The Ugly Face of Homophobia in Chile

Photo Natasha Young

Photo Natasha Young

The Rough Guide to South America cites Sanitago as being one of the few cities in the continent that offer a ‘safe and welcoming haven for any sexual orientation’. On the surface, that might even be true. Bustling Bellas Artes and bohemian Bellavista boast a number of gay and lesbian clubs, bars and cafes.


However scratch behind the surface even a little and the truth rears its ugly head. A billboard in the Metro I spotted a few weeks ago (paid for by gives you an idea: ‘61% of Chileans have little or no respect for homosexuals’. 61% – a figure that surely puts into question the notion that Santiago welcomes gay and lesbian travellers with open arms.

It’s all relative I suppose. Perhaps in comparison to more conservative rural areas of Chile or other South American countries, Santiago is a liberal oasis. However, coming from Manchester, England, the homophobia here is hard to swallow. This weekend, Manchester is celebrating its annual Gay Pride festival in the very centre of the city.

Saturday was the traditional parade around the city with over 70 floats which included gay men and women from the local police force and fire stations. As every year it was watched by thousands of people including families, grandmothers and children. Of course, Manchester has its share of homophobia too, just like anywhere, but the sheer number of openly gay businesses, charities, politicians, events and TV programmes in the city are testimony to its open-mindedness.

Today in English class in downtown Santiago, I mentioned that Manchester was celebrating Gay Pride. One of my students immediately responded, “I don’t like gays”. She told me that she’d seen a similar parade in Canada and that she hadn’t liked it because there were too many lesbians there. She thought that lesbians were women who “made the decision to be lesbian because they wanted to be fashionable or because they were too ugly to get a man”. She said this without shame or without thinking for a moment that anyone might have a different opinion. She was a young, educated woman who firmly believed that homosexual was not something you were, but rather something you decided to be.

It wasn’t the first time I’d come across such blatant homophobia. I recently went out for some drinks with a group of young Chilean university students. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned that I had gay friends. “So you’re gay then?” “No, I just have gay friends”. This took a while to sink in. I talked about Manchester and the fact that gay marriage and gay adoption were  accepted in England. The same girl chipped in, “Oh, but gay parents have gay babies”. I asked her how, with that logic, straight parents had gay children, but she didn’t answer. Perhaps she was the daughter of the taxi driver who, during my first month in the city, pointed out two guys together and told me that there weren’t men, they were ‘gays’. Worse still, on the computer terminal in the staff room at work, I was blocked from reading an article on the internet about Germain Greer because it contained the words ‘gay rights’. 

I’m not gay, lesbian or even bi-sexual, but it saddens me deeply that such conservative, bigoted and hateful attitudes exist here. For me, a person’s sexual orientation is something they are born with. If a guy prefers to be with another guy, I really don’t see how that’s different from his preference for white wine over red, or liking the colour blue more than the colour green. You can’t choose who you fall in love with any more than you can choose your family or your neighbours.  

Some will no doubt blame homophobic attitudes here on the fact that Chile is a relatively new democracy after years of dictatorship or on the influence of the Catholic Church. Others may blame the lesbian and gay community for being too passive and not standing up for their rights. But to be fair to them, with the attitudes on display here, who can blame them if they’re still in the closet?


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Filed under blog, gay rights, Santiago de Chile, Travel articles, Uncategorized

21 responses to “The Ugly Face of Homophobia in Chile

  1. Joris

    I fully agree with you…Chileans sometimes have such strong prejudices about things we, young Europeans, deem normal 😦

  2. Gonzalo Quezada

    Well this is reality down here. It’s true that the average chilean doesn’t approve homosexuality however, that “average chilean” got this thought from their parents who lived all the Pinochet era, when even the word “sexuality” was forbidden.
    I’m not homophobic, I’ve got gay friends as well, but it is important to mention that we are in a transition age (although “democracy” came back 20 years ago) I feel that we still have this “strict narrow mind”.
    Anyway, This is a very good article.
    @joris In Europe this happens as well but it is more likely to find racist cases….
    Cheers Miss Young

  3. youngnatasha

    @ Gonzalo
    Thanks for your comments. Fair enough that many have picked up their views from their parents. However, my Dad thinks that Margaret Thatcher did great things for Britain. That doesn’t mean I have to listen…or agree with him.

  4. david

    nice article, n.y.

    sounds like your student might have some issues with her own sexuality.

    also, if the Catholic Church could change it’s hypocritical outlook, huge progress might be made towards a more igalitarian (and Christian!) society. a gay friend of mine who recently left the priesthood after 18 years of service (in the US) estimates that about 60% of priests are gay, and 40% of bishops. I might be tempted to add, 100% of current popes? In Latin American seminaries, I hear that the Pope is commonly referred to as “Susan”.

    (from “Su Santidad” 🙂

    • Saint

      we could say same thing about teachers, most of them are gay (60%) then 30% are transexuals and the rest we still have some doubts.

