Chilean Navy Sailor Makes Waves, Announces He's Gay

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. Eva Vergara / AP

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In an unprecedented public statement in a very conservative country, a sailor with Chile's navy on Wednesday announced he is gay.

At a press conference in Santiago, 24-year-old sailor Mauricio Ruiz told reporters he hoped the disclosure about his sexuality will help dispel myths that gays can't be effective members of Chile's armed forces. Ruiz, who is stationed at a port in Valparaiso, said his navy superiors granted permission for him to make his disclosure publicly.

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

Ruiz was joined by gay activists at the press conference, where he said it had not been an easy decision, but one he felt was necessary.

"Personally, I hope that this is a contribution to non-discrimination in my society," said Ruiz.

--The Associated Press