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USAID seeks to bolster LGBTQ rights efforts in Colombia

LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement took effect in 2016

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U.S. Agency for International Development Colombia Mission Director Larry Sacks. (Photo courtesy of USAID)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Colombia mission says he and his colleagues remain committed to the implementation of the country’s LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement.

“The entire portfolio that we have and all of our work here in Colombia is really to support a durable and an inclusive piece,” Larry Sacks told the Los Angeles Blade on Sept. 21 during an interview in Bogotá, the Colombian capital. “The core principles of what we do are based on equality, inclusion, rights and justice.”

The agreement then-President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Commander Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño signed in Cartagena on Sept. 26, 2016, specifically acknowledged LGBTQ Colombians as victims of the decades-long conflict that killed more than 200,000 people. The accord also called for their participation in the country’s political process.

Wilson Castañeda, director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ group in northern Colombia with which USAID works, is one of three activists who participated in the peace talks that took place in Havana.

Caribe Afirmativo Director Wilson Castañeda speaks to a group of Venezuelan LGBTQ migrants in Barranquilla, Colombia, on Sept. 14, 2021. Caribe Afirmativo is one of the Colombian LGBTQ groups that receives support from the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Colombian voters on Oct. 2, 2016, narrowly rejected the agreement in a referendum that took place against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from religious and conservative groups. Santos and Londoño less than two months later signed a second peace agreement — which also contains LGBTQ-specific references — in Bogotá.

“That was a very progressive move,” said Sacks in describing the inclusion of LGBTQ Colombians in the agreement.

President Iván Duque, who campaigned against the agreement ahead of his 2018 election, spoke to the U.N. General Assembly hours before the Blade interviewed Sacks. Duque described it as “fragile.”

“Peace accords worldwide tend to be made or broken within the first five years of implementation, and Colombia is right at that point,” Sacks told the Blade when asked about Duque’s comments. “There are certain people deep in the territories and others and high governments who are really helping and making sure that it’s successful, and that there’s continuity, and that the gains that have been made are irreversible. And there’s others who may question, but at the end of the day, I think that from our analysis, it’s on pace with what we’ve seen of the implementation of other peace accords worldwide.”

“At least from USAID’s perspective, we’re doing everything that we can to help support the implementation on multiple chapters of the peace accord,” he added.

USAID specifically supports the implementation of rural development programs through the agreement, efforts to reintegrate former child soldiers into Colombian society and expand the government’s presence into “violence-affected areas.” USAID also works with the Truth Commission, the Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the government’s Victims’ Unit and NGOs that support the conflict’s victims.

USAID’s fiscal year 2021 budget for Colombia is $212.9 million. Upwards of $50 million of this money is earmarked for human rights work that specifically focuses on indigenous Colombians and Colombians of African descent, security, access to the country’s justice system and victims of the conflict.

More than 200 LGBTQ Colombians reported murdered in 2020

Sacks said USAID’s LGBTQ-specific work in Colombia focuses on four specific areas.

“The first is really to kind of shine a light on, raise the visibility, raise the profile on issues of discrimination and violence and stigma and all the issues that this population is facing,” he said.

Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBTQ rights group, on Sept. 15 issued a report that notes 226 LGBTQ people were reported murdered in the country in 2020. This figure is more than twice the number of LGBTQ Colombians — 107 — who Colombia Diversa said were known to have been killed in 2019.

Sacks acknowledged anti-LGBTQ violence is increasing in Colombia.

He said the mission works with Ombudsman’s Office of Colombia, an independent agency within the Colombian government that oversees human rights protections in the country, to provide additional support to LGBTQ rights groups. Sacks noted USAID also works with the Interior Ministry to “support the development of their LGBTQI-plus policies” and the country’s attorney general “to hold those accountable.”

Sacks told the Blade that USAID also works to provide “technical and legal support to help” LGBTQ Colombians and other vulnerable groups “access public goods, services and justice.”

