The Horrific Murder that Made Chile Take Gay Rights Seriously
Daniel Zamudio was 24 years old when four men tortured him and left him for dead.
Last week, his killers were convicted of first degree murder in a case that sent shockwaves throughout Chile and prompted sweeping gay rights changes.
The Hate Crime Murder that Shocked a Nation
On March 2, 2012, in Santiago, four men with ties to neo-Nazi groups tortured Daniel Zamudio, a clothing store salesman with aspirations of being a theater performer. Over a six hour period, they beat Zamudio with glass bottles, broke his leg with a heavy stone, and burnt him with cigarettes, before leaving him for dead in a park in the capital.
Despite hopes that Zamudio might recover and encouraging early progress, Zamudio died 25 days later in the hospital after being taken off life support.
Zamudio’s parents, Ivan and Jacqueline Zamudio, later revealed that Zamudio had been harassed on a number of occasions by neo-Nazi gangs, as had a great many gay men in the area.
Zamudio’s funeral became a scene of national focus with crowds in their thousands lining the streets to throw petals at Zamudio’s funeral cortege. Rallies, too, began to spring up demanding Chile take action to end anti-LGBT discrimination and at last confront problems with xenophobia and far right extremism that had been simmering for a number of years.
Zamudio was not the first case of an anti-gay hate crime in the country; indeed, Chile’s LGBT population had suffered enormously from violent attacks in the years preceding the murder, but Zamudio’s death became a crystallizing moment in much the same way as the Matthew Shepard murder was for America.
Yet unlike in Shepard’s case, where action would take many years and many battles fought and lost, Chile did not dither.
Zamudio’s Death Prompts Swift Action on Gay Rights
Until Zamudio’s death, a gay inclusive hate crime and nondiscrimination bill had stalled in the country’s legislative chambers, with stiff opposition from religious conservatives and several key religious figures.
Zamudio’s death, nationally embraced as a watershed moment, demanded action though and when President of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, personally called on Chilean lawmakers to stop delaying the bill, which had floundered for nearly seven years, pressure intensified.
Adding to that was a ruling handed down at the time by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that condemned Chile for stripping a lesbian mother of custody of her three children simply because of her sexual orientation. Chile had also fallen behind its neighbors Argentina and even Brazil, which had already enacted sweeping LGBT rights protections and, in Argentina’s case, marriage equality. The brazen disregard for gay rights was, at last, too stark to ignore.
By May of 2012, Chile’s lawmakers approved a bill that, as well as solidifying hate crimes provisions, also banned anti-gay discrimination in the form of ”any distinction, exclusion or restriction that lacks reasonable justification, committed by agents of the state or individuals, and that causes the deprivation, disturbance or threatens the legitimate exercise of fundamental rights established by the constitution or in international human rights treaties ratified by Chile.”
The bill was quickly signed into law and Zamudio’s legacy was cemented. Finding justice for Daniel and his family, though, would take longer. Finally, last week, the end came into sight as a judge handed down damning convictions.
Zamudio’s Killers Convicted of First Degree Murder
Judge Juan Carlos Urrutia found four men, Patricio Ahumada, Alejandro Angulo, Raul Lopez and Fabian Mora, guilty of “extreme cruelty” and “total disrespect for human life” for the murder of Daniel Zamudio. Their sentences will be read on October 28.
Prosecutors are seeking jail terms for the men raging from eight years to life in prison. Gay rights groups in Chile say they are satisfied with the verdict. The convictions even prompted a comment from presidential spokeswoman Cecilia Perez, who said “Nothing can change the tremendous pain suffered by Daniel’s parents. But there’s no doubt that today some tranquility has finally reached their hearts. It’s the tranquility that comes with justice.”
Chile’s LGBT community still suffers discrimination and disproportionate levels of violence, in particular Chile’s trans population which, though protected by several of Chile’s laws, continues to suffer disparities in employment, finding homes, healthcare and more. Trans women have also frequently been the victims of incredibly aggressive assaults and murders, and a lack of political will to prevent such crimes is still an issue.
The potency of action surrounding Zamudio’s death hasn’t been able to change that, but it appears to have created a rallying moment for the country’s LGBT population that, in turn, may give the community the voice it needs to make further changes, such as tackling anti-trans bias, seeking partnership recognition and adoption rights for same-sex couples, as well as other non-legislative approaches like youth outreach and education.
Nothing, though, will bring back the life of Daniel Zamudio, and as Zamudio’s father said in comments to the press last week, it was a double tragedy that his son had to die before Chile could take action to protect its LGBT citizens from such horrible violence.