50,000 join the March for Sexual Diversity in Chile

Politicians, artists, families and friends of Chile’s gay community marched through the heart of the Chilean capital in honor of international gay pride month.

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Under bright blue skies and unseasonably warm winter sun, 50,000 supporters of the city’s gay population turned out on Saturday, June 25 for the March for Sexual Diversity, Santiago’s largest gay pride event.

Though long known as South America’s most reserved capital city, Santiago has seen new bursts of energy in its arts, dining, rock, pop and folk music scenes, and nightlife. The increasing prominence of the gay community here is yet another sign that Santiago is well on its way to becoming a world-class city.

Part of international pride month, the march began at the transport hub and popular gathering place of Baquedano, and proceeded toward the presidential palace, La Moneda. Members of Santiago’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities were joined by artists and politicians, friends and family, all calling for recognition of equal rights for a previously ignored community.

The march, organized by the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation (Movilh) was equal parts parade and demonstration. While music and performers were cheered on by rainbow flag-waving crowds, others chanted slogans in favor of legislation currently under debate that would legalize same-sex civil unions, extending nearly all the rights of heterosexual married couples to their committed homosexual counterparts.

The Acuerdo de Vida Común (Common Life Agreement) is the title of the legislature currently under vociferous debate in the Chilean legislature. Though Chile, like most of the world, still has quite a long way to go in fully accepting and integrating its gay community, the serious discussions surrounding the bill demonstrate the extraordinary strides taken by Chile’s population and politicians alike.

The march itself proved an even more powerful demonstration of the country’s progress. Vocal supporters of gay rights, like prominent writer Pablo Simonetti, were joined by senators throwing their full, public support behind the bills. Most moving of all was the strong turnout from Santiago’s more traditional families. Heterosexual couples marched alongside gay relatives and friends, often with their children in tow, affirming the importance of family bonds across lines of sexual orientation.

The legalization of gay marriage in New York state the night before lent the parade a palpable air of excitement and optimism. As in New York City, where the new bill was celebrated across town, in Santiago the importance of gay rights has extended well beyond the bounds of the community directly concerned. Though the thousands who appeared at the march are of course still fighting for equal rights and recognition for sexual minorities within a conservative society, they were also celebrating their ability to march together, without concern for sexual or civil identity.

Followed by a party that night at the major performance space Teatro Caupolican, the tone of the day was ultimately celebratory, an affirmation that here, as in many of the world’s most progressive societies, sexual minorities might finally receive the rights they deserve.

Like so much else in modern Chile, the gay rights movement is young, energetic and on the move.