Chile’s LGBTQ+ street artist sees homophobic slurs for work

by AryanArtnews
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SANTIAGO, Chile — It was originally an open-air museum dedicated to Chile’s LGBTQ+ community, but a few days after the 40-meter (131-foot) mural was completed, vandals slandered it with dozens of homophobic slurs Brightly coloured panels.

Activists say such attacks reflect an increasingly hostile resistance to slow but steady progress towards LGBTQ+ equality in Chile, where conservative attitudes and the Roman Catholic Church still dominate.

“They’re destroying our art space so that we can finally be seen,” said musician Vale Nein, who walked over this destroyed mural in downtown San Diego, stopping occasionally to read the vandal’s scrawled insults.

“It’s symbolic. They’re killing people too,” said Nein, a transgender who was leading a guided tour of the mural before the vandalism forced them to cancel.

The project was established as a memorial, marking the place where Daniel Zamoudio, a 24-year-old gay man, was tortured and killed in an adjoining park 10 years ago.

The brutality of his murder shocked the nation, prompting the then Conservative government to pass anti-hate crime legislation known as the Zamudio Act, which recognized homophobic violence but proved difficult to apply to both written and verbal abuse case.

Almost half of hate crime cases brought to court under the law are dismissed.

However, the mural commemorating Zamudio proved controversial, even among the LGBTQ+ community, with some rights groups accusing the artist of encouraging homophobic attacks by including sexually explicit images on a panel.

The artists agreed to cover up the photos, but that didn’t stop it from being targeted by vandals.

Zamudio’s portrait was covered in graffiti, and a large text demanding access to public health services for trans Chileans was covered in scribbles that read “Pedophilia is not art.”

Activists say the attacks on the murals reflect the prejudice they face every day.

“It’s still uncomfortable being gay in Chile,” said Nicolas Venegas, a gay man who lives a few blocks from the mural.

Marcela Paz Pena, a lesbian street artist named Isonauta, said the conservative gay community often undermines LGBTQ+ art.

“I drew the word ‘lesbian’ and it was immediately crossed out,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “They’re trying to silence us and prove we don’t exist.”

conservative past

Chile has only recently begun to shake off its Catholic, conservative past. It was one of the last countries in the world to legalize divorce in 2004, and until 2017 had a blanket ban on abortion.

LGBTQ+ rights also take a long time to be recognized.

Zamudio’s law, the first legal protection for Chile’s LGBTQ+ community, was passed in 2012 shortly after his killing.

Same-sex civil unions were passed in 2015, followed by the gender identity law in 2018, allowing trans Chileans to legally change their name and gender without the need for judicial clearance or a medical examination.

Last year, same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption were approved after a long struggle by LGBTQ+ activists.

Gabriel Boric, a 36-year-old former student protest leader, has publicly appointed an LGBTQ+ member to his cabinet for the first time in Chilean history since taking office as the country’s youngest president in March.

But those gains come at a price, said Ramon Gomez of Movilh, Chile’s largest LGBTQ+ rights group, noting an increase in violent attacks against communities.

While statistics for early 2022 are not yet available, Gomez said his team has seen an “explosive increase” in reports of violent hate crimes since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted earlier this year.

In March, a trans woman was stabbed in the street and several gay and lesbian couples were attacked in public spaces, including restaurants, according to local media.

Last month, a lesbian died after being set on fire by homophobic attackers, according to media reports.

Despite the election of leftist progressive Boric, many Chileans hold conservative views on personal and family issues.

The runner-up in December’s presidential runoff was Jose Antonio Kast, a far-right former congressman with 45 percent of the vote.

His party is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting, viewing traditionally heterosexual families as the “core of society”.

Still, the vandalism of the mural has caught the attention of authorities in the capital.

Erika Montecinos, a lesbian activist who was recently named head of the city of San Diego’s diversity department, said officials recognize they “have no ability to protect (LGBTQ+) arts.”

She said the city government planned to arrange talks between the artist and the neighborhood committee, which the artist welcomed but said it wasn’t enough to deter vandals.

They say broader anti-hate legislation is needed to protect LGBTQ+ street art, which they say helps foster greater acceptance.

“It leads to better understanding and a better quality of life for everyone…it can be informative,” said trans Indigenous artist Poleo Painemal, who spent six days creating the mural.

Her group shows trans children playing in a pink room that includes an Aboriginal Wiphala flag with trans symbols.

Painemal wanted to portray a childhood free of gender binary restrictions, which she said existed freely in the indigenous Mapuche community before being stigmatized by Catholic colonists.

Vandals sprayed penises on the painting and scribbled the word “disgusting” on images of children.

“It hurts and makes me angry,” Painemal said.

“(But) it shows that this work is necessary because people still hate us and we need to educate them.” – Rappler.com

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