USAID-supported groups assist Venezuelan migrants

The Colombian government earlier this year said there were more than 1.7 million Venezuelan migrants in the country, although activists and HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade has spoken say this figure is likely much higher. Duque in February announced it would legally recognize Venezuelan migrants who are registered with the country’s government. 

The Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela notes upwards of 5.4 million Venezuelans have left the country as of November 2020 as its economic and political crisis grows worse. The majority of them have sought refuge in Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

Venezuelan migrants are among the upwards of 570,000 people who have benefitted from a USAID program that provides direct cash assistance — between $49-$95 per family — for six months in order to purchase food and other basic needs. USAID also supports Americares, a Connecticut-based NGO that operates several clinics along the Colombia-Venezuelan border and in northern Colombia that specifically serve Venezuelan migrants with the support of the Colombian Health Ministry.

The U.S. Agency for International Development and other groups support a hand washing campaign on the Simón Bolívar International Airport that spans the Táchira River, which marks the Colombia-Venezuela border. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The U.S. Agency for International Development and other groups have placed hand washing stations on the Simón Bolívar International Airport that spans the Táchira River, which marks the Colombia-Venezuela border. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Sacks noted USAID has an “agreement with” Aid for AIDS International, a New York-based group that serves Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS. Aid for AIDS International has used this support to conduct a survey of 300 sex workers in Maicao, Medellín and Cali.

USAID is also working with the Health Ministry to provide health care to Venezuelan migrants with HIV/AIDS, among others, who are now legally recognized in Colombia.

Caribe Afirmativo has opened three “Casas Afirmativos” in Maicao, Barranquilla and Medellín that provide access to health care and other services to Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV/AIDS. Medellín officials have also invited Caribe Afirmativo staffers to speak with LGBTQ migrants in the city’s public schools.

“Colombia has shown a generosity that you don’t see in many other countries with regard to migrant populations,” Sacks told the Blade. “They really open their borders, their homes, their hearts, to migrants, including the LGBTI community.”

Biden global LGBTQ rights memo is ‘tremendous benefit’

The White House earlier this year released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. State Department spokesperson Ned Price in May told the Blade the protection of LGBTQ migrants and asylum seekers is one of the Biden administration’s priorities on this front.

Sacks said the memo “gives us the political framework with which to operate and obviously sends a message from the highest levels of the U.S. government about LGBTQI-plus rights and equality and inclusion.”

“So for us, it’s a tremendous benefit,” he told the Blade.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power — a vocal champion of LGBTQ rights — has yet to visit Colombia, but Sacks said she has spoken with Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez.

“We hope to get her down,” said Sacks.

Editor’s note: Michael K. Lavers was on assignment in Colombia from Sept. 11-22.

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Brazil LGBTQ+ activists, HIV/AIDS service providers fear Bolsonaro reelection

Presidential election to take place in October

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Anti-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro flyers on Paulista Avenue in São Paulo, on March 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

(Editor’s note: Two sources quoted in this story — Fernanda Fonseca and Beto de Jesus — shared their personal views on the subject. Their remarks do not represent the views of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.)

SALVADOR, Brazil — Fernanda Fonseca was the coordinator of the Brazilian Health Ministry’s program to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, syphilis and viral hepatitis B in 2019 when she attended the International AIDS Society’s Conference on HIV Science in Mexico City.

Fonseca, who attended the conference in her personal capacity, made a presentation that focused on the issue. Her husband, who at the time coordinated the Brazilian Health Ministry’s viral hepatitis program, also traveled to Mexico City.

One of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s sons soon posted to Twitter a picture of a doctored presentation “about trans community rights, and LGBT community rights” that an unnamed “couple” had made at the conference. The “couple” who Bolsonaro’s son targeted was Fonseca and her husband.

“He was like, this is what the government is standing for,” Fonseca told the Washington Blade on March 16 during an interview at a coffee shop in Salvador, a city in northeastern Brazil that is the capital of Bahia state.

