Gay rights uniting old enemies in Latin America
We speak to campaigners in Chile and Peru, two countries with historical cultural tensions fighting for the same equal rights
When I stayed in Chile for four weeks in 2005, I experienced funny looks and taunting.
Discrimination there didn’t come to me because I was gay, but because I was half-Peruvian.
The two countries have a strained diplomatic relationship over national borders that dates back to the late 1800s, and is still evident in some Peru-Chile relations.
Despite a historical animosity, civil society organizations from both countries are now joined in the same fight for marriage equality and protection against discrimination.
Last month Gay Star News generated a timeline of gay rights in Latin America for a look into each country’s evolution toward equal rights.
This month GSN speaks to gay organizations from Chile and Peru, to show how each country is pushing their unique agendas for a common purpose.
Gay rights groups in the region are intensifying their community outreach campaigns, legislative action and progress reports, to work as both enforcers and protectors of the law.
Even with the ever-growing number of LGBT movements and demonstrations, numerous political and ideological obstacles stand in the way of achieving true equality in Latin America.
According to Jaime Parada, politics always moves slower than culture.
Parada is spokesperson for Movilh, Chile’s leading sexual minority organization. He told GSN that the poll results of a January 2012 poll found that 48% of Chileans were in favor of gay marriage.
‘Unfortunately, these views are not represented in parliament because they are much more conservative than the population,’ Parada told GSN.
‘We have to tread slowly. Our reality as a culture is that we are conservative.’
Movilh, whose recent campaigns include a video of family members defending their gay relative, will celebrate its 21st anniversary this June of advocating for sexual minorities in Chile.
Parada told GSN: ‘As an organization, our responsibility is to design projects because the political world in Chile doesn’t care about these things.
‘They matter to us, and we’ll have to fight for the institutions that require this to become reality.’
And fought Movilh has. For 10 years Movilh pushed for an anti-discrimination law, which passed May of this year.
‘We see it as a good law with certain imperfections,’ said Parada. ‘The law accomplishes punishing those who discriminate and, most importantly, ensures the state will incorporate policies that will protect victims.
‘The state has to become responsible through its work with the community’.
For its part, Movilh is mobilizing with the community and other organizations throughout the region to develop its agenda.
The next steps for Movilh include legislation for a civil union bill, a marriage equality bill with rights for same-sex parents and a gender identity law like Argentina’s that allows adults to legally change their gender without a court order.
Movilh’s 21st anniversary coincides with World Pride on 23 June. As for the festivities, Parada told GSN: ‘We want to combine pride and equality. In Chile, we have to ensure that everyone, including heterosexuals, joins our cause.’
According to Parada last year’s pride parade in his country drew crowds of up to 80,000 because they made it a family event, a cultural event that highlighted civil rights and addressed stigmas head-on.
In Peru, sexual-rights group Promsex is fighting a similar battle in countering sexual stigmas.
Promsex director George Liendo told GSN: ‘The first thing we have to combat is stigma. People can say they don’t discriminate, but they might not share what they really feel, and it’s that stigma we have to face.’
Promsex was created as a response to President Bush’s 2001 ‘gag rule’ that limited the work of foreign organizations receiving US monetary aid in regards to abortion and sex work legislation. Since 2007, the feminist non-governmental organization has liaised between the government and the public to ensure education and access to healthcare for women, gays and trans individuals.
‘In Peru, if you’re gay and go to the doctor for a migraine or something, you’ll first be sent to a clinic to get tested for HIV,’ said Liendo, who is also secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean division of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans And Intersex Association (ILGA).
‘Gays need equal treatment, not separate hospitals. This type of thing goes on and it’s what’s been brought to light in the investigations we’ve conducted.’
This year’s annual report by Promsex revealed that 14 gay-related murders occurred in Peru in 2011. Because of discrimination even from police enforcement, the report wasn’t compiled from police files but from news stories.
Relationships with local communities and organizations are a pillar for Promsex and one of the reasons the organization has been successful in its advocacy work.
‘At Promsex, we go to hospitals to empower doctors and nurses so that they can adequately treat LGBT people. We’re currently working with the Ministry of Health to create a guide for how to properly address sensitive gay-related issues, to ensure that gays aren’t treated differently.’
Promsex is also involved in pro-gay education, addressing homophobic bullying by educating educators and developing guides so parents and teachers can identify and prevent homophobic bullying.
‘We work in promoting security and justice in the sense that people can have civil rights and walk in the streets like everyone else, without harassment from the police or the public,’ Liendo told GSN.
‘After a presentation, we’ll often have one or two people approach us saying they’re gay but they don’t tell anyone, or that their daughter’s lesbian and they want to know what to do.’
If you or someone you know needs help in Latin America, GSN has listed some LGBT organizations below. To add your organization to the list, email [email protected] or reach out to him on Twitter @jeanpaulzapata.
Colectivo Ovejas Negras