Challenging Heteronormativity: Atala Riffo and Daughters v. Chile

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Atala Riffo and Daughters v. Chile was the first case dealing with sexual orientation rights as human rights to be heard before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR). It is a landmark case in the field of sexual and gender rights and not just within the context of the Americas, but the impact of the IACtHR ruling extends globally, not least because it expands human rights protection to include gender identity and sexual orientation under its remit. This chapter draws on more than a decade of research into LGBTI rights in Chile and charters the socio-political and judicial contexts within which Karen Atala started and concluded her case within the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS). It explores both the direct and indirect outcomes (McCann, 1994) of Karen’s case, predominantly within the Chilean context. With its emphasis on examining the case in relation to the socio-political and judicial climate, it traces advances in both social and legal arenas over the twelve-year period that the case was being processed through the IAHRS. Informed by sociological work on stigma (Goffman, 1963) and heteronormativity (Jackson, 2006; Richardson, 1996) and applying that to socio-legal studies on rights litigation (McCann, 1994), through this long-term study of the case, I am able to address the cumulative effect of the exposure of this case within Chile in relation to its potential for challenging ‘complusory heteorsexuality’ (Rich, 1980) within Chile and further afield, for example, how Karen’s case challenges the established notions of heteronormative families to include families that are ‘diverse in their make up and equal in dignity’ (Fundación Iguales, 2012).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChile and the Inter-American Human Rights System
EditorsSebastián Smart, Karinna Fernandez, Cristian Peña
PublisherInstitute of Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London
ISBN (Print)987-1-908857-39-2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2017


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