Bolsonaro took office as Brazil’s president on Jan. 1, 2019, after he defeated then-São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad in the second round of the country’s presidential election that took place the previous October.

Fonseca noted one of the first things Bolsonaro did as president was to remove HIV from the name of the Health Ministry department that specifically fights HIV/AIDS in Brazil.

It was previously the Department of Vigilance, Prevention and Control of Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV/AIDS and Viral Hepatitis. It is now called the Department of Chronic Conditions and Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Bolsonaro fired the department’s director, Adele Benzaken, after he took office. Fonseca said her position was also eliminated without her knowledge while she was on maternity leave.

Fonseca eventually resigned. She now works for AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil as its country medical program director.

“They destroyed my department,” she said. “When I came back (from maternity leave), no one was answering my calls.”

Fonseca is one of the many HIV/AIDS service providers and LGBTQ+ activists with whom the Blade spoke in Brazil — Salvador, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro — from March 12-21. They all sharply criticized Bolsonaro and expressed concern over what may happen in Brazil if he wins re-election later this year.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil Medical Program Director Fernanda Fonseca. (Photo courtesy of Fernanda Fonseca)

Bolsonaro is a former Brazilian Army captain who represented Rio de Janeiro in the country’s Congress from 1991-2018.

Fonseca told the Blade that Bolsonaro has banned the Health Ministry from buying lubricants, while adding he “wanted to shut down everything related to HIV.”

“It’s very specific. It’s very homophobic,” she said. “I don’t know who informs him.”

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil Program Manager Beto de Jesus during a March 14 interview at his office near São Paulo’s Praça da Republica noted Bolsonaro has suggested COVID-19 vaccines can cause AIDS.

“To him, the question of AIDS is connected to faggots,” said De Jesus.

São Paulo’s Municipal Health Secretary distributes free condoms on the city’s subway system. The Brazilian Health Ministry has donated to AIDS Healthcare Foundation antitretroviral drugs that it provides to Venezuelan migrants who receive care at their clinics in Colombia.

Free condoms at a São Paulo subway station on May 13, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)
Antiretroviral drugs at AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s clinic in Bogotá, Colombia, the Brazilian Ministry of Health has donated. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Bolsonaro, among many things, has encouraged fathers to beat their sons if they think they are gay. (His son, Rio Municipal Councilman Carlos Bolsonaro, is reportedly gay.)

Jair Bolsonaro in March 2019 during a press conference with then-President Trump in the White House Rose Garden stressed his “respect of traditional family values” — he’s twice divorced and married his third wife, Michelle Bolsonaro, in 2017 — and opposition to “gender ideology.”

A report that Human Rights Watch released earlier this month notes Bolsonaro “has a long history of mischaracterizing and vocally opposing gender and sexuality education, including on the grounds that it constitutes ‘early sexualization’.” Bolsonaro has supported legislation that would limit LGBTQ+-specific curricula in the country’s schools, even after the Brazilian Supreme Court struck down local and state laws on the issue.

Jair Bolsonaro was not president when Rio Municipal Councilwoman Marielle Franco, a bisexual woman of African descent, and her driver, Anderson Gomes, were murdered in Rio’s Lapa neighborhood on March 14, 2018.

Ronnie Lessa, one of the two former police officers who has been arrested in connection with the murders, lived in the same large condominium in Rio’s exclusive Barra da Tijuca neighborhood in which Jair Bolsonaro lives. Franco’s widow, Rio Municipal Councilwoman Mônica Benício, on March 19 said this fact is “just a coincidence.”

Benício during the interview that took place at a coffee shop in downtown Rio stressed Jair Bolsonaro’s rhetoric against LGBTQ+ Brazilians, women and other groups was “known” before he became president. Benício also acknowledged it resonates with a segment of Brazilian society.

“It is an absolutely despicable posture and incompatible with a posture of the president of the republic,” said Benício.

