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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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South America

Upwards of 4 million people attend São Paulo Pride

First round of Brazilian presidential election to take place Oct. 2

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Upwards of 4 million people participated in the São Paulo Pride parade in Brazil on June 19, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Renato Viterbo)

SÃO PAULO — Upwards of four million people attended São Paulo’s annual Pride parade on Sunday.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Brazil, Aliança Nacional LGBTI (National LGBTI Alliance) and Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals) are among the myriad groups that participated.

 
 
 
 
 
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Openly gay Brazilian Sen. Fabiano Contarato is among the elected officials who marched.

The theme of this year’s parade was “Vote with Pride.” 

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

Polls indicate President Jair 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 month failed to infiltrate it.

Associaçao Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais President Keila Simpson and other activists with whom the Washington Blade spoke while in Brazil in March sharply criticized Bolsonaro over his rhetoric against LGBTQ+ and intersex Brazilians. 

A São Paulo HIV/AIDS service provider said Bolsonaro feels “AIDS is connected to faggots.” Other sources noted Bolsonaro has also suggested the COVID-19 vaccine causes AIDS.

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South America

Former Bogotá mayor elected first leftist Colombia president

LGBTQ+ and intersex activists welcomed Gustavo Petro’s election

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Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro votes in the second round of Colombia’s presidential election on June 19, 2022. (Screenshot courtesy of YouTube/AFP)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Former Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro on Sunday won the second round of Colombia’s presidential election.

Petro — a member of the Colombian Senate who was once a member of the M-19 guerrilla movement that disbanded in the 1990s — defeated former Bucaramanga Mayor Rodolfo Hernández by a 50.5-47.3 percent margin.

The former Bogotá mayor will be Colombia’s first leftist president when he takes office in August. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, will be Colombia’s first female vice president of African descent.

“This is for our grandmothers and grandfathers, women, young people, LGTBIQ+ people, indigenous people, peasants, workers, victims, my Black community, those who resisted and those who are no longer with us … for all of Colombia,” tweeted Márquez after she and Petro won. “Today we are beginning to write a new history!”

Petro and Hernández faced off after they didn’t win at least 50 percent of the vote in the first round of the Colombian presidential election that took place on May 29.

Petro faced criticism ahead of the election because of his previous M-19 membership and fears his government will seek closer ties to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government, among other things. 

One source in Bogotá on Sunday noted to the Los Angeles Blade that Petro during the campaign pledged to fight violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to implement policies “for the reaffirmation of gender and sexual orientation identities without barriers for all non-binary and Transgender people in Colombia.” Tatiana Piñeros, a Transgender woman who ran Bogotá’s social welfare and tourism office during Petro’s mayoralty that ended in 2015, welcomed the election results.

“I am very excited,” Piñeros told the Blade.

Wilson Castañeda is the director of Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group in northern Colombia.

Castañeda on Sunday said Petro and Márquez showed the “greatest commitment to the agenda of LGBT rights” out of the six campaigns in the election. Castañeda noted the campaign held “various meetings” with LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups and pointed to the policies he implemented when he was Bogotá’s mayor.

“For the LGBT movement in Colombia, the triumph of the ‘Pacto Histórico’ campaign led by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez is very significant,” said Castañeda.

Angélica Lozano, a bisexual woman who became the first openly LGBTQ+ person elected to the Colombian Senate in 2018, and Mauricio Toro, the first out gay man elected to the country’s Congress, both praised Petro and Márquez.

“We will begin to write with all illusion a new page in the history of Colombia,” said Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, who is married to Lozano, in a tweet.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Honduran President Xiomara Castro and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken are among the world leaders who also congratulated Petro and Márquez.

“On behalf of the United States, I congratulate the people of Colombia for making their voices heard in a free and fair presidential election,” said Blinken in a statement. “We commend the many officials, public servants, and volunteers whose dedication made these elections possible.

“The United States and Colombia enjoy deep bonds between our peoples, shared values and shared interests in democracy, security, inclusive economic prosperity and human rights,” added Blinken. “Cooperation between the United States and Colombia has improved public health, livelihoods, rule of law and environmental protections in both our countries and throughout the region. We look forward to working with President-elect Petro to further strengthen the U.S.-Colombia relationship and move our nations toward a better future.”

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Peru continues to lag behind other Latin American countries on LGBTQ+ rights

Attempts to ‘heal homosexuality’ remain legally protected

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LIMA, Peru — Peru is one of the few Latin American countries without pro-LGBTQ+ laws, and this evident backwardness in comparison to neighboring countries translates into a lower quality of life for those who do not identify as heterosexual.

