After Fiona, Needs for People With HIV and LGBTQ People in Puerto Rico Remain Dire…

By Juan Michael Porter II | The Body

This month, media attention given to Puerto Rico’s ongoing plight paled in comparison to the pomp and circumstance surrounding the corpse parade of England’s former monarch. Watching this coverage unfold, one might think the United States were still subjugated colonies of Great Britain, even as one of this country’s own territories received only marginal concern in the wake of a devastating storm.

Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8, resulting in wall-to-wall coverage that had nothing to do with national interest. Ten days later, as news channels breathlessly covered the run-up to Elizabeth’s funeral, Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico, unleashing catastrophic flooding and landslides, knocking out power across the island, and putting the health of thousands of people living with HIV (PLWH) at risk.

Immediate Needs in the Wake of Fiona

Pedro Julio Serrano, a human rights activist and president of the LGBTQ+ social justice organization Puerto Rico Para Todes, told TheBody that as of Sept. 22, 70% of the island was without power, 40% was without running water, and “the government has been incapable and criminally negligent in not making sure that we have the proper resources to recover.” (As of Sept. 27, almost 10 days after the storm hit, half a million structures were still without power.)

Fiona’s violent incursion occurred one day before the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, from which the island has not completely recovered. Puerto Rico’s post-Maria recovery has been stalled in large part due to mismanagement of federal funds, government corruption, and a refusal to invest in on-the-ground community-led organizations.

Serrano explained that these losses disproportionally affect PLWH, many of whom lack employment and transportation due to HIV stigma and homophobia. He quoted the saying, “pueblo pequeño, infierno grande”―literally translated as “small town, big hell”―which is a reference to how, especially in less-urban areas, everyone knows everyone’s business. Because of Fiona, Serrano said, many PLWH may have lost their access to medication, services, and “the only place that they can fully be themselves without facing discrimination.”

With an eye on helping historically marginalized communities, Serrano stated that for people on the U.S. mainland who are eager to help, it’s best to donate money directly to local community organizations on the island—and to avoid donating to international groups like the Red Cross, which might not use the funds as intended by the person making the donation.

Local organizations that TheBody has confirmed are helping provide services across Puerto Rico include:

  • Fundación Pisadas de Amor, a nonprofit that assists older adults and connects them to essential services.
  • Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a social justice organization that fights for equal rights and inclusion of LGBTQ+ communities across Puerto Rico.
  • Taller Salud, a feminist organization that improves women’s access to care and reduces violence within the community.
  • True Self Foundation, which promotes social mobility, educational access, and comprehensive well-being in LGBTQIA+ communities.
  • Waves Ahead, an organization that provides mental health services as well as HIV testing, case management, and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention education to older adults, female-led households, people without sustainable housing, and PLWH.

Concerns for Trauma and Care Access in Rural Areas

Wilfred Labiosa is executive director of Waves Ahead, a nonprofit that provides mental health and HIV services to historically marginalized populations. The organization has branches in San Juan, Cabo Rojo (in Puerto Rico’s southwest), and Maunabo (in the southeast).

During a visit to Maunabo in the wake of Fiona, Labiosa said that the devastation reminded him of “the precarious mental health situation all of us have been living with since Maria hit.” What compounds that strain is that many people in Puerto Rico’s mountains have been cut off by landslides or—even after roads are cleared—loss of transportation due to ruined cars.

Though 71% of the island’s population lives in urban areas, that still leaves a significant proportion of people in need, in areas that are difficult to navigate or reach. For example, Labiosa said that smaller pharmacies have already reached out to request that Waves Ahead send them supplies.

Thus far, Labiosa has not been able to visit Cabo Rojo―which is on the coast, 14 miles west of Sabana Grande―because its mayor is still trying to clear the roads. But he has been told by his colleagues that Waves Ahead’s location there was so badly damaged by the hurricane that staff were forced to relocate their operations to a local hotel. Based upon previous experiences, he believes that it will take months for the area to start receiving electricity again. But the good news is that they are still able to provide services for people in the area.

Alejandro Acosta, a sexual health advocate and contributor to TheBody, explained that people “in all of these mountains and towns are completely cut off from any services.” Acosta rode out Fiona in Sabana Grande, a municipality in the southwest that was devastated by Fiona. Since the storm passed, he has faced intermittent access to electricity and running water.