A Brazilian television station on March 14, 2022, reports on the fourth anniversary of Rio Municipal Councilwoman Marielle Franco‘s murder. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Two Brazilian LGBTQ+ rights groups — Aliança Nacional LGBTI and Grupo Gay da Bahia — in a report they released on May 10 notes 300 LGBTQ+ Brazilians “suffered violent deaths” because they were murdered or died by suicide. The organizations specifically note Salvador is the most dangerous state capital for LGBTQ+ people.

The report notes 28 percent of the murder victims were killed with knives, machetes, scissors, hoes and other weapons. One of them was stabbed 95 times.

“The cruelty of how many of these executions were committed demonstrates the extreme hatred of the criminals, who are not content with killing, disfigure the victim washing their murderous homophobia in the spilled blood,” said Aliança Nacional LGBTI President Toni Reis in the report’s introduction.

Grupo Gay da Bahia President Marcelo Cerqueira on March 15 told the Blade during an interview in Salvador that race, poverty, class, machismo and family structures all contribute to the area’s high rate of violence against LGBTQ+ people.

“There are many relationships with asymmetrical power dynamics,” he noted.

A samba troupe performs in the Pelourinho neighborhood of Salvador, Brazil, on March 15, 2022. A report that two Brazilian advocacy groups released earlier this month notes Salvador is the most violent Brazilian state capital for LGBTQ+ people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Keila Simpson is the president of Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals), a Brazilian Transgender rights group known by the acronym ANTRA.

She noted to the Blade on March 16 during an interview at her office in Salvador’s Pelourinho neighborhood that the Supreme Court in 2018 ruled Trans Brazilians can legally change their name and gender without medical intervention or a judicial order. Simpson said Trans Brazilians nevertheless continue to suffer from discrimination, a lack of formal employment and educational opportunities and police violence because of their gender identity. She also added efforts to combat violence against LGBTQ+ Brazilians have become even more difficult because Bolsonaro is “propagating violence against LGBTQ people every day.”

“It increases the possibility of people who are already violent by nature to continue committing violence,” said Simpson.

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (ANTRA) President Keila Simpson at her office in Salvador, Brazil, on March 16, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Mariah Rafaela Silva, a Trans woman of indigenous descent who works with the Washington-based International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, agreed when she and her colleague, Isaac Porto, spoke with the Blade at a restaurant in Rio’s Ipanema neighborhood on March 21.

“If I would choose a word to define Bolsonaro it would be danger,” said Silva. “He represents a danger to the environment. He represents a danger to diversity. He represents a danger to Black people. He represents a danger to indigenous people.”

Mariah Rafaela Silva, right, and Isaac Porto in Rio de Janeiro on March 21, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Rio de Janeiro (State) Legislative Assemblywoman Renata Souza is a Black feminist who grew up with Franco in Maré, a favela that is close to Rio’s Galeão International Airport, and worked with her for 12 years.

Souza in March traveled to D.C. and met with Serra Sippel, chief global advocacy officer for Fòs Feminista, a global women’s rights group, White House Gender Policy Council Senior Advisor Rachel Vogelstein and other officials and women’s rights activists. Souza on Tuesday noted to the Blade that she also denounced Franco’s murder, the “escalation of police violence and Black genocide in Brazil’s peripheries and favelas” and called for international observers in the country for the presidential election when she spoke at the Organization of American States and to members of Congress.

“President Bolsonaro is the expression of a capitalist political project that serves private national and international interests related to the military-industrial complex, religious fundamentalism, agribusiness and the predatory exploitation of natural resources,” said Souza. “This project’s social base comes from the formation of an ideal of barbarism through the use of violence as language and hate as a fuel that spreads a misogynist, racist and fundamentalist culture, discriminatory customs and policies that predatory to nature and to being human.”

Rio de Janeiro (State) Legislative Assemblywoman Renata Souza, right, meets with Justin Hansford, the executive director of Howard University’s Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center, in D.C. in March 2021. (Photo courtesy of Serra Sippel)

The first round of Brazil’s presidential election will take place on Oct. 2.

