The Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Wednesday ruled Chile is responsible for the discriminatory treatment of a teacher who was removed from her position in 2007 because she is a lesbian.
Sandra Pavez Pavez had worked as a Catholic religion teacher since 1985 at Colegio Municipal Cardenal Antonio Samoré in San Bernardo, a city that is just south of the country’s capital of Santiago. The Chilean Catholic Church on July 25, 2007, revoked her certification that the Chilean Ministry of Education required to work as a religion teacher.
Pavez came out as a lesbian after a rumor indicated she was in a relationship with another woman. Pavez also refused to undergo psychological and psychiatric therapies the church offered her in order to change her sexual orientation.
The clergy acted under the Ministry of Education’s Decree 924, which the Pinochet dictatorship issued in 1983, that “regulates religion classes in educational establishments” and empowers churches to decide who may or may not teach the subject.
El Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Movilh), Chile’s main LGBTQ rights group, appealed the decision to the San Miguel Court of Appeals. It was rejected and the Supreme Court upheld the ruling.
Both Chilean courts ruled Pavez had not suffered discrimination under Decree 924, so Movilh sued Chile in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
More than a decade later, the court ruled “the State of Chile is responsible for the violation of the rights to equality and non-discrimination, personal liberty, privacy and work, recognized in the American Convention on Human Rights, to the detriment of Sandra Pavez Pavez, for the discriminatory treatment she suffered … based on her sexual orientation.”
“At no time were the effects that this measure would have on Sandra Pavez Pavez’s personal life or on her teaching vocation taken into account,” reads the decision. “The court determined that the right to work was compromised to the extent that, through the reassignment of functions, her teaching vocation was undermined and constituted a form of job demotion.”
As part of the resolution, the court ordered comprehensive reparation measures that include a public act of recognition of international responsibility and guarantees of non-repetition.
Chile is also required to amend its policies towards educational institutions, pay Pavez $35,000 in material and non-material damages and another $30,000 in costs and expenses.
‘This is a historic moment’
Pavez retired in January without being able to return to the classroom.
“I am very happy because from now on, with this sentence, in no country in America will teachers, and in particular religion teachers, be able to be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Pavez. “Religious freedom and the right of parents to educate their children can no longer be used as an excuse to discriminate against LGBTIQA+ people. This is a historic moment not for me, but for all discriminated people.”
“It was 15 years of struggle after my country denied me the right to practice the profession I studied and loved so much,” she added. “I regret that the discrimination I suffered at the hands of the church and the Supreme Court was accompanied by the total silence of successive governments in Chile, which never showed solidarity with my cause. I trust that the current government will turn things around and fully comply with the sentence.”
Movilh President Rolando Jiménez said “we are in the presence of an act of justice in the face of some of the most brutal abuses suffered by a person because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in Chile.”
“In an unprecedented event in the world, Sandra Pavez has defeated the State, but also all the churches in the country that last year united for the first time in its history to appeal to the Inter-American Court to deny rights to the teacher under an alleged religious freedom,” added Jiménez. “The court has been clear, the State cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, nor can it allow churches to do so. This is a landmark ruling, a double triumph over religious and State abuses.”