Acosta said that things were fine for his neighbors with HIV who had cars and jobs, and who were able to make the 40-mile drive east to the municipality Ponce to get their medications and visit their doctors. But he said he is worried about young people who lack transportation or “who might not want to go to an LGBTQ organization because HIV is still treated as taboo in Puerto Rico.”

Acosta explained that stigma, misinformation, and living “in the countryside without any knowledge of sexual health” means that some believe “there’s no monkeypox (or STIs) in Puerto Rico except in San Juan.” Even for those who know the facts, being isolated and afraid to reveal their condition deprives them of emotional support.

He said that, in the past, this has meant watching some people—including “at least two in their 20s”—die from complications of untreated HIV because they “didn’t want to engage in the treatment process.”

It is situations like this that are exacerbated during crises like Hurricane Fiona. But help has often been hard to find.

A Recent History of Failing Puerto Rico

In President Biden’s initial disaster relief plan for Fiona, 23 of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities were excluded. Though the plan was updated on Sept. 24 to reduce that number to 10, Labiosa told TheBody, “It is incomprehensible that local governments on the west part of the island were not [immediately] included as recipients of emergency funds.”

When asked why Biden’s initial announcement excluded so many municipalities, he blamed racism, classism, ageism, and homophobia. Historically, corruption has also been responsible.

In 2019, the Center for a New Economy (CNE), Puerto Rico’s first policy think tank, published a report that determined that the bulk of [U.S. federal disaster funding earmarked for rebuilding after Hurricane Maria was improperly invested in mainland organizations. This, even though the Stafford Act, which guides how the federal government responds to disaster, states that preference should go to local firms when awarding emergency response contracts.

Contrary to this guidance, CNE found that by August 2019, far from investing dollars into Puerto Rico’s local economy, $4.89 billion had been awarded to U.S. mainland firms, compared to $0.66 billion that had been awarded to firms in Puerto Rico.

This failure to invest in firms with local ties to, or understanding of, Puerto Rico’s specific needs was also reflected in the initial humanitarian response to Maria’s devastation. In 2020, the U.S. Homeland Security Office of Inspector General reported that FEMA mismanaged $257 million in commodity distribution during the response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria, with contract costs overrunning at “about $179 million and at least $50 million in questioned costs.”

In early 2021, Puerto Rico’s Gov. Wanda Vázquez was ousted from office after, among other acts of corruption, it was discovered that a government-run warehouse in the southern city of Ponce contained expired baby food and water dated from 2017, as well as other unused emergency supplies.

Labiosa told TheBody that Puerto Rico has not been rebuilt over the past five years and was therefore unprepared for Fiona because of this faulty leadership—which included allowing “private companies to get away with murder” by charging higher fees than their local counterparts, without delivering the promised work.

He also held the federal government responsible for “treating us like third-class citizens” and failing to “develop an infrastructure from the ground up by helping small community-based organizations to mobilize and bring aid.” Or, to follow the oft-quoted rallying cry from freedom movements, “Nothing about us without us!”

As the Island Struggles, the Mainland Response Stumbles

Puerto Rico’s history with failed federal investment hardly factored into recent national coverage, which lingered on images of washed-away bridges and devastation―or was supplanted by tabloid-style coverage of supposed rifts between Elizabeth II’s granddaughter-in-law and England’s funereal revelers—rather than focusing on people who are fighting to survive Fiona.

This included ignoring the need for humanitarian and medical aid, particularly for Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable populations, which include PLWH. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 17,300 PLWH reside in Puerto Rico, making it one of the top 10 U.S. states or territories with the highest rates of HIV prevalence.

Surprisingly, the silence regarding the needs of PLWH in Puerto Rico extends beyond the media to organizations like AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest HIV/AIDS nonprofit in the world. Though it operates a location in Carolina, Puerto Rico (in the northeastern part of the island), AHF took over a week to release any updates or messages about the island. This even as it tweeted condolences and thanks to Elizabeth II on Sept. 19, as reports of Fiona’s devastation were coming in.