Polls indicate Bolsonaro is trailing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro has already sought to discredit the country’s electoral system, even though a group of more than 20 would-be hackers who gathered in the Brazilian capital of Brasília last week failed to infiltrate it.

Da Silva, who was Brazil’s president from 2003-2010, is a member of the country’s Workers’ Party.

Sergio Moro, a judge who Jair Bolsonaro later tapped as his government’s Justice and Public Security Minister, in 2017 sentenced Da Silva to 9 1/2 years in prison after his conviction on money laundering and corruption charges that stemmed from Operation Car Wash. The Supreme Court in November 2019 ordered Da Silva’s release.

Marina Reidel, a Trans woman who is the director of the country’s Women, Family and Human Rights Department, on Monday told the Blade to email a request for comment on Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-LGBTQ+ record to a spokesperson. The Blade has yet to receive a response.

Julian Rodrigues, who was the coordinator of the Workers’ Party’s National Working Group from 2006-2012, on Tuesday from São Paulo noted Da Silva in 2004 created the Health Ministry’s “Brazil without Homophobia” campaign that he described as a “pioneering program for LGBT rights.” Rodrigues also highlighted Da Silva created the Culture Ministry’s Diversity Secretariat that, among other things, funded community centers and sought to make police officers and other law enforcement officials more LGBTQ+-friendly.

Simpson noted the Health Ministry when Da Silva and President Dilma Rousseff were in office funded projects that specifically helped sex workers and other vulnerable groups.

Rousseff was in office in 2013 when the Supreme Court extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country. Michel Temer was Brazil’s president in 2018 when the Supreme Court issued its Trans rights decision.

The Supreme Court on May 24, 2019, issued a ruling that criminalized homophobia and transphobia. Bolsonaro, who took office less than five months earlier, condemned the decision.

The Supreme Court in May 2020 struck down the country’s ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood. Brazil in 1999 became the first country in the world to ban so-called conversion therapy.

Pride flags fly over Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro on March 20, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Rodrigues described Bolsonaro and his administration as “an extreme right-wing, authoritarian and fascist government that uses racial prejudice, gender prejudice and prejudice against LGBTs as engines to mobilize its conservative and reactionary social base.”

“It is a very dangerous government for Brazil’s democratic freedoms,” Rodrigues told the Blade. “The entire Brazilian LGBT movement is fighting ardently to defeat the Bolsonaro government and elect Lula, a progressive president who is committed to the rights of LGBTQ people and all Brazilian people.”

A gay man who was on Rio’s Ipanema Beach with his husband on March 20 told the Blade they support Jair Bolsonaro because they feel he has fought corruption in Brazil. They did, however, add that Jair Bolsonaro “should keep his mouth shut.”

Fonseca said her father voted for Bolsonaro in 2018 because he “hated” Da Silva.

“We don’t live in a democratic state anymore,” said Fonseca, who noted the Supreme Court eventually absolved Da Silva. “We can’t trust the police force. We can’t trust the legal system.”

“People who think like him now they believe they can say that, they have the right to say homophobic things, racist things. They can because our president says them, so it’s ok,” added Fonseca. “We need to remember that it’s not ok. I don’t think they are the majority, So I think when we have a leader again that is strong, we are going back on track.”

Cerqueira echoed Fonseca.

“(Bolsonaro) managed to energize prejudiced people who were not vocal before,” Cerqueira told the Blade on March 15 during an interview in Salvador. “People were afraid to say that I was racist, that I was homophobic, that I was prejudiced. Nowadays everybody wants to be homophobic.”

An anti-Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro t-shirt for sale in a market in Rio de Janeiro, on March 19, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Porto noted conservatives continue to dominate the country’s Congress and Brazilians who are Black and/or LGBTQ+ lack political power. He told the Blade the situation in a post-Bolsonaro Brazil is “going to be complicated”

“Brazilian society has not changed,” said Porto. “There is a movement of people who are organized and recognize themselves as equal.”

