By Carmen Sesin | NBC News
Human rights activists lauded Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Pierluisi’s move to declare a state of emergency over gender violence as a “step in the right direction,” but several also urged him to expand the executive order to include all LGBTQ persons.
Pierluisi’s executive order, issued Sunday, directs more resources to combating the wave of killings and other violence directed at women and girls in the U.S. territory, including the appointment of a special government representative to oversee the order’s execution, a mobile app to request emergency help and the start of a campaign to inform and educate against gender violence.
“All violence is repudiated, and we have to tirelessly combat it,” Pierluisi said in a news release. “Gender violence is a social evil based on ignorance and attitudes that cannot have a space or be tolerated in the Puerto Rico we aspire.”
While the governor’s executive order includes violence against trans women, two human rights groups on the island urged that the executive order include violence against all LGBT people.
“We must recognize there’s a wave of misogynist violence in Puerto Rico and use all the resources necessary to curb it. However, we can’t stop there,” according to a statement from Puerto Rico Para Tod@s and Human Rights Campaign. “There’s another crisis, very much related, in an unprecedented epidemic of homophobic and transphobic violence.”
Pedro Julio Serrano, a well-known LGBTQ human rights activist in the island, called the governor’s state of emergency order “historic” in a tweet. But he told NBC News on Monday that while it was “a step in the right direction, it’s important to include everyone.”
“There is homophobic and transphobic violence as well that is taking lives away from us,” said Serrano. “There needs to be an educational component to all of this.
Earlier this month, a transgender man was found shot to death. He was the seventh known transgender person to be killed in Puerto Rico since last February, according to the Transgender Law Center.
Femicides, defined as the intentional killing of women or girls, has gone up recently. According to the Observatory for Gender Equity, there were at least 60 femicides last year in Puerto Rico, which has a population size of just over 3 million.
Last week, a man admitted to recently killing his wife, a 29-year-old nurse, who became the first femicide victim of 2021 on the island. The couple had been together for 16 years and have three daughters.
Advocates said Pierluisi’s executive order is an important step in combating the violence that has historically plagued the island but has become worse during the pandemic.
Amarilis Pagán, executive director of the social services organization Project Matria, told El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, that “for us it’s opening a path in the right direction to recognize gender violence, which is different from other kinds of violence and has specific causes.”
Puerto Rico is not alone in the region in facing the problem. Latin America and the Caribbean have high rates of violence against women. About 27 percent of women in the region have suffered violence from an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.