      Putting this aside, I think the church (even all the attacks we may say against it) teaches more about loving all people not matter what they do, we have to respect them like all living creature on the earth’s surface. Some can say it’s not true, cause christians or muslims hate them and would kill them if they could, but they don’t as other people, even people who is “open minded” wouldn’t share a beer from the same bottle with a guy. it’s a problem about society and respect one to each other, and the first step is stop accusing just one side of being agressive toward the guy community.

      • youngnatasha

        @ Saint: Urm, interesting statistics…. Where are they from?

        I don’t normally share beer from the same bottle as others, but when I do, their sexuality doesn’t come into it. Why on earth would it?

      • Joris

        You have never played in a football team, haven´t you? I shared beer bottles all through my youth with my mates (and showered with them as well), and I am still on the “right” path…

  5. youngnatasha

    @ David
    I was eating cereal when I read that the Pope is referred to as Susan and almost choked. Very funny.

  6. Gonzalo

    I think toughts like this could be changed if we start talking about it, to learn for example what homosexuality is about, school teachers should talk this in classes. (I mean here in Chile)

  7. Shannon

    Just from memory (I looked at this campaign when i was working at Amnistia), didn’t the sign in the metro say that 61% of chileans perceive that homosexuals are not respected in Chile (or something to that effect) – I don’t know if that’s the same as saying that 61% of Chileans have no respect for homosexuals as opposed to 61% of Chileans perceive that homosexuals are not respected in the country, whether they themselves respect homosexuals or not… does that make any sense?? i find it hard to believe that 48% of Chileans have no respect for the poor, which is another statistic from the same study, I think that its saying that 48% of people think that the poor are not respected.

    I had a really interesting conversation with my boyfriend’s (Chilean) family about this – most of them (except la abuela) had no problem with gays, thought they should be able to marry (they’re also a non religious family), but were much harder to convince on the gay adoption issue.

    • youngnatasha

      @Shannon: Well I could be wrong but I jotted it down when I saw it as I thought it was so shocking. You’re right, it does make a difference, but either way, it’s not a statistic Chile can be especially proud of. Thanks for your comments. Interesting that your boyfriend’s family make such a distinction between marriage and adoption.

      • Shannon

        I agree! Having worked on gay rights in Chile, there’s a long uphill battle to be waged there until Santiago can call itself a safe haven or whatever it says in the guidebooks. (bit of trivia – i looked up the report – I have it on my harddrive – and peruvians came out as being even less respected than gays at 64%)

  8. Saint

    When you travel, if you just try to compare with your own reality, you have to be open minded and give the chance why what you are watching abroad is diferent from your own country. Nobody would tell me that europe love gays since their first appearance on the streets pubs or other public places (out of the closet). So I would advice you to take in account this, I don’t discriminate guys, I don’t like what they do (sodomy) but I don’t have problems with them.

    pd: I like to read about my own country on the website and english and from a person who is living here, cheers!!!

    • Joris

      The point is that we (me, Natasha, ea.) are open-minded and don´t like the way minorities (gays, lesbians, “lower classes”, etc) are treated or perceived here in Chile. Especially gay relationships are really not a problem anymore in northern Europe.

      BTW, did you know that also heterosexual couples may perform sodomy? I think homosexuality isn´t just all about the sex, just like heterosexuality isn´t.

      • Saint

        BTW, what’s the great deal about heterosexual or homosexual, I’m more open minded than others, I don’t introduce myself as an heterosexual guy, or ask about other’s people sexuality when we meet. and heterosexuality is only aboout sex, don’t get it, why?? most families after a while (parents) have less sex, but their partenership increases.

  9. Silent Bob

    Well, Double Standard have always been (sadly) one of Chile’s trademarks, in one hand we accept the gay comunity with open arms, and then we’re behind their backs calling them fags and dykes, well, I guess it’s typical in countries with a hard catholic influence. The downside is that you think you’re making some sort of difference raising your voice and fighting homophobia, but in the end you just got dogshit, so all you got left is to tolerate the intolerance and be the bigger person (sort of speak)

    And to finish a little quote by one of Kevin Smith’s characters…
    “That’s why I can’t buy lesbians. Everyone needs dick. See, I can buy fags. Bunch of guys that need dick – just plain need it. That I get. Dykes? Bullshit posturing. But – live and let live, I guess.”

    • Saint

      I think there’s double standard anyway, queer, it’s not a spanish word anyway!! nobody can say that they stand gays in their own country when they also call them in despective ways.

      • Silent Bob

        I think, that words are derogatory depending on the context that they’re said, I mean, shit, even “you people” can be way more pejorative than fag, queer or dyke, if put it in an offensive context, or use in a generalization.

        btw, despective is not an legit word (at least not an english word)

      • Saint

        I’m not an english speaker anyway. I tried my best!

  10. vivaELfut

    For God’s sake, what do you expect from Chile in this “homophobia” way? All needs its time to work things out. Why would you even compare the UK and the rest of “Northern Europe” with Chile, when even America was discovered long after the times that Europe had its more or less developed society? This country is making huge steps on the way of its development and the gay issue is just a question of time. Give them some time instead of hurling the “ugly” term in their face.

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