Constitutional Process NATIONAL

Diverse Chile: Sexual minority rights in the new Constitution

The LGBTQ+ community is having high hopes for Chile’s new Constitution. The Magna Carta is currently written by a Constitutional Convention. Chile Today spoke with Gaspar Domínguez and Jeniffer Mella, who represent the LGBTQ+ community at the Convention and want to increase the acceptance of sexual diversity.

Chile is gripped by profound social change, reflected in the creation of a new Constitution. Currently written by a Constituent Convention and later to be approved via plebiscite, it is expected to be more inclusive. The LGBTQ+ community has historically been excluded from positions of power and social influence, but is now hoping to gain meaningful representation.

Chile Today’s Diverse Chile category provides a platform for such previously excluded groups to help make their struggles visible.

Eight members of the Constitutional Convention are part of the LGBTQ+ community. They are making history by representing sexual diversity. Chile Today spoke with two of them, Gaspar Domínguez and Jeniffer Mella, to gain some insight into their goals and motivations.

From Rural Medic to Constituent

Gaspar Domínguez has completed postgraduate studies in public health and was elected for district 26, representing Ancud, Calbuco, Castro, Chaitén, Chonchi, and more. He lives in Palena.

He ran for the Convention as a medic from Palena rather than an LGBTQ+ activist. “My way of doing activism is to be openly homosexual and to work well, I am not an activist as such, and that is why I have a lot of respect for the people who have led full lives of activism.”

Domínguez said LGBTQ+ citizens face disadvantages related to jobs, housing, and health. A disturbing fact is that “trans people have a life expectancy of 35 years, and it is not because their brain has certain connections that produce an early death, but rather because people kill them.”

Low representation in the corridors of power adds to the problem, which is why non-heterosexual Constituent members hopefully represent “a before and after in Chilean politics.” But much progress is still necessary, especially since sexual minorities are disproportionately hate crime victims, Domínguez said.

Domínguez wants to put the concept of substantive equality in the Constitution, as currently “there are people more equal than others” in Chile. Equality should not remain a buzzword but translate into seats reserved for trans people, or job quotas.

Integral sexual education with a gender approach is also “very important” since it affects “the behaviors that today produce violence, degradation, denigration,” Domínguez said. 

No Silver Bullet

But Domínguez retains a realistic attitude. “Unfortunately the Constitution will not solve all problems,” he said. Changes will not take effect overnight because most of them are structural.

Some advances in the short term are still palpable. The presence of LGBTQ+ Constituents generates an “impact on children and adolescents who today feel or are discovering their sexuality and identities and they look at the generations above and say that you can do it, you can occupy positions of power or have an impact on public policies.”

The Only Lesbian Voice

Lawyer Jeniffer Mella, the only openly lesbian representative, is specializing in human rights, women, families and children. Representing district 5 – Canela, Illapel, Coquimbo, La Higuera, La Serena, among others – she has lived in Ovalle for eight years.

Mella did social work in Coquimbo region “to make visible as a woman, as a feminist, as a lesbian activist, different realities, not only the reality of the capital.”

She hopes the new Constitution is “permeated with a gender perspective” that includes those seen as sexual dissidents to recognize the right to freedom from violence, guaranteed sexual and reproductive rights, and the right to health and work especially for the trans people. The Constitution should also establish individuals’ autonomy over their bodies. 

But these are long-term changes for which dialogue is fundamental, as at least 104 votes are needed to establish a goal in the Constitution. “We believe that this dialogue has been joined by the majority of the Constituents, and thanks to that majority it is also going forward in a better democracy and having a new text represents us all.”

Mella strives for the greatest amount of support to marginalize hate speech and minimize attacks on the community.

While homosexual causes like marriage or adoption are increasingly backed by the wider public, trans and non-binary citizens remain rather invisible. Having no representatives at the Convention, their life experiences have not played a role in the debates, even though “discrimination hits [them] very differently than the one that can hit homosexuals.” Hence, Mella urged “a discourse of survival that implies social security but also fundamental rights” and ensure inclusion in this social transformation.

Dissident Network 

The LGBTQ+ convention members created the Dissident Network to bring various sexual diversity organizations together and learn from first-hand accounts.

Domínguez and Mella said the network will make the collectives visible and help channel their interests into a more representative Constitution. Interested parties may participate in a survey and register their most pressing concerns.

Mella also urges the Chilean diaspora to participate more actively, also to increase general representation.

The Future

Domínguez is certain the new Constitution “will allow an institutional framework that is more respectful of human rights,” adapted to reality and will allow “the next generation … to grow up in a country that is much more respectful of diversity.”

And Mella believes it will bring “a lot of security and tranquility” and turn Chile into a place “where no one feels excluded or persecuted.”

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