Tuesday, 22 January 2013 19:53
The center-right primary candidate explains her ambitions for the trans community and Chile’s 19th District.
Tides are slowly turning for Chile’s LGBT community. Last July, the country passed its first anti-discrimination legislation in response to an anti-gay murder in Santiago. Later in the year, Chile elected its first openly gay politician, a municipal councilman. And after announcing her candidacy for Congress, transgender activist Valentina Verbal hopes to break another glass ceiling. If she wins the election she’ll be South America’s first transgender legislator.
“In Chile if you’re male, you have to be masculine. If you’re female you have to be feminine. If you’re not it’s weird,” says Verbal. “I want to end the cultural and institutional discrimination against transgender people.”
As a person who has made a radical transition from masculine to feminine, Verbal understands the constraints of these strict gender rules all too well. As a young boy Verbal would dream about waking up as a little girl, but felt too afraid to say or do anything about it.
Now an out and transgender adult, Valentina has committed herself to opening up strict beliefs about gender and improving the lives of the trans community.
“For a change of gender to be recognized, the state, the courts, the justice system require you to have genital surgery,” she says. “That shouldn’t be the case. We have to change the law that recognizes the sexual identity of transgender people without the state obligating them to have an actual sex change.”
As the first transgender candidate to run for Chilean Congress, Verbal hopes she will change the law in Chile’s legislature.
Her main goal is to change national identification laws to acknowledge more forms of sexual and gender identity, which she asserts should be a government-guaranteed right.
“When a trans person has a card or national identity card that doesn’t reflect their social sex in practice it means they are undocumented,” says Verbal. “Since they appear to be one sex and their card says another, it can be difficult to find employers who don’t see it as a problem. They can’t get a job and they don’t have access to work, which is a basic human right.”
Verbal has already advocated for this change in the past two years as the Coordinator of the Trans Commission at the LGBT rights organization, Fundación Iguales. Crossing over to the political arena, she says, is a natural progression.
“Going from a social or civil organization, whether you are an activist or leader, to a totally political arena is not unheard of,” says Verbal. “On the contrary, it’s a possible, and even a necessary step in this new type of democracy that we are seeing – it’s a more citizen-based democracy, not just democracy run by political parties of so-called ‘professionals.’”
One of Verbal’s specific legislative accomplishments with Fundación Iguales occurred during the drafting of the anti-discrimination law, which increased penalties for hate crimes and allowed victims to file hate crime suits. She successfully advocated for the bill to include protection of gender expression and the transgender community.
Verbal, like Piñera, is a member of the center-right National Renewal Party (RN), an unexpected choice for an LGBT advocate. However, transgender rights, Verbal argues, can just as easily be addressed through a more conservative party.
“The ideas of the center-right rest on the idea of basic human freedom,” she writes on her website
. “Because of this, it seems logical that it is not enough to simply defend political and economic freedoms, but also to do the same with cultural freedoms, including the right to decide on sexual orientation and express freely gender identity.”
Verbal’s history with the RN reaches back into her youth. As a young person she served as the President of the RN Youth League in the southern Chilean city of Concepción. Unsure if she would be accepted, she temporarily left the party during her coming out process as a transgendered person, but now says she feels that Chile and the RN have become more open to LGBT issues.
So far Verbal has received support from her fellow RN members. Though Verbal has not received an official party endorsement, RN senators Lily Pérez and Francisco Chahuán have both given her internal support and RN’s Secretary General Mario Desbordes defended Verbal’s candidacy to the RN Electoral Council.
Verbal faces an upward climb: receiving scattered support from within her own party is far different from winning a general election, and she will have to square off against two multi-term incumbents to do so. Still, with several months remaining before the RN primaries and almost a year until the general election in November, Verbal’s electoral fate is far from decided.
“I’m taking a risk and I don’t know if it’s going to work out,” she says. “I’m going to try anyway.”
By Elizabeth Trovall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Copyright 2013 - The Santiago Times