On Sept. 22, TheBody asked AHF Communications Director Ged Kenslea about the radio silence and was told, “We were the first ones there with disaster supplies.” During a subsequent interview, AHF’s Regional Director of Miami and Puerto Rico Silvana Erbstein explained that as a result of Hurricane Maria, “We were more than prepared.” Their clinic was open the next day, and operations were “business as usual,” she said.

According to Erbstein, AHF’s Puerto Rican branch is located in the municipality of Carolina and was not as hard hit by Fiona as the south of the island. In terms of support, she said that AHF paid for two cargo planes to deliver supplies and generators to the island, which were used to help their clients as well as their local community partners.

When asked how southern Puerto Rico was faring, Erbstein stated that she did not know because AHF does not have community partners in that region―but she added that the organization planned to send “one of our [supply] containers to a big hospital there.”

In a separate interview concerning AHF’s decision not to post public information about the medical situation in Puerto Rico, AHF’s National Director for Communications and Community Engagement W. Imara Canady explained that the organization’s marketing team was waiting for “information that’s been shared from our medical team there,” but in the meantime, they “also do a lot of things through our social media, particularly Instagram and Twitter,” and that messages would go out “if not today, sometime this week.”

On Sept. 26, AHF Puerto Rico’s Facebook page released a video of staff members delivering supplies to a location in the south of the island. But the main organization has yet to acknowledge that Hurricane Fiona occurred on any of its other social media channels.

The Broader Push for Rights and Recognition in Puerto Rico

Whether it’s mainland silence, federal failures, or local corruption, Puerto Rico’s problems predate this current crisis. As an example, Serrano named homophobia within government services―a problem that persists even though former governor Ricardo Rosselló, who served prior to Vázquez, was forced to resign in 2019 after it was revealed that he had exchanged homophobic, sexist, and other offensive text messages with members of his inner circle.

For Serrano, addressing these issues includes holding police officers responsible for discrimination, violence, and harassment against the LGBT community, particularly “our trans brothers and sisters.” He also called for greater training in instances of same-gender domestic violence, which he said often ends with police officers walking away without providing assistance.

But he said that one cause for celebration is Puerto Rico’s “bill of rights for people living with HIV that allows people who are discriminated against [because of the virus] to file a complaint and seek monetary reparations.”

In 1995, under laws that govern the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, legislation was drawn up to protect people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS from discrimination. This legislation was passed in 2000 as Bills 522 and 523 with what Serrano calls “pretty wide-ranging” powers of enforcement. The bills are some of the first of their kind that Serrano has seen during his 28 years of living with HIV.

He said that law has already helped him: After falling ill with pneumonia, Serrano said his hospital tried to deny him access to his medications, but because “the law specifically says that if you are in a hospital institution, they need to provide those lifesaving medications, I was able to push back and say, ‘No. Give me my meds.’” Faced with his awareness of his bill of rights as a PLWH, the hospital complied.

That is why Serrano says it is important for PLWH to know what the laws say so that they can protect themselves. As Puerto Rico begins to rebuild itself yet again, he, Acosta, and Labiosa hope that people will remember the lessons learned from previous disasters, such as the essentiality of empowering local community organizations to lead the way; hiring local contractors to rebuild the island; and using existing laws, including Bills 522 and 523, to protect the rights and dignity of PLWH.

One hopes that the U.S. media cycle will learn some lessons from its dehumanizing approach to breaking news and white-centered stories. Instead, it appears as though it has already moved from a death in England to a new storm, Ian, bearing down on Florida—all while continuing to ignore the needs of its own citizens on an island well off the coast of the continental U.S.’s southernmost state.

Ricky Martin anuncia esfuerzo de emergencia tras el azote de Fiona…

Ricky Martin anunció, hoy, un esfuerzo de alivio ante la emergencia por el paso del huracán Fiona por la isla. Desde comienzos de semana, la Fundación Ricky Martin, Waves Ahead Puerto Rico y SER de Puerto Rico, asisten familias y comunidades afectadas.

