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October 21, 2014

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Chile sailor publicly discloses his homosexuality

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AP Photo/Eva Vergara

Mauricio Ruiz, 24, sailor of the Chilean Navy, right, comes out publicly as gay during a press conference in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday Aug. 27, 2014. Ruiz who was accompanied by Rolando Jimenez, left, president of the Homosexual Liberation and Integration Movement, is the first member of the Chilean armed forces ever to come out publicly as gay with the approval of the High Command of the Chilean navy.

SANTIAGO, Chile — A sailor with Chile's navy on Wednesday announced he is gay, an unprecedented public declaration in this socially conservative South American nation.

Chile has traditionally been a tough place for homosexuals, although the country decriminalized gay sex in 1999 and attitudes toward gays are evolving. The killing of a gay man in Chile 2012 set off a national debate that prompted Congress to pass a hate crimes law.

At a press conference Wednesday, 24-year-old sailor Mauricio Ruiz told reporters he hoped the public disclosure about his sexuality will help dispel myths that gays can't be effective members of Chile's armed forces.

Ruiz was accompanied by gay activists for his announcement, which he said 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.

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

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.

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