Puerto Rico on the brink of history for LGBT people…

RL y yoI want to share three amazing stories that our good friend, Mike Lavers, has put together to document the history-making week we had in Puerto Rico last week. I want to thank him and Andrés Duque for consistently and lovingly report the news from Puerto Rico.

The Task Force has been involved in the struggle in Puerto Rico for the past seven years and we will continue to be there until we achieve full equality for the Puerto Rican LGBT community. We’ve come a long way!

From having more than 40 LGBT people murdered until the passage in the Senate last week of a sweeping nondiscrimination bill that protects LGBT people in employment, housing, public accommodations, governmental services and private entities. From just having dozens marching on our protests to thousands yesterday in which the Task Force and myself were represented by my family while I was returning to NY to receive an award from the Latino Commission on Aids. From the PR Supreme Court denying adoption to same-sex couples to a Senate hearing on a bill that will allow it. From an ugly and massive opposition from the fundamentalists religious groups to the overwhelming support of the Puerto Rican people (80 percent of the testimonies in the hearings were pro-LGBT and 70 percent of Puerto Ricans favor equal rights for LGBT people according to the latest poll).

And there is still much more to do. This week will be crucial, since the House will vote on the nondiscrimination bill and will also vote on a bill for same sex-couples to be protected under the domestic violence law. The governor has vowed to sign these three bills into law. Also, soon the Senate president will introduce a civil unions bill and the birth certificate change for transgender individuals.

I’ll write a blog post on Monday that will detail all of this, but just came back from Puerto Rico and wanted to give an update on our progress. We are on the brink of history! Please stand with us.

Puerto Rico Senate approves non-discrimination bill

By Michael K. Lavers on May 16, 2013

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—The Puerto Rican Senate on Thursday approved a sweeping bill that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and government services in the U.S. territory.

The 15-11 vote took place after lawmakers for several hours debated Senate Bill 238 that Sen. Ramón Nieves Pérez introduced in January.

“The country, you and I are sick and tired of the marginalization,” Sen. Mari Tere González said.

Former Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz is among those who spoke against the bill.

“This Senate speaks of tolerance but discriminates against those who don’t have the same political ideology,” he tweeted during the debate.

The bill’s passage comes three days after San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz mandated the Puerto Rican capital’s police department to equally apply the island’s current domestic violence laws, regardless of the reported victim’s sexual orientation. She also signed a second executive order that bans discrimination against the city’s municipal employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and others repeatedly criticized former Gov. Luís Fortuño for not doing enough to curb rampant anti-LGBT violence on the island following the 2009 murder of gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado.

Current Gov. Alejandro García Padilla in February told a local newspaper he opposes the Puerto Rico Supreme Court decision that narrowly upheld the island’s gay adoption ban. He also supports both SB 238 and a separate measure on which a Senate committee will hold a hearing on Friday that would extend adoption rights to gays and lesbians.

Thousands of people on the same day are expected to take part in a march in the Puerto Rican capital that will commemorate the annual International Day Against Homophobia.

Dozens of LGBT rights advocates and other supporters cheered Serrano as he walked out of the Puerto Rican Capitol after the SB 238 vote.

“We are celebrating this victory,” he told the Blade while noting Schatz has previously referred to him as a “faggot.” “The people are celebrating with us. It is an extraordinary step forward.”

Bayamón resident Héctor Maldonado and a handful of other SB 238 supporters who stood across the street from the Capitol during the debate waved rainbow flags and held signs that urged passing motorists to honk their horns in support of the measure. One man yelled “maricón” or “faggot” at them as he drove past, but several drivers indicated their support of the bill.

“It’s just about basic human rights,” Maldonado told the Blade.

SB 238 will now go to the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.

Puerto Rico Senate committee holds adoption bill hearing

By Michael K. Lavers on May 17, 2013

Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force testifies in support of a Puerto Rico adoption bill on Friday, May 17 (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A Puerto Rican Senate committee on Friday held a hearing on a bill that would extend second parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians in the U.S. territory.

“This Assembly must recognize the rights of minorities, even if this recognition is unpopular,” Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said during the Puerto Rico Senate Judiciary, Security and Veterans Committee hearing on Senate Bill 437 that Sen. Mari Tere González López of Mayaguëz introduced in March. “Our democracy is based on the protection of those minority groups from the possible abuse of the majority.”