“Puerto Rico nos necesita, ahora más que nunca. Con nuestra isla que aún no se ha recuperado de los huracanes Irma y María, los terremotos y la pandemia, Fiona ha colocado a la gente en un estado de mayor vulnerabilidad. La electricidad le falta a la gran mayoría de la población, más de la mitad tampoco tiene agua potable y el acceso a los servicios esenciales está más crítico que nunca. Es por todo esto que te pido que vayas a para que dones cualquier cantidad que pueda para nuestro esfuerzo de Alivio de emergencia. Con nuestros socios, SER y Waves Ahead, así como con la colaboración de World Central Kitchen y otras organizaciones comunitarias, nuestros equipos permanentes en las comunidades se asegurarán de que la ayuda humanitaria y los servicios de salud mental sean provistos de manera inmediata y directa a los más afectados”, dijo Ricky Martin.

A casi cinco años del embate del huracán María, Fiona ha dejado a Puerto Rico devastado. Los equipos de trabajo han comenzado a proveer ayuda de emergencia a las familias y comunidades afectadas por la devastación del huracán Fiona, entre los recursos y servicios, se incluye: agua, comida, artículos de atención médica, ropa y primeros auxilios psicológicos. Al momento, hay empleados y voluntarios destacados, en los pueblos de: Loíza, San Juan, Cabo Rojo, Ceiba, Maunabo y Ponce, junto con líderes comunitarios, como Pedro Julio Serrano, que viabilizan el poder identificar y priorizar las necesidades específicas en cada comunidad. Los servicios provistos serán a corto y largo plazo, por tanto, continuarán una vez la emergencia haya pasado.

“La Fundación Ricky Martin, Waves Ahead Puerto Rico y SER de Puerto Rico han estado facilitando servicios a las poblaciones más vulnerabilizadas por décadas. Ahora, con esta alianza estratégica combinamos nuestras fuerzas para asegurarnos de que los servicios sean provistos en un esfuerzo coordinado que sea inclusivo y de gran impacto. Estamos en el campo ofreciendo asistencia que salva vidas de nuestra gente”, dijeron Nilda Morales de SER y Wilfred Labiosa de Waves Ahead. Para más información, visita

After Hurricane Fiona, Puerto Ricans are frustrated with electric grid, infrastructure problems…

By Kiara Alfonseca | ABC News

Hurricane Fiona has pummeled Puerto Rico, an island whose infrastructure struggled to recover from the devastating Hurricane Maria that killed almost 3,000 people in 2017.

Fiona left many without electricity and water, including Pedro Julio Serrano, a resident and human rights activist.

«It’s not a natural disaster. This is a political disaster,» Serrano told ABC News.

Some Puerto Ricans who spoke with ABC News are frustrated with the lack of progress in reconstructing the island so residents no longer have to worry about having running water, electricity, and safe roads, buildings and more.

After Maria, many elderly, sick, and disabled people died because they didn’t have the electricity or access to the care and necessities they required, according to Puerto Rican officials. Following Fiona, hospitals and people in need of care have been left scrambling to find generators to support them, according to Puerto Rico’s Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

«The vast majority of the people who died [from Maria] was because of incompetence and because people couldn’t get their power back for months,» Julio Serrano said. «What is happening is criminal.»

Some residents said local and federal governments have had several years to fix things.

«We really shouldn’t have to be resilient in the 21st century, when we’re supposed to be a part of the richest nation in the world,» Victor Amauri, referring to Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory, told ABC News. Amauri is a resident and spokesperson for Brigada Solidaria del Oeste, a local activist group.

Puerto Rico’s electric system has long been unstable, even before Hurricane Maria devastated the island. As a result, blackouts have been a regular part of life for many residents for the last five years, according to island residents.

Those who spoke with ABC News say they blame LUMA, a private company that has operated and managed Puerto Rico’s electric power transmission and distribution system since June 2021.

LUMA said it was currently working with customers to restore power and stabilize the grid.

«We will continue to work non-stop until every customer is restored and the entire grid is reenergized» LUMA Public Safety Manager, Abner Gómez, said in a statement. «While these efforts continue over the coming days, we strongly encourage customers to continue to exercise caution and stay away from any downed power lines.»

Much of the federal money allocated to help fix the electric grid has not been spent due to disagreements between Puerto Rican officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on how to use it.

LUMA, as well as the Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi, did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Cynthia Burgos López, resident and executive director of La Maraña, a group dedicated to rebuilding Puerto Rico, told ABC News that residents hadn’t seen the impact of federal dollars on the island.

