Extreme evangelism unleashed puts Chile’s gay community under siege
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Extreme evangelism unleashed puts Chile’s gay community under siege

Last week, a showdown between an evangelical pastor and a gay rights activist in downtown Santiago ended with both of them in a police station.

Pastor Javier Soto and his religious organization were waiting for spokesperson Rolando Jiménez outside of Congress after a meeting between Jiménez and authorities regarding public policies and gender issues. Soto and his group followed Jiménez through the streets of Santiago, preaching to him and calling him names such as “sodomite” and “pervert.” The insults escalated as the group got more aggressive and resulted in Jiménez pushing one of the protesters, who shoved a copy of the Bible in his face.

A statement from the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Freedom (Movilh), of which Rolando Jiménez is the director, described the incident:

“Along with other people, Soto cut us off in the middle of the street and with his group he then followed us all over downtown Santiago to harass us, insult us, record us and threaten to hit us.”

The organization added that it plans to “exhaust all legal proceedings to see that Soto be put in jail or at least be given the psychiatric help he needs.”

Keeping track of how many times Soto has publicly insulted the LGBT community and policies regarding same-sex marriage is almost impossible. In the past few weeks, his rhetoric has grown increasingly strong as a response to the congressional discussion on the civil union law that would allow same-sex partnership.

Fearing civil unions

December 16 proved to be a milestone day for gay rights in Chile. With 11 votes in favor and one against, Chile’s Congress approved the Civil Union Agreement (Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja). Pastor Soto, who was not invited to the session but somehow managed to bypass security and get in anyway, completely lost control after the bill was approved, leaping from his chair in the far side of the room and aggressively calling the attendees “perverts, sodomites and sinners.” The incident ended with right-wing Deputy Cristián Monckeberg pushing him out of the room while he resisted and shouted.

Sectors of the evangelical community did not shy away from defending Soto. In an official statement, the National Commission for the Family (CONFAMILIA) said that even though it did not agree with the way that the Pastor expressed himself, it “values his bravery.”

Human vs religious rights

Chile has been a secular state since 1925 and has signed several international conventions that aim to safeguard human rights. Nevertheless, religious fanaticism and evangelism threaten to undo what has taken the country more than 100 years to achieve.

According to the 2002 census, 15 percent of all Chileans consider themselves evangelical. In 2013, the evangelical population earned a voice in the Senate after right-wing evangelical politician Iván Moreira won the congressional elections. But Chile’s LGBT community has also grown substantially, leading toward a growing culture clash in a society that seeks integration.

Evangelical Christians who preach have every right to do so just as long as they respect the freedom of others to do the same. However, in Chile, this rhetoric often becomes menacing and even threatens the physical and psychological integrity of others.

Like Jiménez and Movilh, Luis Larraín, director of gay rights NGO “Fundación Iguales,” has also filed a lawsuit against Soto and other members of his group who have continuously and relentlessly harassed him and his organization.

“We have seen a rise in intimidation that has even reached our office,” Larraín said. “The homophobic and violent impulsiveness of these acts leave us with a feeling of total insecurity. We fear that this religious fanaticism will only escalate and lead to more aggression, even physical aggression, as the debate on the Civil Union Agreement develops in Congress.”

It’s worth mentioning that 66 percent of Chileans support the civil union legislation, according to a public opinion survey conducted in February 2014.

Discriminating against or harassing a human being for any reason — whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation or religious belief — constitutes a violation of his or her basic human rights (and, let’s not forget, is totally unconstitutional in Chile).

To be truly liberal means to have tolerance and respect for all human beings, regardless of opinions, religious beliefs, social class, gender, age, race or sexual orientation.