More than 30 human rights organizations, professional associations, religious entities and activists who are committed with a national equity agenda, today voiced their opposition to the bills presented last week by Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevárez related to religious liberty and reparative therapies for LGBTQ people. The group was convened by the Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad (CABE).
“We express our most resounding opposition to Senate Bill 1253 related to Religious Liberty and to Senate Bill 1254 related to Reparative Therapies that were introduced, last week, under the false premise that these are the result of an alleged consensus between the LGBTQ community and the conservative religious sector on the Island,” said Osvaldo Burgos Pérez, spokesperson for CABE. “The idea by itself is ludicrous. It is impossible that our LGBTQ community accepts two measures that threaten our rights, our dignity and our quality of life – and that is what precisely happens with both of these bills”, Burgos continued.
“We denounce that not only the process of writing these bills was far from transparent, but that the legislative process also started with the wrong foot by the decision of the House Judiciary Committee to limit the participation in the public hearings,” he added.
“Our actual rule of law already protects religious liberty. Nonetheless, the bill that was submitted would create an alternative legal system for certain religious sectors that would be exempt of the anti-discrimination norms that apply to the rest of the country. Do we want a country in which every discriminatory idea could be validated using a label as an excuse to turn it into a religious belief? Because that is precisely what this bill would do by stating that no one can question the reasonableness of a belief that is identified as religious. Imagine the possibilities and the groups that’d be in danger. It’s not only the LGBTQ community, but also people of color, people with problematic use of drugs, people with functional diversity and women, just to name a few,” explained Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, spokesperson for CABE and director of Proyecto Matria. She also explained that even though the bill has been announced as only applying to the public sector, there are clauses that would extend the protections to the private sector. Entities that receive government funds via donations or contracts could maintain religious activities with public funds and discriminate in the hiring of personnel. “This means that you and us would pay taxes so the government passes our money into private hands that will then discriminate in the offering of services,” she highlighted.
On the other hand, Osvaldo Burgos explained that Senate Bill 1254 for Reparative Therapies (also known as conversion therapies) will be prohibited only to mental health professionals as defined by Law 408 of Mental Health. But this also explicitly exempts the religious sector while it also authorizes parents to decide if these might apply to their children who are under age. “LGBTQ people are not ill or sick. The organizations that regulate mental health professionals know and have recognized that LGBTQ people don’t need to be repaired, cured or converted. Reparative therapies have always been a harmful practice born out of homophobia and lack of acceptance and respect of LGBTQ people. This bill would leave the mental and emotional health of children and youth in the hands of anyone who self proclaims to be a pastor, because it is validating as a good practice something that is really child abuse,” Burgos said.
During the past few days, multiple organizations have expressed their opposition to both bills and in the press conference it was evident the presence of professional organizations that regulate the practice of social work, psychology, law and groups related to the well being of children. They expressed that their codes of ethics, as well as literature about these issues, impede them from supporting bills such as these ones that threaten the physical, mental and emotional well-being of the most vulnerable populations in the country.
“These therapies scarred my life for ever and it’s something that need to be eradicated from our country and every country in the World,” said Kery J. Santiago, who was alongside Alejandro Santiago, another man that suffered from the so-called conversion therapies. “Definitely we prefer that they don’t approve any bill like this one if it will give permission to submit more children and youth to these therapies that are torture,” they said.
The press conference was also attended by religious collectives and LGBTQ groups, as well as dozens of people in their individual capacity. Among them, survivors of conversion therapies who indicated that they were surprised by the expressions of some legislators who allege they haven’t heard of these practices in Puerto Rico.
The organizations highlighted the following about both bills:
1- These are not consensus bills. There weren’t any consultation or negotiations with human and LGBTQ rights organizations.
2- The religious liberty bill reinforces the idea that any religious belief, whose reasonableness cannot be questioned, is sufficient to ask for reasonable accommodation in government agencies. This does not take into account the fact the lack of personnel in key agencies such as the Police Department, the Department of Education, the Justice Department, the Family Department and public health agencies.
3- The bill extends the protections to organizations, associations and corporations. You don’t have to be a natural person to be protected by this bill.
4- Explicitly states that if a PRIVATE entity receives government funds, it can use its religious liberty for proselytizing activities and discriminate in the hiring process of its employees.
5- The reparative therapies bill only prohibits mental health professionals, as defined by Law 408 of Mental Health, in the application of these therapies. Nonetheless, if these same professionals practice them while being under a religious entity or by the willingness of the parents, it would not be prohibited.
6- The bill also does not prohibit the therapies being applied by other professionals. It is also not prohibited to pastors nor to any person that promises to “cure” LGBTQ people. The bill is so deficient that anyone who practices them would not have any consequences if their disciplines are not under an examining board.
7- Even though it states that it prohibits these therapies for minors of 18 years or less, it authorizes the parents to decide if they want to apply them to their children. The effect of this disposition is that the parents can take their children to these reparative therapies without this child abuse act being considered illegal. Let’s not forget that youth above the age of 18, but under the age of 21, are still under the custody of their parents and the prohibition would not protect them under this bill.
Civic, professional and religious organizations that reject Senate Bill 1253 of Religious Liberty and 1254 Reparative Therapies are:
- Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de Equidad
- Colegio de Abogadas-os de PR
- Asociación de Psicología de PR
- Colegio de Profesionales del Trabajo Social de PR
- Proyecto Matria
- Amnistía Internacional de PR
- Coaí, Inc.
- Coalición Orgullo Arcoíris
- Pastoral de Mujeres, Justiciay Género del Consejo Latinoamericano de Iglesias
- Puerto Rico Para Tod@s
- Somos Dign@s
- Humanistas Seculares
- Red por los Derechos de la Niñez y la Juventud de Puerto Rico
- Asociación del Colegio de Consejeros en Rehabilitación
- Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres de Puerto Rico
- Iglesia Presbiteriana (Presbiterio de San Juan)
- Mesa de Diálogo MLK
- Federación Central de Trabajadores
- Fundación Artículo II
- Instituto Caribeño de Derechos Humanos
- Casa Juana Colon
- Equidad 100 x 35
- CLADEM PR
- La Mesa de Acceso Trans- UPRRP, organización estudiantil
- Taller Salud
- Clínica de Orientación Sexual de la Escuela de Derecho de la UPR
- PR CoNCRA
- Iglesia Nueva Creación
- Concilio de Iglesias de Puerto Rico
- Trans Tanamá
- Inter Mujeres, Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico
- ALEGRIA RAMPANTE
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
- Asociación Puertorriqueña de Profesores Universitarios (APPU)
- Iglesia Cristo para Todos
- Clínica Asistencia Legal UIA
- Asociación Psicólogos Escolares (APEP)
- Organización Puertorriqueña de la Mujer Trabajadora (OPMT)
- Colectivo Interreligioso de Mujeres
- Centro Hispano de Excelencia, Escuela de Medicina
- Butterflies Trans Foundation, Inc.