At the age of 25, Emilia Schneider will become Chile’s first transgender deputy in March. A law student, Schneider is part of the new generation of young people who come to institutions from social movements. The same to which the president-elect belongs this Sunday, Gabriel Boric.
Like him, Schneider comes from the student movement – she was president of the Student Federation of the University of Chile in 2019 – and from feminism. His name began to gain strength when he became a spokesperson for the university occupations of the so-called ‘feminist May’ of 2018, when Chilean universities were paralyzed to denounce sexist education and sexual violence in educational spaces.RELATED
Three years later, Schneider comes to Congress from the leftist coalition Frente Amplio, which, together with the Communist Party, forms Approve Dignity, the bloc that in a few months will become the coalition of the new government of Chile.
Were you expecting a victory as comfortable as Sunday?
There were polls that showed a triumph for Gabriel Boric, but perhaps not as baggy as what we saw. What happened on Sunday was difficult to forecast because it broke many expectations and we have tried to be very cautious with what the polls gave because they were quite wrong in Chile. There was a historic turnout, he will be the youngest president and the most voted president in our history.
We did see that in the second round, our campaign gained tremendous breadth and level of support, because what was at stake was understood: at the forefront there was a far-right alternative that sought to revert to the worst of our past, install hate speech, lies. We had transversal support from all opposition parties and a citizen overflow of the campaign because many self-organized groups joined in the neighborhoods and from the social organizations that endorsed the campaign. That citizen organization was key to Gabriel Boric’s victory.
Boric’s rival, José Antonio Kast, was a candidate who had made discriminatory comments against LGTBI people before the campaign. Some of the deputies of his party also did it in campaign. How did you feel about the possibility of him becoming president?
It was a relief for the community of sexual diversity and dissent, for women and for feminists. Although people on the electoral campaign try to disguise their speech, someone like Kast, who has been campaigning for so many years against our rights as women and as sexual diversities, is not credible. With this advance in hate speech from the far right, we have seen a series of attacks on our community and we were concerned that it would escalate.
On Sunday I was filled with hope because the government that Gabriel represents tips the balance in favor of the demands that we have as women and as sexual diversities, and for all the neglected groups in our country such as the native peoples, the popular sectors. The message of his speech was very clear: we want to build a dignified and just Chile that leaves no one behind. After the dictatorship [de Augusto Pinochet] The established neoliberal model was maintained and, at the cost of economic growth, social justice and the necessary transformations were sacrificed to leave behind the legacy of the dictatorship. This can never run on separate lanes again.
They have two and a half months to prepare, until March 11, when Boric will be sworn in as the new president. What priorities does the Approve Dignity coalition now have?
The first thing is to make up the cabinet. That will require a conversation between parties, but also with the independent and transversal leaderships that joined the second round campaign, such as the campaign manager Izkia Siches, who was fundamental, and also the social movements and organizations that joined the campaign. candidacy and that make it possible for us to be here. We are also going to have to meet with Gabriel as a bench in Congress and there will be issues to discuss.
The tax reform and different measures to face inequality and the economic crisis that the pandemic left us, which was so badly managed by the Government of Sebastián Piñera. We also have to take charge of truth, justice, reparation and human rights violations in our country, and end the abuse and criminalization by the State towards citizens.
There is also an urgency to establish the minimum salary of 500,000 pesos [unos 500 euros, hoy está en 337.000 pesos], take charge of access to health and medicine, end the current pension system that is pure profit and reduce the working day to 40 hours, among other things.
There are experts who believe that it would be important to lower the expectations generated because, as the Congress was fragmented and with the current economic situation, it is difficult to fulfill all this. At least in the short term, have you raised too many expectations with a very ambitious program?
The program is not very ambitious, it seeks to put us at the height of social democracy in the world. Chile is far behind in terms of social and human rights and that is catching up with the debts we have with society. We have recruited economists from many sectors to achieve programmatic implementation agreements with fiscal responsibility.
That is why it is important that we fix, before we start, the tax reform to collect more and see how the State invests to reactivate the economy. Gabriel has focused on green investing and rescuing small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, we have shown willingness to dialogue with whoever is necessary to move forward with the claims that citizens have. Those who will have to give explanations are going to be the ones who obstruct these debates and do not put themselves in a position to enrich it. To entrench oneself in denying the changes is to continue increasing the instability, uncertainty and insecurity that we are experiencing.
Is it better to maintain a government with the Approve Dignity coalition itself or to open it up to other center-left forces that supported them from the first moment in the second round, such as the Socialist Party?
It is not appropriate that I go ahead to definitions of the entire coalition, but for the construction of this government it is very important to look at sectors of the independent, the social world and the academy that can contribute in having a transversal dialogue and in going beyond the political parties.
And within the coalition, which of the two formulas are you betting on?
We are in talks. But the role of independents, social organizations and organized citizenship in the second round will mark the character of the government. We need a government capable of uniting and dialoguing with different sectors.
Parliament has been very fragmented after the legislative elections. Gabriel Boric has always highlighted this as a positive aspect. How are you going to deal with it to meet your schedule?
We are willing to dialogue with all forces, without trenches, putting our convictions at the center. We have said that we will go step by step with the transformations, but with a clear and defined north. Today society is much more active and more participatory in the debate and that is good. The sectors that row against the well-being of the country and the government will have to give the corresponding explanations to the citizens.
Several members of the extreme right will sit in this Congress for the first time. How are you going to deal with them?
The so-called center-right sometimes has an ultra-right act and they have distorted the political axis a bit. We are used to seeing Pinochetistas walking with great impunity in our country and I hope this will change. Now we have people from the extreme right who do not wear any masks, who are frontal and emulate the most provocative styles of neo-fascists in the world.
We must not fall for provocations, I am not willing to be a victim of anyone and as authorities we have to set a clear limit to what is acceptable and what is not in politics. Respect for human rights is non-negotiable, do not incite hatred and violence against any social group. If you have to take legal action or go to the Ethics Commission, it will be done. I hope that the media are also very rigorous with false news, because they are very dangerous for democracy and for the institutional crisis that we are experiencing.
As the first trans woman to enter Congress, what will be the priorities on your agenda?
An agenda based on feminism and sexual dissidence cannot be confined to only specific issues, but rather has to be a cross-sectional view that we contribute to all debates. We need a reform of the anti-discrimination law to incorporate a prevention approach.
We must also advance in repairing our community, in comprehensive sexual education as a measure against violence, discrimination and the transmission of STIs. [infecciones de transmisión sexual] and review the regulations regarding people living with HIV and their right to health. A very important point that is in Gabriel Boric’s program is to guarantee the access of people from the LGTB community to social rights, because we have needs for access to health, social security, education and decent work, and proposals for a law that establishes a trans job quota.