The Swift Legacy of Chile’s Matthew Shepard (Video)
Sometimes one person can make a difference, but sometimes that person has to die.
The murder of Daniel Zamudio in Chile, who was beaten and branded with swastikas by neo-Nazis, has touched a national nerve as happened in the United States with the 1998 murder in Wyoming of Matthew Shepard. And that response appears to have been answered and anti-gay forces defeated.
Daniel’s funeral was a national event, with thousands turning out to throw petals onto his funeral cortege and to wave rainbow flags (watch video below) and to chant for justice.
“It’s a historic day. Thousands of people came out to mark a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ for the country,” Jaime Silva, a lawyer representing Zamudio’s family, said in an interview at the funeral.
As a country which was ruled by fascists for many years and is still struggling with that legacy, many have cited the neo-nazi element and the branding with swastikas as touching a nerve in this case, when others have been killed before for being gay or transgender and have not received recognition.
Christian Science Monitor reports that:
The brutal murder has shocked Chileans and has sent support for gay rights soaring in a country that has lagged behind many of its neighbors in addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Care2′s Steve Williams has reported on how an anti-discrimination and hate crimes bill has stalled in Chile’s parliament. The lack of progress is blamed on evangelical lobbyists, who say that the law would be a first step toward gay marriage.
As with Matthew Shepard (the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed 11 years after his death), there are never any guarantees that a national outcry will lead to legislative change.
One conservative senator told local TV that the passage of basic anti-discrimination law would “open a window” and “someone could come along tomorrow and claim that there is discrimination against two people of the same sex who want to adopt a child, to which I am completely opposed.”
However, Catholic Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati, following the murder, said “non-discrimination law, does not seem bad in principle, on the contrary, we wish that there be no discrimination, arbitrary discrimination is always wrong.” Ezzati has been criticized for not visiting Zamudio’s family in the hospital. Chile’s gay movement has accused the church of following the Vatican’s lead into “homophobic activism.”
But only a week after Zamudio’s death, and after being stalled for many years, that anti-discrimination and hate crimes law passed the House of Representatives on April 5, if only narrowly. Following the murder, conservative President Sebastian Pinera had urged the law’s approval.
The outcry over Zamudio’s death is not the only pressure for change, though.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights made an historic ruling last month against Chile for stripping a lesbian mother of custody of her three daughters on the basis of her sexual orientation. The 2003 ruling by the Chilean Supreme Court had determined that if her daughters remained in her custody, they would be in a “situation of risk” due to their “unique family.”
Chile has been out of step with its neighbors regarding LGBT rights. Argentina has gay marriage and has passed anti-discrimination laws against transgender people.
Brazil has anti-discrimination laws and civil partnerships and is inching towards gay marriage. However, a hate crimes law is stalled in Brazil’s parliament because of evangelical pressure and last year Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff stopped the distribution of gay and lesbian-inclusive sex education and anti-homophobia materials in schools because of that pressure.
Christian Science Monitor said that the real delay to gay rights in Chile may be culture more than law, noting that the funeral was not universally well received and they report that:
Later, the march ran into a rally of soccer fans, who picked that moment to sing a cheer referring to a rival team with racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs.
Asked whether they supported gay rights, several of the soccer fans said yes. They said they saw no contradiction between chanting insults and supporting gay rights.
Watch Al Jazeera report on Zamudio’s funeral:
Photo credit: Al Jazeera screengrab