The End of State-Sanctioned Heteronormality in Chile

By Andres Kogan Valderrama

HAVANA TIMES – Only ten days are left until the plebiscite to Approve or Reject Chile’s new proposed Constitution takes place. A vote to Approve can be seen as the beginning of a new way of life for different groups that have historically been excluded from the country, among them people from the LGBTQIA community, who would receive government recognition for the first time.

The text of the new Constitution contains a number of different articles that refer to sexual diversity. These would put an end to the heterosexual government norms that have ruled us since the nineteenth century, and mark the beginning of a new kind of government that assumes responsibility for a history of discrimination, rape, torture, and many deaths, for the mere fact of having a sexual orientation and gender identity that’s different from the official view.

In reviewing briefly the harm that the Chilean State has historically brought on anyone expressing any type of sexual or gender difference, we can see it was the inheritor of the patriarchal vision of the Spanish monarchy and the Catholic Church. All these institutions refused to think beyond a binary gender system (man or woman) and the dominant mandate for masculinity.

Hence, the new Chilean Republic of 1810 never touched the sexual and gender concept of the previous colonial regime, but deepened the crusade against sexual diversity, in time replacing the religious arguments for others of a scientific character, claiming that those who weren’t heterosexual were not sinners, but sick.

Any sexual and gender expression outside the heterosexual norm was considered deviant, twisted and a crime that should even be penalized with death by fire.  The medical community classed “Sodomy” as an aberration, and only recently – in 1999 – did the Chilean Penal Code eliminate it as a crime.

It’s impossible not to mention the enormous harm suffered by thousands of people due to the Law of Antisocial Conditions proclaimed by the dictator Carlos Ibañez del Campo in 1954. That law served to persecute groups considered to be socially dangerous, within which were those who weren’t heterosexuals. 

The same thing occurred under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1973, when the armed forces, guardsmen and intelligence services then in existence (DINA, CNI) exercised particular brutality and violence against the LGBTQIA community, with many of them beaten and killed.

Given this, the different LGBTQIA groups and organizations have played an enormous role, resisting and making visible the institutional homophobia and transphobia that we’ve had in the country for centuries, and promoting important advances.

The gay pride marches that have taken place since Chile’s return to democracy in 1990; the 2012 antidiscrimination law; the 2015 civil union law; the 2018 gender identity law; the 2021 marriage equality law: all these, among many other historic advances, tell us that Chile is moving along a very good road.

However, it’s still very insufficient, if we consider a study realized by the Undersecretary of Crime Prevention, the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, the Rancagua Trans Organization and Fundacion Iguales [the Equals Foundation]. In this study, 89% of those in Chile’s LGBTQIA community report having suffered discrimination; 62% have been victims of crimes related to their identities, and 31.8% report having suicidal thoughts at some time. Those who are transgender emerged as the most affected group.[1]

The new Constitutional proposal assumes this reality through different articles which establish in an explicit way the State’s obligation to promote the participation under equal conditions of those with sexual and gender differences in the country (Art. 6), as well as to further a comprehensive sex education (Art. 40).

Along these same lines, the new proposed Magna Carta establishes the State’s recognition of diverse forms of families (Art.10), which puts an end to the imposition of the traditional heterosexual family that doesn’t represent the plurality of society and discriminates against those that don’t conform to the model, as does our current Constitution.

It’s also noteworthy that the document says the State will prohibit any kind of discrimination, and that the rights of a person to their sexual orientation and gender identity can never be bypassed by any person or any kind of organization (Art. 25).

There’s also the right to identity and the State’s obligation to carry out affirmative actions with respect to this. The latter implies promoting a greater social appreciation of sexual diversity, which should be visible in all spaces and viewed as part of the richness of human experience (Art. 64).

Another area of change is the new justice system proposed in the draft Constitution, which is obligated to adopt protective measures for those with sexual and gender differences, among other groups (Art. 312).

Taking into consideration all of the above, it would be hard to imagine that those who have suffered discrimination for their sexual and gender orientation wouldn’t see this new Constitution as an opportunity to visualize a different country.

On the other hand, for those of us who have known people who’ve been the object of mockery, humiliation and violence due to homophobia and transphobia, this new Constitution – which puts people’s dignity in the center – should also move us to mobilize out of empathy and justice.

At the other extreme, it seems that the most conservative sectors of Chile see no value in all this, and have even preferred to mock the suffering of others, as has been demonstrated in the Reject campaign’s promotion clips during their allotted slot on Chilean TV. One of their short clips is a fictional story of a trans person. who mentions that they didn’t denounce their aggressor out of love, something that – to tell the truth – is pretty grotesque.[2]