Activists Urge Obama to Denounce Anti-LGBT Violence in Puerto Rico

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Tuesday June 14, 2011

Activists have called upon President Barack Obama to publicly denounce the recent spate of LGBT deaths in Puerto Rico while he visits the island on Tuesday, June 14.

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli told EDGE on a conference call with reporters on Monday, June 13, that the Justice Department is "aware of these incidents and we are reviewing them." He declined to say whether the President would raise the issue with Gov. Luis Fortuo during his tour of the governor's mansion in San Juan.

Obama is the first president since John F. Kennedy to make an official visit to Puerto Rico. His schedule includes an arrival ceremony at Luis Muoz Marn International Airport. The President is scheduled to headline a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in San Juan before returning to Washington.

"We urge President Obama to speak out on the murders of LGBT people in Puerto Rico and to speak directly to Gov. Fortuo about the importance of combating homophobia and transphobia," said Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force on Monday, June 13. "As leaders of the United States and Puerto Rico, they must send a strong message that hate is not a value. But most importantly, Gov. Fortuo needs to finally break his silence on the epidemic of anti-LGBT violence that has taken the lives of 18 Puerto Ricans in the past year and a half. He has to say unequivocally that Puerto Ricans will be treated equally under the law, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and that his administration will do everything in its power to curb this anti-LGBT violence."

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation also urged Obama to raise the issue while in Puerto Rico.

"President Obama should take a stand while in San Juan and send a clear message that hate-motivated crimes will not be tolerated in any U.S. territory-period," said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios.

As EDGE previously reported, Puerto Rican police arrested Jorge A. Lugo Rodrguez late on Saturday, June 11, in connection with Karlota Gmez Sanchez's murder in a Santurce intersection on Monday, June 6. She was one of three LGBT Puerto Ricans found dead in the span of 72 hours.

Serrano told EDGE that the FBI has contacted him for information about the 18 LGBT Puerto Ricans who have been murdered over the last year and a half. "The pressure is definitely working," he said. "People are paying attention. Things are 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.