«Being a colony from the States, we have a lot of money that’s being sent all the time to Puerto Rico, but we have such a corrupt government, that nothing gets to the communities,» she said.

Burgos López recalled the long, but recent history of government officials who have been embroiled in corruption scandals.

At least nine Puerto Rican mayors and several other government officials have been arrested on charges of bribery, extortion, and more in recent years.

Residents said they blame the long-standing corruption, under-resourcing and underfunding for why the island was not ready for Fiona, and why it will not be ready for the next storm.

«We know that without Fiona, we were not having light. So with Fiona, we were going to be monthslong without light,» Burgos López told ABC News.

Some also told ABC News that barriers imposed by the United States — such as the enforcement of the Jones Act, which mandates ships carrying goods between U.S. ports to be built in the United States — have continued to place a financial strain on Puerto Rico and its residents due to increased prices of goods, though it’s a furiously debated topic.

For now, residents are working together to ensure their fellow community members get what they need, and not waiting for outside help to touch down on the island. However, some residents and activists plan to protest, and demand action from officials in the wake of the storm’s damage.

Amauri said there are long lines to get gasoline, people using generators to refrigerate their food, and residents are scrambling to find clean drinking water.

«People are suffering more each day,» he said.

Hace llamado a tirarse a la calle a exigir la recuperación inmediata de Puerto Rico…

El activista de derechos humanos Pedro Julio Serrano hizo un llamado, hoy, al pueblo para que se tire a la calle a exigir la recuperación inmediata del país.

«Estoy exhausto, molesto, triste, pero también combativo y puesto pa’l problema. No nos merecemos esta indignidad. Merecemos servicios adecuados, salud de primera, respuesta de emergencia inmediata. Estoy listo pa’ tirarme a la calle y se que hay miles más dispuestos a hacerlo. No queremos más muertos como en María. Queremos vivir, soñar y amar en nuestro país», aseveró Serrano.

El portavoz de Puerto Rico Para Todes denunció el «duérmete nene del gobierno estatal que nos mantiene bajo falsas expectativas en vez de acabar de energizar al país en su totalidad y brindarle agua tan necesaria para la superviviencia».

«Hago un llamado a que no nos amendrentemos con que debemos esperar porque estamos en una emergencia para protestar. Es precisamente porque estamos en una emergencia que tenemos que salir a exigir lo que nos corresponde: servicios esenciales de calidad, recuperación total, salud para nuestra gente, justicia y equidad. Ya basta de tratar de cogernos de lo que no somos. Somos un pueblo valeroso, fuerte y digno. Vamos a darnos a respetar. Vamos a rescatar a nuestro país. Vamos a la calle ya», concluyó Serrano.

Puerto Rican LGBTQ+ Activist Gives A Blueprint…

By Lucy Gellman | Arts Council

Support the community members already doing the work. Learn the archipelago’s full history—including the voices that have not yet gotten their proper due. Join the fight on the ground, or build its legacy by sending resources. And push for legislation that will protect everyone—even if a career in politics doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards. 

That advice came from Puerto Rican activist and LGBTQ+ champion Pedro Julio Serrano Tuesday night, as he graced the stage at Bregamos Community Theater to speak about  LGBTQ+ rights in Puerto Rico. Serrano is the founder of Puerto Rico Para Todes, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, and Director of Empodérate at Waves Ahead with four satellite locations across the island. In June, he joined the Pride Center for the first time in a panel on what it means to be Boricua and Queer

The event received support from Puerto Ricans United, Inc., the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, and Bregamos Community Theater. Roughly two dozen attended in person; hundreds more listened online. The event is one of 25 taking place this week, during PRIDE New Haven celebrations across the city. 

«We need to acknowledge that Puerto Rico is much more than a geographical area,» Serrano said, noting the five million Puerto Ricans who live outside the archipelago. «We’re a community that lives across the world, and this is why it’s important that we connect those dots in the diaspora.» 

In the hour-long discussion with New Haven Pride Center Deputy Director Juancarlos Soto, Serrano jumped from topics including HIV prevention and care in rural Puerto Rico to private philanthropy to anti-trans violence to his Vans, custom printed with the design of the Puerto Rican Pride Flag. But the most significant, and one he came back to multiple times in the evening, was the way New Haven can learn from LGBTQ+ advocacy in Puerto Rico. 

