Saturday, February 03, 2007

On Our Way to The Promised Land: An Interview with Brus Leguás Contreras

Brus Leguás Contreras is president of Affirmation Chile. This is the second in a series of articles showcasing the international face of Affirmation.
How did you get the idea to start Affirmation Chile?
I had been in a long-term relationship with my partner, but I considered myself dirty, cast out from God's presence. Then in 1997, when I got Internet access, the first thing I did was to google Affirmation, which I had heard about from a friend. I was stunned to discover Affirmation had a web presence, and I helped translate "Homosexuality and Scripture from an LDS Perspective." At about that time, my partner died and my life experienced some dramatic changes, but I never forgot Affirmation. Eventually I contacted two other Chileans, Juan and René, from Santiago, and we decided to start Affirmation.

How did you promote the idea?
At first it wasn't easy, but I found on the Web a cheap, effective way to promote Affirmation. Sometimes I would go into a chatroom with a nickname such as “GayMormon,” and people began to approach me. On a daily basis I was contacting up to three people with whom I could talk about my idea of launching Affirmation.

How did the gay community in Chile react when you began to show up at Pride and other gay events?
To this day, every time Affirmation is mentioned there is both an ovation and expressions of unbelief. MOVILH (Chile's Movement of Gay Integration & Liberation) has been a great support, even allowing us to meet at their headquarters for free. MUMS (Chile's Unified Movement of Sexual Minorities) first dubbed us “MOVILH's Nuns” and ignored us, but now they too have offered a space for our meetings. We also have a good rapport with Chile's CEGAL, a gay interfaith group, and have participated in services with them.

What's Chile's "Bill for Civil Unions" and how is Affirmation participating?
The Bill for Civil Unions would allow two people to be recognized by the state regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, and obtain most of the rights married couples enjoy, including health insurance, shared ownership of an estate, and retirement benefits. Affirmation has established a strategic alliance with MOVIHL in support of this bill, as well as another bill against discrimination. We are also taking steps toward becoming a “legal entity,” which is similar to a non-profit organization status. Even though we know that the LDS Church opposes marriage equality, we believe that can reexamine our doctrine and our scriptures and rid them of old errors. We can use faith and reason as we lead the way to the Promised Land—a place where, instead of exclusion and discrimination, we are all worthy children of Heavenly Parents who love us unconditionally. Learning this has been for me the beginning of a happier, fuller life, and has given me a sense of purpose.

Affirmation Chile boasts today two chapters and contacts in half a dozen cities. Why do you think you have been more successful than other countries in Latin America?
We have in Chile over 550,000 Mormons—a larger pool than any other country in Latin America. I am amazed at how many people contact us and subscribe to our virtual community. And yet, we are still working with very limited resources. From Arica to Punta Arenas, Chile is 2,400 miles long, and we would like to be able to visit our contacts in distant regions. I wish we could help every person who is trying to reconcile their spirituality and their sexual orientation, especially when lives are at stake. But I believe the Lord of the harvest will send more and better laborers in his own time (Matthew 9:37-38).

Do you think the situation of GLBT people in the US is different from the situation in Chile?
Yes, because cultural circumstances and individual development are different. In Latin America and in Chile, machismo dictates that males must be machos and females must be feminine. This affects our social and cultural behaviors, and how we act in church and at the workplace. As for the Catholic Church, their actions and their discourse are always ultra-conservative. The same clergy that condemns people for loving someone of their own gender justifies a dictator who ordered the murder of thousands.

Is there anything you would like to add?
Yes—We must remember that Affirmation's work saves lives. We are all our sister's and brother's keeper. We are all responsible for what happens when people are discriminated against, excluded, or condemned by the Church. Affirmation's work entails not only accepting ourselves, but also saving others. When Affirmation Chile has participated in public events, the response by active, straight Mormons, has been overwhelmingly positive. On occasion we have talked with as many as 400 Latter-day Saints, and only five or six disapproved of us. Somehow most Church members seem willing to accept that gay and lesbians too are God's children. We seem to be living a new era, and fresh winds are blowing over the Church.

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