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Conservative Chile more tolerant of gays
By LYGIA NAVARRO, Associated Press Writer
Tue Jul 11, 1:15 PM ET
Gay rights activists say they are finding greater public tolerance in one of Latin America's socially conservative strongholds and hope Chilean lawmakers will approve anti-discrimination legislation.
Chile's Congress is debating striking down regulations against "offenses to morals and good customs" that police have used to harass gays, even for behavior such as holding hands in public.
Activists say such treatment remains common. It was only in 1998 that Chile repealed a prohibition on sex between consenting, same-sex adults.
The issue of gay rights captured the country's attention in 2004 when the Supreme Court denied a lesbian mother and judge, Karen Atala, custody of her three daughters in favor of her ex-husband.
Emma de Ramon, Atala's partner and director of a gay parents advocacy group, said she believes there can be progress for gays under new socialist President Michelle Bachelet.
Bachelet stated her intentions to do away with discrimination against gays and others in a speech in May, saying she wanted "a Chile for everyone" which "doesn't discriminate and which doesn't forget those who have been left behind."
Lawmakers have been debating a clause that would give people reporting acts of bias special legal protection as victims of discrimination, said congresswoman Maria Antonieta Saa, who has long been active on gay rights issues.
Gays are hopeful about the legislation, in part because shifting cultural attitudes have made it politically incorrect in most Chilean circles to be publicly anti-gay, said Rolando Jimenez, president of the Homosexual Integration and Liberation Movement.
"There are few people or institutions who would dare to say that homosexuality is perverse, pathological, and that we need to round up the homosexuals and take them to an island. They said these things easily five or 10 years ago," said Jimenez.
"Chile is in the process of a profound transition in terms of ethics and values," he said.
But coming out of the closet remains a daring act, said Jorge Pujado, author of "The Kings of Santa Lucia Hill," a study of gay men in the Chilean capital of Santiago.
"In Chile the transgression isn't that you are a certain way, but that you are public about it," he said.
Leading an openly gay life remains daunting in heavily Roman Catholic, socially conservative Chile, agrees Elias Valenzuela, 31, a marketing surveyor who recently told his family and co-workers he is gay.
"I have always said that I don't feel less worthy than others," he said. "I never let them put me down or make negative comments."