A Chilean man who had been in a coma for nearly six months after a group of men allegedly attacked him because he was gay died on Sunday.
Wladimir Sepúlveda passed away at a hospital in Rancagua, a city that is roughly 55 miles south of Santiago, the Chilean capital.
The 21-year-old had been in a vegetative state after a group of six men attacked him last October in the nearby town of San Francisco de Mostazal. The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, said Sepúlveda’s assailants shouted anti-gay slurs at him as they kicked him and punched him in the head.
“The death of Wladimir Sepúlveda, who spent months fighting for his life, is a painful and sad moment,” said Álvaro Elizalde, spokesperson for President Michelle Bachelet, in a statement late on Sunday. “On behalf of the government I want to express my condolences through an embrace of solidarity with his relatives.”
LGBT rights advocates in neighboring Argentina also mourned Sepúlveda’s death.
“Wladimir’s death has profoundly affected us,” said LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón. “We have kept following this case since the crime took place and we had hoped that it would not have this outcome.”
Sepúlveda’s death comes against the backdrop of a spate of anti-LGBT attacks in the South American country.
Esteban Parada Armijo, 22, died in a Santiago hospital in late January after two men stabbed him in the Chilean capital’s Bellavista neighborhood where a number of gay bars and clubs are located.
Alejandro Alfredo Bustamante Godoy, 59, died two weeks earlier after Guillermo Aguilera Guerrero, 18, allegedly stabbed the fast food restaurant owner inside his home in the coastal city of Valparaíso a few weeks earlier. Willian Villanueva, a small-time drug dealer, reportedly said he was going to “kill a faggot” before he allegedly shot Arturo Lomboi to death in the Santiago suburb of Puente Alto in December.
Doctors last June amputated Esteban Navarro Quinchevil’s leg after a group of six men attacked him in the Santiago suburb of Peñalolén because he is gay. A transgender teenager from the coastal city of Cartagena the month before lost an eye during an alleged anti-trans attack.
Then-President Sebastián Piñera in 2012 signed into law a hate crimes and anti-discrimination bill that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The statute is named in honor of Daniel Zamudio Vera, a 24-year-old whom a group of self-described neo-Nazis beat to death in a Santiago park earlier that year because he was gay.
The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation noted on March 27 – the second anniversary of Zamudio’s death – that 26 people have been in murdered in Chile because of their sexual orientation or gender identity since 2002.
The Chilean LGBT advocacy group has sharply criticized a Rancagua judge who charged a man who confessed to attacking Sepúlveda with a lesser charge. The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation has also renewed calls for Bachelet’s government to reform the country’s hate crimes law.
Bachelet, who succeeded Piñera last month, supports efforts to strengthen the statute.
“This new death underscores how much we still have to go to advance as a society,” said Elizalde. “We hope that justice will take its course, clarifying the facts and applying the appropriate punishments.”
Sepúlveda’s body has been brought to Santiago for an autopsy. The Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation said his funeral will take place in Rancagua later this week.