“There’s a lot of damage that we have to repair,” added Silva.

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Gay man plays leading role in drafting new Chile constitution

Gaspar Domínguez is vice president of Constitutional Convention

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Chilean Constitutional Convention Vice President Gaspar Domínguez (Photo courtesy of Gaspar Domínguez)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Gaspar Domínguez, the vice president of Chile’s Constitutional Convention that will rewrite the country’s constitution, is a 33-year-old openly gay man. Domínguez last week spoke with the Washington Blade about the historic process through which Chile is going and what it will mean for LGBTQ+ rights in the country and around the world.

Chileans last May elected 155 people to the Constitutional Convention. Domínguez was one of eight openly LGBTQ+ people chosen, and he became the constituent body’s vice president in January.

“In this process of deep political transformation that Chile is going through, I think that many doors that were there, that we knew existed, were opened and one of those was to recognize that people of sexual diversity are citizens, that we need to participate and represent ourselves in politics and that was how in the convention we came to at least eight people openly belonging to sexual diversity,” Domínguez told the Blade from his office in the former National Congress building in Santiago, the Chilean capital. “I have had to lead this process, give it an administrative management in terms of deadlines, to organize the processes and also political management because the things we say, the way we say things also help to build certain realities and certain opinion in terms of the consequences that will have for Chile.”

Dominguez noted “Chile is one of the most conservative countries in Latin America.” He acknowledged, however, the country over the last decade has seen many LGBTQ+ rights advances.

A law that allows same-sex couples to marry and adopt took effect in March.

Domínguez said a draft of the new constitution on which Chileans will vote on Sept. 4 has four “fundamental aspects for the LGBTQ+ population.”

“The most relevant one is that it establishes non-discrimination,” he said. “The constitution will prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“Second, it establishes the State’s recognition of the existence of diverse types of families in plural, and that, by the way, will have a consequence in terms of public policies in the future,” added Domínguez.

He pointed out to Blade the State would have to guarantee the LGBTQ+ community is politically represented. The fourth provision would ensure each person has the right to decide their gender identity.

Domínguez highlighted the work of LGBTQ+ organizations that have been fighting for years for their rights.

“There are organizations and movements of the LGBTQ+ community that think one way and others that think another way and that I think is very good,” he said. “(The first goal was) to make visible that the LGBTQ+ community is not a homogeneous community. That is good, especially today that we are in this constituent process, opening the possibility that these differences have agreements.”

Finally, Domínguez said that “it is a tremendous opportunity for the LGBTQ+ community in Chile and certainly in the world, because today, when we talk about a constitutional reform of political representation in other laws of other countries, they will be able to put that the example of Chile constitutionally ensures the political representation of women in parity terms and the political representation of the different sexual and gender dissidences. So I think there is a tremendous opportunity.”

“I believe that the right to identity, the recognition of equal marriage, the recognition of the different types of families puts us at the forefront in this matter and, by the way, it should become an example for the discussions that other countries will have on similar issues,” he said.

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First Trans congresswoman in Chile details legislative agenda

Emilia Schneider was student protest leader before election

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Chilean Congresswoman Emilia Schneider. (Photo courtesy of Emilia Schneider)

VALPARAÍSO, Chile — Emilia Schneider, a well-known activist and student leader, on March 11 became Chile’s first Transgender congresswoman. Her path to politics, however, began years earlier.

Schneider gained public notoriety in 2018 through her role as spokesperson for the Chilean 8M Feminist Coordinating Committee during the feminist demonstrations that took place in the country that year. She became the first trans president of the University of Chile Student Federation in 2019.

Schneider’s great-grandfather was Gen. René Schneider, who commanded the Chilean Army from 1969 until his assassination the following year.

Before her election, Schneider was a candidate for the Constitutional Convention, the body in charge of drafting Chile’s new constitution. She lost that election, but she won a seat in Congress a few months later.

For her, being the first Trans woman in the Chamber of Deputies is “a great joy.”

