Report documents anti-LGBT hate crimes in Puerto Rico

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Wednesday July 14, 2010

A coalition of activists and elected officials gathered at New York City Hall on Tuesday, July 12, to release a report on suspected anti-LGBT hate crimes in Puerto Rico.

The press conference took place a little more than a week after authorities found a transgender woman shot to death in Loíza, a small town east of San Juan. The group - New York City Stands in Solidarity with the Puerto Rican Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community - found more than 20 LGBT Puerto Ricans have been killed in possible bias-related murders since the territory added sexual orientation and gender identity to its hate crimes statute in 2002. Prosecutors have not applied the law to any of these cases, but coalition members stressed it remains crucially important to stand alongside their LGBT colleagues on the island.

"We are here to be in solidarity with the LGBT community," said Guillermo Chacón, executive director of the Latino Commission on AIDS.

Chacón traveled to Puerto Rico in January with New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea], City Councilmembers Daniel Dromm [D-Jackson Heights], Melissa Mark-Viverito [D-East Harlem], Rosie Mendez [D-Lower East Side], Jimmy Van Bramer [D-Sunnyside], Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and others from the five boroughs and Chicago. The delegation met with murdered gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado's family, local politicians and activists. And the City Council honored López's family at its annual Pride event last month.

Mendez lamented the fact more LGBT Puerto Ricans have been killed in her homeland since the trip.

"We are now here in New York because we have had seven anti-gay and anti-transgender murders in the last eight months," she said. "This is unacceptable and the government has to do something. We are here today to say no more."

Quinn, Mark-Viverito and others have repeatedly blasted Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuño for his continued failure to condemn López's brutal murder and other suspected anti-LGBT hate crimes that have occurred on the island since authorities discovered the gay teenager's decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body along a remote roadside in November. Fortuño told the Spanish language NTN 24 network during the National Governors Association's annual meeting in Boston last weekend he does not want to interfere with the ongoing investigations (into the murders,) but this explanation did little to silence his critics.

"This governor has not stood up and done the right thing to say this type of violence is wrong," said Dromm. "We need the governor's support to end these crimes."

Mark-Viverito went even further.

"Silence also speaks volumes," she said.

López's death is one of the reported 22 anti-LGBT murders in the United States in 2009 the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documents in the annual report it released after the press conference. Of these victims, 79 percent were people of color and 50 percent of them identified as trans women. And while these figures represent a 30 percent decrease from 2008, they remain the second highest the NCAVP has reported over the last decade.

Stapel stressed fear and hatred remain primary motivations behind anti-LGBT hate crimes-and working to change homophobic and transphobic attitudes remains a significant challenge for the NCAVP and other organizations.

"We have to do this in Puerto Rico," she said. "We have to do this in New York City. And we have to do this around the country."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.