LGBTQ+ Peruvians are highly vulnerable because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and they also lack a regulatory framework that recognizes and protects them. This reality makes it more difficult for them to fight for equal rights in the areas of health, education and work, among others.

So-called conversion therapy is still allowed in Peru, and attempts to “heal homosexuality” remain legally protected.

The Peruvian Ministry of Justice at the end of 2020 requested for the first time a survey that focused on the LGBTQ+ community. It revealed 71 percent of Peruvians considers LGBTQ+ people are the most discriminated group in the country.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2020 held the Peruvian state responsible for the rape and torture of Azul Rojas Marin, a Transgender woman, and ordered it to provide medical, psychological and/or psychiatric treatment and to prosecute the officers who tortured her. The ruling also called on Peru to track anti-LGBTQ+ violence in the country and develop a national strategy to respond to it.

None of this has been complied with so far, demonstrating the state’s indifference to LGBTQ+ rights. 

“LGBTI people are succinctly recognized in some regional or municipal ordinances at the local level, however, they have no recognition in any national legislation explicitly, which addresses their needs,” George Hale, institutional development director of Promsex, a Peruvian LGBTQ+ rights group, told the Washington Blade.

Jorge Apolaya, who has been organizing Pride marches in Peru for years, said that “discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the country is associated with a heterosexist culture that continues to permeate the different spheres of society, not only in public services that should be available to all people regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression or identity, but also in families whose structures continue to violate non-heterosexual people.”

Peruvian lawmakers recently passed a bill that eliminates the possibility of having comprehensive sexual education with a gender focus in schools, handing that power to parents. The country is one of the few in South America that allows it.

Most of the activists in Peru with whom the Blade spoke agree that previous governments have made no progress on LGBTQ+ rights, and that scenario will not improve because President Pedro Castillo, who took office last year, has publicly stated LGBTQ+ rights are not a priority for his administration.

Then-Congressman Carlos Bruce in 2014 came out as gay in an interview with a Peruvian newspaper. Alberto de Belaunde in 2016 became the first openly gay man elected to the Peruvian Congress. 

Former Peruvian Congressman Alberto de Belaunde. (Photo courtesy of Alberto de Belaunde)

De Belaunde tried to pass various bills that his colleagues did not support. He did, however, manage to start a public debate about the lives of LGBTQ+ Peruvians and responded to hate speech.

De Belaunde told the Blade that “Peru is a country with a serious problem of inequality, where not all its citizens have the same rights. The LGBTQ+ community faces a serious problem of exclusion as they do not see basic rights recognized and respected, such as the right to identity or the right to equality, and this impacts their quality of life.”

He also said the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the vulnerability of LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans people after former President Martín Vizcarra at one point implemented a “pico y género” rule that allowed people to leave their homes based on their gender. This regulation generated a wave of violence — mainly against Trans women — in Peru.

De Belaunde did not run for re-election last year, but two LGBTQ+ politicians entered Congress.

​​Susel Paredes from the center-left Purple Party became the first openly lesbian congressman in Peru. She also received the most votes of any woman who ran for Congress.

Peruvian Congresswoman Susel Paredes. (Photo courtesy of Susel Paredes)

Alejando Cavero of the right-wing Avanza País party became the second openly gay man elected to Congress.

Paredes explained to the Blade from her office in Lima, the Peruvian capital, that she is currently working to pass a marriage equality bill and another that would protect people based on their gender identity. Paredes said civil unions are unacceptable “because we are looking for full equality, not special laws for us.”

Cavero, on the other hand, has announced he will soon introduce a civil unions bill.  

He is also considering the elimination of the word marriage, leaving it exclusively for the religious sphere. Paredes and some Peruvian LGBTQ+ activists do not support this strategy.

Paredes, however, acknowledged her expectations regarding the approval of equal marriage in this Congress have no possibilities. She therefore said she will support Cavero’s civil unions bill.

“The possibilities that equal marriage will be approved are very limited and scarce due to the composition of the and scarce due to the composition of the Congress,” emphasized Paredes. “It is a Congress that has some left-wing conservatives and some right-wing conservatives. And the Peruvian right wing is absolutely conservative, there is no modern liberal right wing.”

“I believe that the civil union bill will be approved. But for that, we have to keep pushing for equal marriage. That way, the civil union bill will be approved faster and at last LGBTQ+ families will be able to have an institutionality,” she stressed.

Paredes is currently seeking legal recognition of her 2016 marriage in the U.S.

She said she will bring her case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if Peru’s Constitutional Court rules against her.

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