Chilean man's brutal murder resets the conversation about gay rights

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World", a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. How far we've come. Retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor officiated a gay wedding at the Supreme Court this week. Last June, the Supreme Court wrestled with DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, and now that seems like a thing of the past. No doubt America has made great strides in equality for gay people, but it's not that way in many other parts of the world. For example - Chile. Eighteen months ago, Daniel Zamudio, a gay man living in the capital Santiago, was beaten by four men in a park. The carved swastikas into his skin, burned him with cigarettes, and left him to die. It's reminiscent of the 1998 Murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming and, like the tragic story of Shepard, the murder of Daniel Zamudio is changing the conversation about gay rights in Chile. The BBC's Gideon Long joins us from Santiago. The four attackers, Gideon, in the Zamudio case have all been convicted of murder. What is the latest?

Gideon Long: They have all been convicted and they were sentenced earlier this week. One of them, who was described by the judges as the main perpetrator of the attack, Patricio Ahumada, was given a life sentence. Two of the other assailants were given fifteen years each and the fourth man, Fabian Mora, was given a seven-year sentence. Those sentences were issued on Monday this week.

Werman: So a lot of people believe Daniel Zamudio's murder has changed Chile, but gay men have been attack in the country before. What was it about this particular murder that changed things?

Long: I think it was the brutality, the details of which you mentioned. There have been attacks on gay men in the past in Chile but it was the details of this case that really shocked people. Daniel Zamudio was walking alone in a park late at night in Santiago when he was attacked by the four men. They beat him to the ground, they kicked him, they knocked him unconscious, then they started to torture him, like carving swastikas onto his skin, by smashing his leg with a huge rock, and then according to some of the graphic court testimony that was released this month, they then urinated his body before they left him for dead. He was found a few hours later in the park. He was taken to hospital and then he suffered for three weeks in hospital before he finally died. So I don't think it's the fact that he gay man was attacked in Santiago that shocked Chileans. It was the nature of the attack.

Werman: Wow. What's going on now with the conversation? I mean the death of Matthew Shepard awoke the US to the levels of homophobia in our own backyard that many people didn't realize existed. What has Zamudio's murder and death done in Chile?

Long: Well, I think the most immediate impact was that legislators passed an anti-discrimination law. It specifies that nobody in Chile should be persecuted, not just on grounds of gender, but also on grounds of race and ethnicity. Since then I think the other big change that we've seen is that gay rights have become an issue in a way that they weren't before and we've seen this in the current presidential campaign. Chileans go to the polls on November the 17th to choose a new president and gay rights has been an issue in this election in a way that it simply wasn't in the last election. So there have been serious significant knock-on effects from Daniel Zamudio's murder.

Werman: So give us a sense of just how fast the gay-rights movement in Chile has changed. I mean do you get the sense that Daniel Zamudio's murder is part of a new era of attention to gay rights there?

Long: I think it is. Just to give you an idea, I've been living here for the past seven years and when I first arrived there was no gay pride in Santiago. Now, there are gay pride marches every year and each year there are more people who go on them, so that's one indication of how things are changing.

Werman: So just last week a twenty-one year old gay man was beaten up in a small town south of Santiago in Chile. There are reports that the man had one of his eyes cut out. I mean even with this apparent sea change and the murder of Daniel Zamudio, how far does Chile still have to go?

Long: Well, a long way and attitudes still have to change a long way. And, as you say, this latest attack has, again, focused minds and it has showed Chileans that they still have work to do. There is some uncertainty about the details of the attack. It just happened ten days ago in this small town around sixty kilometers south of Santiago. It's not entirely clear if it was a homophobic attack, but it was a young man, twenty-one years old, he was gay and was known in the town to be gay. He was walking through town during daylight hours hand-in-hand with a friend. He was attacked by six people, two of them women, and, according to witnesses, they threw homophobic abuse at him, they kicked him to the ground. He is now in a coma fighting for his life. So clearly a lot of work still to do.

Werman: The BBC's Gideon Long joining us from Santiago. Thank you.

Long: Thank you.