July 12, 2017 at 1:27 pm PST | by Nicolás Levy
Chilean police arrest 35 during ‘Freedom Bus’ protest

The “Freedom Bus” that is part of an anti-transgender campaign drives through Santiago, Chile, on July 10, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Koji Furukawa/Fundación Iguales)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Police in the Chilean capital on Monday arrested 35 people during clashes that broke out around a bus that is part of an anti-transgender campaign.

Supporters and opponents of the “Freedom Bus,” which is part of a campaign that CitizenGO, a conservative Spanish organization, has launched with the support of evangelical and Catholic organizations, clashed near the presidential palace. Neo-Nazi groups are among those who reportedly took part in the protests.

A number of people were injured during the clashes. Activists also claimed they were attacked by religious groups on the street who accused them of pedophilia and used homophobic slurs against them.

The Chilean LGBTI movement has held public demonstrations for nearly two decades, but Monday’s clashes are the first time the police have made arrests at them. Representatives of sexual diversity groups accused the organizations behind the “Freedom Bus” of wanting to generate chaos, pointing to what they described as an agenda of misinformation and fear.

Campaign opposes transgender student mandate

The “Freedom Bus” campaign has appeared in cities in the U.S., Mexico, Colombia and Spain.

In Chile, the campaign opposes a recent mandate from the Ministry of Education that seeks to guarantee and protect the rights of transgender children and adolescents in schools. The “Freedom Bus” traveled throughout Santiago on Tuesday and is expected to arrive in Valparaíso on Wednesday.

Marcela Aranda, director of the Christian Legislative Observatory who is the spokesperson for the “Freedom Bus” campaign in Chile, has told the press it’s objective is to defend parents’ rights to decide the type of education their children should receive.

“The role of the state is subsidiary, therefore it must guarantee this right,” she said. “But now, will the state take care of our children? By law, it cannot impose an ideology.”  

Aranda makes reference to the gender identity bill that is currently in the Chilean Congress, describing it as a violation of the family. Phrases such as, “Do not mess with my children” and “less state, more family” and “Nicolás has the right to have a dad and a mom” are printed on the side of the bus.

The last slogan is in direct response to a children’s book — supported by the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, an LGBTI advocacy group — that speaks about gay and lesbian families.

Rolando Jiménez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, has claimed the “Freedom Bus” is an “incitement to hatred.” He announced the tour of another bus that defends sexual diversity, with quotations from Chilean writers Pedro Lemebel and Gabriela Mistral.

Fundación Iguales launched a petition on Change.org against the “Freedom Bus” that received more than 38.000 signatures. The group’s president, Juan Enrique Pi, gave them to government spokesperson Paula Narváez.

“We want an inclusive education that respects the identity of all children, without distinction,” said Pi. “We need safe schools and that is why we have come to ask the government to maintain the line and stand firm in respect for all students, reaffirming its commitment to the right of education.”

Nicolás Levy is a Chilean journalist who specializes in LGBT human rights. He is a correspondent for the Washington Blade in Santiago, Chile.

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