Chilean minister of education Harald Beyer was fired in April because of a new scandal: The boards at several universities had created companies that rented out premises to their own universities. In this peculiar way, the rent was sent to the principal’s own bank accounts.

The Penguin Revolution

”We are fighting for our education, our country and against the fraud that is being carried out by the authorities,” explains a teenager at Estacion Mapocho, the end station of the march. He is holding an anarchist flag.

“Last night the police changed the route of the demonstration which made people go to the wrong meeting point. They do this to prevent us from gathering in a peaceful manner. In the morning the police continued to stop traffic and block streets so we couldn’t attend the protest. That is the kind of system we are fighting against,” the teenager expresses.

The first wave of student demonstrations began in 2006 when high school students started the  ”Penguin Revolution”, named after the pupils’ penguin-like uniforms. The penguins protested against fees to enter higher education and for free public transport for pupils and students. The movement began with relatively small demands, but is now fighting for a restructuring of the entire educational system. The message on the banners are clear: ”Educación publica, gratuita y de calidad” – public, free and good education.

Camouflaged Challenges

It’s burning, not just in the hearts of young students. It’s literally burning. A bus stop is in flames. Around it a group of youngsters have gathered, covering their faces in headscarves. They are called ”los encapuhados” – the hooded.

They fight against the system with rocks and homemade molotov cocktails. They represent the Chilean student organisation’s perhaps biggest challenge to be taken seriously, although they represent only a small group. The police respond with tear gas, tanks and arrests. The clashes were expected. They occur after every protest.

The violent game is legacy of the dictatorship, which has left deep traces in Chile. The fight for a public education continues nevertheless, – slowly but surely. As the young teenager with the anarchist flag puts it: ”There is always something to fight for.”

 

Originally by Linn Helene Løken for Momentum