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Chile’s LGBT movement marches united

The March (Agencia Uno)

The March for the Respect of Sexual Diversity in Chile on October 18. (Agencia Uno)

Yesterday, Chile celebrated a historical moment: for the first time, the LGBT movement marched united to demand equal rights. Historically, there has been much reluctance to work together, but in 2013 seven organizations within the movement came together and yesterday’s march was a result of their collaboration. This signals a shift in the movement in Chile as it strives for ever greater steps toward equality.

The LGBT movement in Chile has often been criticized for being so divided. In response to this critique, seven organizations — Acciongay, Daniel Zamudio Foundation, Equals Foundation, Mums, Transexual Organization for the Dignity of Diversity, Breaking the Silence, and It Gets Better Chile — came together on May 17, 2013, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, to form the Front for Sexual Diversity. On that day, the movement issued its first public statement, presenting its “proposals for the development of a fair, equal, plural and democratic society.”

The first proposal focused on demanding equal legal rights by strengthening existing laws or approving a new set of laws that grant equal marriage and adoption rights to all. The second proposal articulated the commitment of the front to respect all ideologies and opinions that each organization would bring into the collaboration. The third proposal expressed a mutual understanding that this collaboration of the front would not be used for political goals or allowed to be coopted by political parties or state institutions.

“Collaborating has been challenging because we never worked so close before,” said Felipe Villarreal, executive director of It Gets Better Chile, “but now as a movement we are striving together for common goals.” One of these goals has been to organize a march as a united front. “Previously, each organization would coordinate their own marches separately,” said Luis Larrain, president of Equals Foundation, “but we wanted to show that we are united and strong. This time, we march all together.” Yesterday, thousands of people joined the March for the Respect of Sexual Diversity, marking a seminal moment in the progress toward a more powerful united LGBT movement with a more significant national voice.

In recent years, the LGBT movement in Chile has made great leaps forward. After the country was shaken by the murder of Daniel Zamudio, a young homosexual man who was attacked in a hate crime and died a few weeks later on March 2, 2012 as a result of the injuries, the movement gathered popular support. Following four months of demands by Chilean civil society, an anti-discrimination law, known as the “Zamudio Law,” was passed in July 2012. In May of this year, that law was used for the first time in a case against a couple who had attacked and injured a lesbian couple. Currently, the Organization for the Dignity of Diversity and other trans organizations are also pushing forth a gender identity law, which is already being debated in Congress. In addition, in spite of strong opposition by the church and conservatives, the Senate voted in favor of an equal civil union law on October 7, which now awaits debate and voting by the lower chamber of Congress this year.

The Front for Sexual Diversity has stepped into this context. Together, these organizations are continuing to push forward the gender identity and civil union law, with plans to ensure that Congress approves an equal marriage law. During her presidential campaign in 2013, President Michelle Bachelet assured that the government would coordinate an open national debate on equal marriage, and the front has already met with Government representatives to begin this process. “We are looking into a long-term effort,” said Michel Riquelme, president of the Organization for the Dignity of Diversity, “but we are certain that if we continue on this path we will definitely see important results, which not only Chile but the international movement as a whole will celebrate.”

Although collaborating will always be difficult, the success of this march has added new momentum into the LGBT movement in Chile and stands for a powerful collaborative force. Just days ago, the front was awarded a grant by UNESCO and the Chilean National Institute for Human Rights, which aims at strengthening collaboration between NGOs. This grant will push the front to the center stage of the LGBT movement in Chile. In the meantime, activists will be keeping their flags, hats and horns at hand, to celebrate the good news that is sure to come.