“It gives a sense and a projection to the social struggles in which I have had to participate: The student struggle, the feminist struggle, the struggle of sexual dissidence,” Schneider told the Washington Blade. “So, I think for me it was like feeling a recognition for the work I have done and also in collective terms the responsibility of representing a community that had never had representation in a space like this.”

“It is an honor for me, it is a pleasure to represent our community, but a great challenge,” added Schneider. “I know that there are many demands, many issues, because there are many years, decades, centuries of exclusion, discrimination and violence through which the Trans community has lived. It’s a very structural issue, so it is a challenge, but I am also very grateful because the (LGBTQ+) organizations that worked before me made it possible and paved the way for (me.) It’s a very, very big joy in personal and collective terms.”

Schneider is a member of Comunes, a leftist political party that is part of the Frente Amplio coalition whose candidate, Gabriel Boric, won the presidential election.

She told the Blade she has “felt comfortable because we have been able to put our stamp on the deputy’s office.”

“I am also very grateful for the team we have formed, which has worked very well with the Congress’ workers and also with the trust we have developed with our Frente Amplio and Apruebo Dignidad (a political party aligned with Boric) benches and some of the pro-government benches and well,” said Schneider. “The biggest challenge has been to learn to be part of a Congress that is part of a government, that is pro-government.”

When asked if she had experienced transphobia inside the Congress, the congresswoman said “not on the part of the officials of the Congress, to the contrary.”

“They have received my team very well; which is a team composed mainly of women, people of sexual diversity,” said Schneider. “But undoubtedly there is a far-right bench in Congress that constantly tries to provoke fictitious discussions that question the rights of trans people.”

“We have had to listen to several hate speeches coming from the ultra-right wing bench, but it is also very interesting to see how the struggle of (people of) diverse sexualities has also advanced in Congress,” she added. “Before they were small groups of deputies fighting for our rights and today I think it is something much more transversal. In fact, we recently presented a bill to improve the Gender Identity Law, to include Trans children and non-binary identities, among other issues, to improve it and it has the signature of different benches, something very transversal and also of Erika Olivera, who is a right-wing congresswoman.”

Schneider added she believes “this also shows that if there is a will, it is possible to build these dialogues despite the differences.”

A law that recognized the right to identity and allows Trans people to amend their birth certificates administratively took effect in 2018. Some of the LGBTQ+ organizations that celebrated the advance, however, have said it is insufficient and must be reformed. They have called for public policies that will benefit Trans people who have been historically discriminated against by the State and society.

“I would say that there is a radical absence of public policies, and therefore a tremendous abandonment that is evident not only in those who have not managed to access education and do not find a job, but also to the large population of Trans women who are engaged in sex work,” said Schneider. “The economic precariousness, the mental health problems, the lack of access to education and continuity of studies, the lack of access to health care, the number of trans people living on the streets.”

“I would speak of a tremendous lack of public policies and a very radical abandonment of the trans population in Chile, in spite of the fact that in the last time we have obtained symbolic advances and in very big cultural terms,” lamented the congresswoman. “I believe that today there is a common sense of the majority citizenship that it is important to recognize the rights and equality of Trans people and to make a reparation also for the bad things that have happened to our community.”

Schneider said Boric’s presidency could mean an improvement in Trans people’s life.

La Moneda, the Chilean presidential palace, on March 31 hosted an event that commemorated the International Transgender Day of Visibility. Schneider participated in the ceremony during which the Trans Pride flag was raised.

“We are on the right track because the government has already announced a working group that has begun to operate in various ministries and also with the sexual diversity bench in Congress,” she said. “I believe that this situation of neglect and lack of public policies will change. This government has had a very clear commitment with the community and sexual diversities in general.”

Schneider is one of four out LGBTQ+ women in Congress.

She told the Blade they will work to reform Chile’s anti-discrimination law and include non-binary and intersex people and children in the Gender Identity Law. Schneider also said they support a Trans labor quota in the public and private sector.

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