New York City Council honors murdered gay Puerto Rican teenager’s family

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Tuesday June 15, 2010

Jorge Steven Lpez Mercado's family received a standing ovation as members of the New York City Council honored them at their annual LGBT Pride event at City Hall on Tuesday, June 15.

Speaking through Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Myriam Mercado spoke about her faith and how it has provided her and her family strength since Juan Jos Martnez Matos stabbed Lpez to death and dumped his decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body along a remote roadside near Cayey last November.

"The God I know is a God of love; he doesn't make any exceptions," said Mercado, who joined her husband Jorge Lpez, Sr., their son Gabriel Lpez Mercado and Serrano at the podium. "He tells me we have to love our neighbor like we love ourselves."

Mercado told EDGE "with a crime so atrocious, it is important people unite in their pain." A judge sentenced Martnez to 99 years in prison last month after he admitted he murdered Lpez. But Mercado said she remains grateful for the support she and her family continue to receive from around the world.

"We are very pleased by the support from people we don't know," said Mercado.

Gabriel Lpez Mercado proclaimed "Viva Steven!" after his mother spoke. Openly lesbian City Councilmember Rosie Mendez [D-Lower East Side,] who introduced the Lpezes, and Serrano both applauded the family.

"I am proud to be standing with a Puerto Rican family that has sent a message of hope and love-especially love," he said as he held a gay Puerto Rican Pride flag. "Puerto Rico is a place of love, of acceptance, of welcoming people with open arms. We are not a country of hate."

In addition to the Lpezes, the City Council honored Q-WAVE and the Brooklyn Community Pride Center. Country music star Chely Wright and Audra McDonald of "Private Practice" performed. Lieutenant Dan Choi led the pledge of allegiance. And talk show host Wendy Williams emceed.

"The shared strength of the LGBT community is truly a force to be reckoned with," said Williams.

Wright, who spoke with EDGE shortly after she came out last month, discussed how she had struggled to come to terms with her sexual orientation. And she literally found inspiration on the chamber's ceiling-a Thomas Jefferson quote-as she took the podium.

"Equality and exact justice to all men of whatever state persuasion," read Wright. "I like it; I like it a lot."

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn [D-Chelsea,] who was among a delegation of activists and politicians from the five boroughs and Chicago that traveled to Puerto Rico in January to meet with the Lpez family and local lawmakers, religious leaders and others, spoke about LGBT-specific legislation. She described the state Senate's failure to pass a bill that would have allowed gays and lesbians to marry as a "massive disappointment." Quinn also highlighted the defeat of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act in Albany earlier this month, but she cited progress towards the possible repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and other LGBT-specific issues.

"Rarely is a Pride or protest march quick, rarely is it straight," said Quinn. "It doesn't work out the way you thought it exactly would, but you always get to the end. The only way through is through."

Quinn also applauded President Obama for singing a bill last October that added both sexual orientation and gender identity to federal hate crime laws. She added, however, Lpez's murder, the re-trial of one of two men prosecutors contend beat Ecuadorian immigrant Jos Sucuzhaay to death on a Brooklyn street corner in Dec. 2008 and other anti-LGBT hate crimes remain stark reminders of the work that remains.

"We have tremendous progress if you compare where our community was at the time of Stonewall, but there is absolutely no reason why people should be satisfied," said Quinn during a press conference held before the Pride event. "We are in a place where we have made progress, but we are not done. And we need to keep moving forward."

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.