Paula L. Ettelbrick
Former IGLHRC Executive Director
Thank you, Karen Atala. For years to come, lesbian and gay parents throughout the Americas will have you to thank for the seven-year fight you have waged to have your daughters returned to you.
You refused to back down when your country's highest court said you, simply because you are a lesbian, were not fit to raise your own children. You refused to accept the tired old myths. The myth that girls need a father in the home to be raised "correctly" – regardless of what kind of father he is. The myth that our gender or sexual orientation, standing alone, defines us as a good or bad parent – that is, all straight parents are good and all LGBT parents are bad. The myth, that lesbian moms who chose love and life with a partner are placing selfish desire over their children's needs. The myth that your relationship with your partner presents an immoral model that would cause irreparable harm to your daughters – despite living in a world in which male violence in the home and against family members is never discussed as an issue of morality.
Photo of Karen Atala by Andrés Duque
You fought these central foundations of homophobia. You used human-rights law to extinguish the use of these myths to stifle the dignity of LGBT parents. As a result, you have opened the door not only for those of us who are parents but, I believe, for all LGBT people in much of the region – from Tijuana, Mexico to Punta Arenas, Chile. Many of us are celebrating your recent victory as a significant development in the LGBT community's human rights advocacy in the Americas. On April 7, 2010, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (the IAHRC, or Commission) stated that discrimination against a parent in a child custody dispute because of her or his sexual orientation violates the American Convention on Human Rights.
The Commission's finding repudiates a closely divided 2004 ruling by the Supreme Court of Chile ordering that Karen's three daughters be permanently removed from her custody. The Commission's determination, which is not publicly available, is now in the hands of the Chilean government to respond and take legislative or other policy action to ensure that similar future violations do not occur.
Following is a bit of Ms. Atala's odyssey and what I think it means strategically for LGBT human rights defenders in our region.