Before looking to LGBTQ+ rights in the present—and what New Haven might learn from the island next door—Serrano rolled the clock back to the last century, well before Marsha P. Johnson and the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. In U.S. history, he said, Stonewall is often thought of as the watershed moment that launched the gay rights movement across the country. 

But in Puerto Rico, LGBTQ+ community builders had already been doing that work, often quietly and without credit, for years. In particular, he said, the movement owes its thanks to several trailblazing Puerto Rican women who paved the way—and opened the door to queer and trans activists doing the work now.

Moving through decades of history in minutes, Serrano named Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, an Afro-Boricua, powerhouse attorney and longtime LGBTQ+ organizer who is now serving as the island’s first openly lesbian senator. He looked to Soraya Santiago Solla, the first Puerto Rican trans woman to change her gender marker on a birth certificate.

It is on their shoulders that he stands, he said. In 1972, Lassén became a founding member of Mujer Integrate Ahora (Women Integrate Now); two years later she launched the feminist publication El tacón de la chancleta. By the 1970s, Solla had already come out as trans, and was vocal about the fact that she had undergone sex reassignment therapy. It would be four decades before the words «gender affirming care» entered the mainstream lexicon. 

«We’re far more advanced than the majority of states and territories when it comes to legislation, to protections, to rights that are afforded to LGBTQ+ people in Puerto Rico,» he said. «And that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened because a lot of people stood up and fought.»

What that advocacy means on a daily basis takes different forms, he continued. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, it was Waves Ahead and several LGBTQ+ volunteers and allies—both from the island and well beyond it—that helped rebuild. In the past two years, it has meant both ensuring safe and accessible HIV treatment (in the midst of an ongoing parallel pandemic) and working to stem an unprecedented wave of anti-trans violence that has seized Puerto Rico.

Soto looked to Texas, where a federal judge ruled last week that private insurance companies do not have to cover Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP, known more commonly as Truvada or Descovy), protected under the Affordable Care Act. In the U.S., it marks a potential blow to HIV prevention, aimed primarily at members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Serrano, who was in 1998 the first openly gay and HIV positive candidate to run for office in Puerto Rico, hung on to every word. Had he been elected, he would have served in Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives. 

«What does that look like in Puerto Rico?» asked Soto. «Have you seen a lot of progress? Does it feel like we’re making a dent in it?»

Serrano’s answer sounded like it could have been a blueprint for New Haven. In Puerto Rico, he explained, activists and community members have been doing work around HIV prevention and management for years—it’s the government that hasn’t yet stepped in to help in a significant way. In his answer, he added, he didn’t only mean the local governance—he also meant the U.S., which has sought to control Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory since 1898 while stripping its residents of their basic rights.  

On the island, there is not yet a government program responsible for PrEP, meaning that clinics that treat people with HIV are stretched across the island. Meanwhile, there are few public conversations «about what it means to be undetectable,» he said. If a person living with HIV is undetectable, they are also untransmissable—which could radically stem the spread of HIV. Before that can happen, he said, there needs to be more honest dialogue and testing in place. 

There have been gains, he continued—including a Bill of Rights for people living with HIV. Even as the island works to lower its case and infection rate, «I think it [the Bill of Rights] could be a model for other territories and jurisdictions, because it’s very advanced,» he said. For instance, the piece of legislation includes a section that walks people with HIV through seeking monetary retribution if they feel they have been discriminated against. 

Serrano also acknowledged that there is still significant work ahead—and that it must happen both in Puerto Rico and across the globe. The past two years have both brought with them a wave of record violence against LGBTQ+ and particularly trans Puerto Ricans, including Afro-Boricua women. Two years ago, Puerto Rico was the nexus of anti-trans violence in the U.S. and territories. 

Serrano pointed to the case of Alexa Negrón Luciano, a 29-year-old trans woman who was verbally harassed, doxxed, followed, and brutally murdered within a 24-hour strech in 2020. In the hours before her death, pictures and anti-trans slurs calling her a pervert were shared on social media thousands of times. People began to track her whereabouts, sharing information on the gas stations or restaurants that she was frequenting. 

