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I'm gay, says Chilean sailor in historic announcement

Mauricio Ruiz says he hopes announcement will bring change to conservative South American nation

A Chilean sailor has announced he is gay in an unprecedented public declaration that he hopes will bring change to the socially conservative South American country.

Mauricio Ruiz, 24, said he made the disclosure to dispel myths that gay people can't be effective members of Chile's armed forces.

Ruiz, who was accompanied by gay activists at a press conference yesterday, said it was not an easy step to take but one he felt was necessary.

“Personally, I hope that this is a contribution to non-discrimination in my society,” he said.

"We can do anything, be marines or in any branch. We can do whatever profession, and we deserve as much respect as anyone else.

"In life there's nothing better than to be yourself, to be authentic, to look at people in the eye and for those people to know who you are."

Chile has traditionally been a tough place for homosexuals, although the country decriminalized gay sex in 1999 and attitudes toward gays are evolving.

The torture and killing in March 2012 of a gay man, Daniel Zamudio, in Chile set off a national debate in the country.

The 24-year-old was reportedly beaten for an hour, burned with cigarettes and had symbols similar to the swastika carved into his body.

His brutal killing helped speed up legislation to combat intolerance with Congress eventually passing a hate crime law in July the same year.

While the gay-rights movement has achieved major victories in some South American nations, homosexuals remain targets of violence and harassment in parts of Central America and the Caribbean.

Ruiz, who is stationed at a port in Valparaiso, said his navy superiors granted permission for him to make his disclosure publicly.