The Chilean LGBT+ community is increasingly present in discussion. And yet the trans concerns remain largely invisible and ignored in the spheres of power. Chile Today spoke with Organizing Trans Diversities (OTD) and activists Emilia Schenider and Constanza Valdés to discuss this reality.
It is increasingly common to hear comments in the spirit of a more inclusive society, where everyone feels represented and equal, a conversation in which the participation of LGBT+ people has been crucial. Even so, the “T” is often forgotten: the trans community.
Even basic numbers are hard to confirm, as today it is still very difficult if not impossible to find data referring to the trans population. There appear to be no official records, so to the extent such information exists it is collected by organizations or groups that by their means have decided to take charge of this reality to be able to represent it.
“Abuses, violence, discrimination”
Chile Today spoke with “Organizando Trans Diversidades” (Organizing Trans Diversities aka OTD), founded in 2015 with the objective of giving a voice to and creating spaces for LGBT+ people, especially trans-non-binary people. According to its director of communications, Diosceline Camacaro, major concerns for trans people are the “abuses, violence, and discrimination” they suffer for being trans people.
For example, domestic violence, always a concern for trans people – has become even more worrying during the Covid-19 pandemic, because, as Camacaro explained, Covid-19 restrictions have laid bare the ever-present reality: that the primary discrimination is at home, often causing a life of insecurity from the start, with many trans individuals forced to live on the street.
Lack of access to education, jobs and healthcare are additional concerns.
These problems are exacerbated by their invisibility. As Camacaro notes, they only break the surface to make the news when the details are violent or otherwise gripping such that they might increase ratings or clicks, like a violent death or the Oscar for a Fantastic Woman.
OTD therefore sees representation as crucial: when trans people assume leadership roles, “it helps to break stereotypes, and above all, it breaks with what society has told trans people about what they can be or do.” Leadership roles also give trans people a voice. Activism, therefore, is a fundamental card to play in seeking representation and occupying spaces of power and decision-making.
Emilia Schneider, age 24, is one such activist. She is a trans feminist, former student leader, who studied law at the Universidad de Chile and made history as the first trans woman to preside over the university’s federation of students. She was a constituent candidate for District 10 and today seeks a congressional seat in the same district.
“I have always participated, from a very young age; politics marked me,” Schneider said, due to a family matter, as her grandfather, who was an army commander in 1970, was assassinated by far-right groups in order to prevent Allende from taking over as president.
Schneider also witnessed the student mobilizations of 2006 and 2011, which not only inspired her but also “marked [her] generation.” These experiences and her encounter with feminism helped her to understand that she is a trans person and “name many pains.”
For Schneider, occupying spaces of power “means an opportunity to represent [her] community, in spaces where historically [their] voices have been denied.” Even so, it is a complex thing to represent the community, as there are many years-long diverse wishes and demands behind this collective project.
That trans people secure a beachhead is essential though, Schneider said, because “it allows us to start talking politically about sexuality, about identity, about issues that we are commonly told are from the private world. She added that if we do not discuss these issues, “we keep putting them under the rug” and therefore the struggle continues; in contrast, talking about sexuality is talking about rights: sexual and reproductive rights, rights to identity, and things that make Chile a freer society with a better democracy.
Schneider thinks the constituent convention that is writing Chile’s new constitution will generate “a re-founding process” that will be more open to trans people, and that congressional representation will be important to implementing changes favorable to trans people.
Constanza Valdés, a trans feminist activist and writer with a law degree from the Diego Portales University, is running for representative of District 7, for which she was previously a candidate for the constituent convention.
Valdés sees the trans community as “precarious” and added that even with things like the gender identity law, economic, social, and political inequalities remain unresolved.
A major hurdle Valdés sees is the “moralization of identity,” where “morality” is considered to be the argument under discussion, a situation present in some Christian groups, especially Catholic ones, which, based on biological principles, state that despite a person’s transition, they will never be a woman or a man, making “the very existence of trans people and the LGBT community a sin.”
Valdés sees education, not sanctions, as the way over these hurdles, because sanctions “will not change the behavior” but rather only generate a fear of punishment. She wants to see formal and informal education, where, for example, history is taught with a gender perspective, integrating the feminist and LGBTQ+ community movements and authors of the communities, in order to generalize a “transversality” in education.
Constanza also underscored the need for representation in the halls of power, pointing out that “when making decisions one always looks at their own experience” from the emotional point of view, therefore if these representative positions do not exist, the important decisions for the community tend to be negotiated or minimized. “Therein lies the cultural importance,” said Valdés, who explained that the more representation, the more the reality of the trans and LGBTQ+ community is normalized, which is the final objective, that no one feels discriminated against.
It is in the search for that representation and visibility of the trans community that Valdés wrote the book, A wrong body?, published in 2020. In her words, the book was born to “spread and produce knowledge from a sphere of trans women.” Through the book, she seeks to speak to young and old and provide an instrument to support public policies that transcend the personal telling of her own story.
Nelson Quiroz is Chile Today´s photographer. He also writes about youth culture and fashion, and often contributes with photo series during marches and protests.