«For many years, the fundamenalist leaders in all the island have been saying, ‘you know trans people going to the bathroom are perverts, they’re after your children,'» Serrano said. «When you say a lie over and over again, people start believing it.

«They lynched her,» he said. «They posted her picture. They posted her whereabouts. And then 24 hours [later], she was found dead … these fundamentalist leaders have blood on their hands.» 

That’s been hard for him personally, he added. When Serrano initially ran for office in the 1990s, «homophobia back then was very harsh,» and he was ultimately forced to step out of the race. Serrano and members of his family were threatened in public and in private. Someone cut the cables on his car; people sent threatening notes to his home and followed him. Once, someone followed him when his mother was also in the car. 

It pushed him to move away from the island and to New York City «for my safety.» He lived there for a decade before cautiously returning. Even now, he said, he knows that he’s being watched and scrutinized in his advocacy and work with Puerto Rico Para Todes, which often puts him on a national stage. 

 «The price that you have to pay for being a public figure and being open about who you are—it’s very hard,» he said. «I’m one of the most vilified figures in Puerto Rico because of the work that I do.»

«I don’t give a fuck,» he added to applause, «But it’s hard. Especially for your family. Especially for friends. Because you don’t want to be a statistic. And you don’t want to be a martyr, either.»

It has also given him reason to dig ever deeper into the work. When the Rev. Alex Garbera asked what Connecticut residents might do to push for LGBTQ+ rights in their own state, he returned to both the grassroots approach and public, political push that defined early work towards LGBTQ+ equality in Puerto Rico.

In particular, he urged those living at the intersection one or multiple oppressed identities—woman, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, trans, queer, HIV positive—to advocate for themselves and for others in whom they see themselves.

«I think that community involvement is critical,» he said. «It’s key. You have to get involved. You need to lobby your legislators, sometimes you even have to write the bills, the laws, that you want to see. Because legislators probably don’t know what we’re living and what we’re facing. So it has to come from the community. You have to write those bills.»

He encouraged the activists in the crowd to also consider running for office themselves. In particular, he said, he thinks about the importance of centering voices that have for centuries been pushed to the margins. 

«I’m only gay, but there are a lot of different experiences of our LGBTQ+ community,» he said. «Nonbinary. Queer. Gender nonconforming. Pansexual. Bisexual. There are other folks that are out here that need to be recognized and lifted up as well. Not only to learn the ways, but because I learn from them as well.» 

Pedro Julio será orador principal en celebración de orgullo en New Haven…

El activista de derechos humanos Pedro Julio Serrano será el orador principal en la celebración de orgullo de la ciudad de New Haven en Connecticut.

«Es un gran honor que me hayan invitado a ser el orador principal en New Haven Pride. Agradezco a Juancarlos Soto y a todo el personal del New Haven Pride Center por esta invitación tan especial a una ciudad donde habitan muchos puertorriqueños. Puerto Rico no se compone, solamente, de las personas que vivimos en el archipiélago borincano, sino todas las que componen nuestra diáspora y esta es una manera de estrechar vínculos entre nuestras diversas puertorriqueñidades», aseveró Serrano.

El portavoz de Puerto Rico Para Todes no es extraño en la diáspora, ya que residió por una década en la Ciudad de Nueva York donde fungió en varias posiciones en organizaciones LGBTTIQ+ y del gobierno municipal. De igual forma, ha recibido innumerables reconocimientos por su trayectoria, al igual que ha sido orador en conferencias y universidades como Yale, NYU, Brown, Syracuse, Swarthmore, UConn, Mount Holyoke College y el Hostos Community College. Por su parte, Juancarlos Soto, subdirector de New Haven Pride Center, se mostró «muy complacido y feliz de tener a Pedro Julio en New Haven. Es un referente de lucha y un campeón por nuestros derechos. Ha abierto caminos para que otros puedan vivir en libertad. Por lo que tenerlo en nuestra celebración nos fortalecerá en la lucha que llevamos por nuestra equidad».

La celebración, organizada por el New Haven Pride Center, se llevará a cabo del 11 al 18 de septiembre en diferentes localidades de la ciudad. Habrá paneles, exhibiciones artísticas, eventos gastronómicos, conciertos, transformistas, entre muchos otros eventos. Pueden ver el listado completo aquí.