Running a marathon is a momentous occasion for any athlete, and one local runner is making sure her first marathon is especially — and internationally — meaningful.
Marisa Wiland will be among the thousands of runners taking part in the Philadelphia Marathon Nov. 17, but in addition to challenging herself, her participation will challenge others to raise funds, and awareness, for LGBT-rights issues in South America.
Wiland, 22, is a native of New York who recently graduated from Georgetown University. She relocated to Philadelphia earlier this year for a consulting job in Springfield.
Wiland and her boyfriend, Stratton Poland, who lives in Houston, have dedicated their marathon participation to Fundación Iguales, a nonprofit based in Chile that works to combat LGBT discrimination.
Wiland and her family moved to Chile when she was 2, as her parents sought to give her and her sister the experience of living abroad. She left the country when she went to college.
“Chile is a fairly liberal country, but in many ways it’s still very backwards and set in its ways,” Wiland said. “I grew up in an American household; my mom was born in Peru but she was raised in New Jersey and lived in New York City most of her life, and my dad’s from Queens. I came back to the States every year for a month or two, and the environment I grew up in was very different from the environment around me. The things my parents taught me differed a lot from what my friends were taught in their homes.”
The LGBT-rights movement in the country, however, took on new momentum last year after the brutal murder of Daniel Zamudio, an openly gay 24-year-old Chilean.
“It stirred Chilean society and it really was because of this horrific murder that Chile began to take gay rights seriously for the first time,” Wiland said, noting that the country has a presidential election coming up the same day as the marathon. “Now is a key moment in Chilean society that there is a real possibility for sweeping gay-rights legislation to take place. That’s why I’m trying to raise awareness about this; I want to bring this to the forefront of people’s minds.”
Fundación Iguales was founded two years ago.
Agency president Luis Larrain said the organization has been able to make impressive strides for LGBT rights in that time.
“Our foundation has been able to transform the public discussion on LGBT issues from a niche one to a mainstream one,” Larrain said. “Every single presidential or parliamentary candidate is obliged now to openly disclose their position on our demands, such as equal marriage. We were directly involved in the passing of the anti-discrimination law last year. We have also participated in the Senate in the discussion on civil unions, by proposing new wordings and improvements to the bill, which have been embraced by some senators.”
In addition to legislative reforms, the organization has worked to eliminate stigma through LGBT trainings for public officials, students and teachers, and has organized large-scale parades and media campaigns to promote LGBT visibility and acceptance.
In addition to Zuamudio’s murder, another young gay man, Wladimir Sepúlveda, was beaten last month and is now in a coma, Larrain said, noting that transgender people especially face violence on the streets.
“There’s just so many things to be changed but too little help,” he said.
That’s where supporters like Wiland and Poland come in.
Wiland began running in high school, joining the high-school track team and starting with 3k races. She eventually moved on to 10ks and half-marathons.
She and Poland, a fellow Georgetown grad, began dating about a year ago and have run a number of races together, although the Philadelphia Marathon marks their first full 26.2-mile race.
“I did half-marathons in Chile and here in the States, but I thought it’s time to move on to the next level,” Wiland said. “So I thought, why not make it really count by doing a good deed?”
The pair is aiming to raise about $5,000 for Fundación through supporters, and is using the lead-up to the race to spread the word about the organization’s work and the overall LGBT-rights movement in Chile. Wiland and Poland will wear shirts the day of the race describing what, and who, they’re running for.
While the fundraising is appreciated, Larrain said the project has the potential to accomplish much more.
“I think it’s all about visibility and awareness,” he said. “We hope that many people will be touched by the fact that two straight people are willing to make such a big effort in pursuit of an urgent need such as the improvement of life conditions of LGBT people in Chile.”
For more information or to donate, visit www.iguales.cl/una-corrida-por-la-libertad-y-el-amor-de-todos-y-todas/.