Daniel Zamudio, a 24-year-old Chilean, was attacked in a public square and tortured for over six hours by four young men. He was punched and kicked repeatedly, often in the head. His body was burned with cigarettes and swastikas were carved into his body with broken glass. Part of his ear was even cut off. After 25 days in a hospital, fighting for his life, Zamudio succumbed to his fatal injuries. The reason for this brutal attack? Zamudio was openly gay.
Instead of finding fault with only the assailants, the Zamudio family lawyer, Jamie Parada, put a spotlight on the Chilean government. Parada found them to be “morally guilty.” He cited their slow pace in legislating against the discrimination that is continuously experienced by the LGBT community.
Human rights organizations have long criticized Chile’s resistance to passing anti-discriminaton laws with punitive powers that will justly address violations. Under Parada’s leadership, the public outcry over Zamudio’s beating was channeled into a movement calling for more stringent anti-discrimation laws to be implemented. Through his willingness to promote the taboo topic of gay rights and push his country’s culture towards equality, Parada exhibited moral courage.
The suspects, four young men between the ages of 19 and 26, were identified by an anonymous witness. Several of them have criminal records for homophobic attacks and all are part of a group known as “Nazis del Centro,” (“downtown Nazis”). For some, the Nazi connection may be counter-intuitive given that none of them are white.
Journalist Lygia Navarro of PBS’ Frontline/World explains that some Chilean youth have been drawn to neo-Nazism because of economic disenfranchisement. These youth wrongly blame their troubles on those whom they believe threaten Chilean society (in effect, the Chilean race) such as the LGBT community.
Parada is a long time gay rights activist and director of Chile’s Gay Liberation Movement (MOVILH). Early on, he called attention to the Zamudio hate crime, stating, “Daniel died from the hatred that some people have. He did nothing more than have a different sexual orientation.”
Under pressure from leaders like Parada, Chile’s elected officials on both sides of the aisle are ramping up the strength of the current anti-discrimination law. Government officials are even considering naming the law the “Ley Zamudio” (Zamudio Law), symbolizing that Zamudio did not die in vain.
Challenging backwards cultural norms is hard and successfully reforming a culture through legislation is even harder. As Parada has demonstrated, boldness to demand that elected leaders stand firmly against cultural wrongs, and the persistence to hold them accountable, are hallmarks of a morally courageous individual.