NYC and Chicago lawmakers, activists meet with murdered gay Puerto Rican teenager’s family

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday January 21, 2010

A delegation of elected officials and activists from New York and Chicago met a murdered gay teenager's family during a trip to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Illinois state Sen. Iris Martnez [D-Chicago,] who heads the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus and Illinois state Rep. Mara "Toni" Berros [D-Chicago] were among those who met with Jorge Steven Lpez Mercado's parents and younger brother Gabriel in a San Juan restaurant. Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Guillermo Chacon of the Latino Commission on AIDS, Jorge Cestou of the Chicago-based Association of Latino Men of Action and New York activist Karlo Colon also traveled with the delegation.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the restaurant when she (Mercado) spoke," Quinn told EDGE earlier today.

New York City Councilmembers Melissa Mark-Viverito, Danny Dromm, Jimmy Van Bramer and Rosie Mendez also traveled to Puerto Rico. Quinn told Mercado people in New York and elsewhere continue to support her and her family.

"I wanted her to know her speaking out - in particular about how she loved her son - was so appreciated by the community," Quinn said.

Members of the Association of Latino Men for Action gave Myriam Mercado and Jorge Lpez more than $2,100 they raised at a New York fundraiser last week so they could cover some of their murdered son's funeral costs. Chicago-based ALMA board member Jorge Cestou conceded to EDGE he and others felt mixed emotions during their meeting with the Lpezes because they did not want to force them to relive the murder. Cestou, who is also a co-chair of the national LGBT Latino organization [email protected], added, however, it was important for him and fellow ALMA members to show their solidarity with the family.

"It was definitely extremely powerful," he said.

In addition to their meeting with the family, the delegation also met with Puerto Rican lawmakers and local religious, civil and activists. Hectr Ferrer, the minority speaker of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, Ada Conde of the Foundation for Human Rights and Episcopal Bishop David Alvarez were among those who took part. And at a press conference earlier in the day at the Puerto Rico Bar Association, Quinn once again criticized Gov. Luis Fortuo for his continued silence around Lpez's murder and LGBT hate crimes on the island.

Mark-Viverito echoed these sentiments.

"We in the delegation certainly hope that Governor Fortuo will hear our message loud and clear, that his response to Jorge Steven's murder has been absolutely unacceptable," she told EDGE. "I am profoundly disappointed in the governor's lack of leadership on this matter. We must expect greater accountability and responsibility on the part of our elected officials."

Activists and elected officials in Puerto Rico and on the mainland have repeatedly criticized Fortuo and others - most notably Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz and investigator Angel Rodrguez Coln - since Lpez's decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was found alongside a remote roadside near Cayey on Nov. 13. Fortuo sparked further controversy earlier this month when he told a group of religious leaders he would seek an amendment to the Puerto Rican Constitution that would ban marriage for gays and lesbians.

An emotional Colon described the territorial government's response as a "disgrace." Serrano went further.

"I [hold] responsible those public figures, you know, including religious, political and media public figures that have used hate rhetoric against LGBT communities; I make them responsible for the this terrible crime against Jorge Steven," he said.

A Puerto Rican psychologist found Lpez's accused killer, Juan Jos Matos Martnez, competent to stand trial at a hearing in Caguas earlier this month as EDGE reported. The 26-year-old returns to court on Feb. 2 for a preliminary hearing.

Quinn said before the trip she and other members of the delegation will continue to monitor the investigation; and make future trips to Puerto Rico if necessary.

Serrano added he feels Mercado's own words remain a source of strength.

"We are better people because of their presence in our lives," he said.

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.