The hearing took place nearly three months after the territory’s Supreme Court narrowly upheld a ban on gay second parent adoptions in response to the case of Dr. Ángeles Acosta Rodríguez who sought to adopt the child her partner of 25 years, Dr. Carmen Milagros Vélez Vega, conceived through in vitro fertilization.

The dozens of SB 437 hearing supporters who attended the hearing gave Vélez a standing ovation at the end of her testimony.

“Us three are a Puerto Rican family, one among many,” Vélez said as Acosta and their 12-year-old daughter, Juliana María Acosta Vélez Vega, sat next to her. “We are here, not for the sake of receiving special treatment, nor to seek a privilege, but to present ourselves as citizens and daughters of this country and to ask for that which is granted to Puerto Rican families and children, the right to a family and the protections that that includes.”

Representatives of the Psychological Association of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Mental Health and Addiction Administration and the Puerto Rico Department of Justice are among those who also support of SB 437. The Archdiocese of San Juan and other groups remain opposed to the measure.

The SB 437 hearing took place a day after the Puerto Rican Senate approved a sweeping bill that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and government services.

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla supports both SB 437 and the non-discrimination measure that Sen. Ramón Nieves Pérez of San Juan introduced in January.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Monday signed two executive orders that ban anti-LGBT discrimination against the Puerto Rican capital’s municipal employees and mandate the city’s police department to equally enforce the island’s domestic laws regardless of the alleged victim’s sexual orientation.

Thousands attend Puerto Rico LGBT rights march

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Thousands marched through the streets of the Puerto Rican capital on Friday in support of LGBT rights.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and Sen. Ramón Nieves Pérez, who sponsored the sweeping anti-LGBT non-discrimination bill the Senate on Thursday passed by a 15-11 vote margin, unfurled an LGBT Pride flag from the balcony of City Hall as marchers passed. She stood with members of Butterflies Trans Association, a trans advocacy group, while wearing a white hand band with the word “equity” on it as she spoke from the steps of the Puerto Rican capitol at the end of the march.

“I say from the bottom of my heart to those who are listening to us — all of Puerto Rico; we are all equal,” Yulín said.

Alicia Burgos, the mother of Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and his father spoke to marchers from the back of a pick-up truck that stopped near Plaza de Colón in Old San Juan.

“We are marching against homophobia,” she said.

The march, which was one of dozens around the world that commemorated the annual International Day Against Homophobia, took place hours after a Puerto Rican Senate committee held a hearing on a bill that would extend second parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians.

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court in February narrowly upheld the island’s ban on gay second parent adoptions in response to the case of Dr. Ángeles Acosta Rodríguez who sought to adopt the child her partner of 25 years, Dr. Carmen Milagros Vélez Vega, conceived through in vitro fertilization. Vélez received a standing ovation from the adoption measure’s supporters who attended the hearing after she finished her testimony with her partner and their 12-year-old daughter by her side.

A third bill that three representatives introduced earlier this year would add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the island’s anti-domestic violence laws.

Advocates continue to point to the three aforementioned bills as significant movement in support of rights for LGBT Puerto Ricans since Gov. Alejandro García and Yulín, who issued two LGBT-specific executive orders on Monday, took their respective offices in January. In spite of this progress, they maintain anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain rampant throughout the island.

Yulín and others who spoke during the march referenced Jorge Steven López Mercado; a gay teenager whose decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was found dumped along a remote roadside near Cayey in 2009. One march participant even pretended he was dead on the sidewalk in front of the Puerto Rican Capitol as others outlined his body with masking tape and placed evidence markers above rocks with anti-gay slurs written onto them.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, gay news, Washington Blade

A group from the Puerto Rican city of Ponce takes part in a march for LGBT rights in San Juan on May 17. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

“I, as the mother of a gay individual, say I am proud to be here,” one member of the Butterflies Trans Association said as she spoke to the crowd from the steps of the Puerto Rican Capitol. “We are fighting as a movement to tell (lawmakers) that we are in search of a place where [LGBT Puerto Ricans] can be successful, a place where we can take care of our people.”

Eduardo, who traveled to San Juan from Ponce with a group of 150 people, agreed as he spoke to the Blade near Plaza de Colón.

“We are here because we want equality,” he said. “We want the same equality that everybody else has.”

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