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Volleyball player murdered in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, gay news, Washington Blade

Puerto Rico’s hate crimes law includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. (Graphic by Raimond Spekking)

FAJARDO, Puerto Rico – A Puerto Rican man faces murder and other charges for allegedly stabbing a gay volleyball player to death last week.

Primera Hora reported Jesús David Hernández Otero’s family reported him missing on March 18 after he told his sister that he would return home shortly. Surfers at a nearby beach the following day found Hernández’s body with multiple stab wounds.

Authorities on March 19 arrested Neftalí Castillo Cabrera in connection with Hernández’s death.

Police officials told Primera Hora that Castillo attacked Hernández — who had been friends with his alleged killer since childhood and played on the same volleyball team with him — because he was gay. Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a local LGBT advocacy group, has urged authorities to investigate Hernández’s murder as a hate crime.

“They should not be afraid to bring an aggravating hate crime charge,” Serrano told el Nuevo Día on March 24.

Puerto Rico’s hate crimes law includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Gov. Alejandro García Padilla last May signed into law a bill that bans anti-LGBT discrimination in the U.S. commonwealth.

26
Mar
2014

Lesbian couple files marriage lawsuit in Puerto Rico

Ivonne Álvarez Velez, Pedro Julio Serrano, Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, Ada Conde Vidal, gay news, Washington Blade

Ivonne Álvarez Velez, left, with Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s and Ada Conde Vidal. (Photo courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano)

A lesbian couple on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit that seeks recognition of their Massachusetts marriage in Puerto Rico.

“We wish to enjoy the same social privileges and contractual rights that are conferred by the commonwealth on individuals in opposite-sex marriages and not to be treated as we are being treated as second class citizens differentiated, alienated and discriminated in comparison to other U.S. citizens,” say Ada Conde Vidal and Ivonne Álvarez Velez in their lawsuit they filed in U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico in San Juan. “Puerto Rico law precluding recognition of lawful same-sex marriages denies us those rights in violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Conde and Álvarez, who have been together for nearly 14 years, exchanged vows in Massachusetts in 2004 shortly after the state’s same-sex marriage law took effect.

Puerto Rican lawmakers in 1999 amended the U.S. commonwealth’s civil code to ban recognition of same-sex marriages – even those legally performed in other jurisdictions. Unions in which one person is transgender are also not recognized.

Conde, who is a lawyer, says in the lawsuit that Álvarez could not make medical decisions on behalf of her daughter who had open heart surgery because Puerto Rican officials do not recognize their relationship. The couple is also unable to file their income taxes in the U.S. commonwealth as a married couple.

“If she dies, I want my marriage legally recognized,” Conde told the Washington Blade on Wednesday. “If I am not recognized, I will not have any rights to request her estate.”

The lawsuit names Puerto Rico Health Secretary Ana Rius Armendariz and Wanda Llovet Díaz, director of the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, as defendants.

“The commonwealth of Puerto Rico statutory provision has created a legal system in which civil marriage is restricted solely and exclusively to opposite-sex couples, and in which gay and lesbian individuals are denied the right to enter into a civil marriage,” say Conde and Álvarez. “The commonwealth of Puerto Rico statutory provision also deprives same-sex couples of federal marital privileges and benefits that, upon information and belief are available to same-sex couples who marry under state laws authorizing such benefits but that are not available to plaintiffs and other same-sex couples in Puerto Rico.”

18 states and D.C. have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver next month is scheduled to hold oral arguments in two cases challenging the constitutionality of state constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage in Oklahoma and Utah. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., in May is slated to hear a case that challenges Virginia’s gay nuptials ban.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in the coming months is expected to hear oral arguments in a challenge to Nevada’s same-sex marriage ban. A federal appeals court in New Orleans will likely hear a similar case that challenges Texas’ gay nuptials prohibition after U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia last month ruled the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday placed a hold on same-sex marriages in Michigan pending an appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down the state’s gay nuptials ban.

A federal judge late last month ordered Kentucky to recognize marriages legally performed outside the state. Gays and lesbians in Florida, Alabama, Arizona, West Virginia and other states have also filed lawsuits seeking the right to marry since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The federal government recognizes legally married same-sex couples for tax and other purposes.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month announced the Justice Department will now recognize same-sex marriages in civil and criminal cases and extend full benefits to gay spouses of police officers and other public safety personnel – even in states that have yet to allow nuptials for gays and lesbians. He said a few weeks later that state attorneys general do not have to defend same-sex marriage bans.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring are among those who have declined to defend same-sex marriage bans in their respective states.

Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, noted to the Blade that Gov. Alejandro García Padilla last June applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling that applies to the American commonwealth. Serrano added he hopes Puerto Rico Justice Secretary César Miranda will not defend the island’s same-sex marriage ban in court.

“It is incumbent upon them to do the right thing if they truly believe in LGBT equality,” Serrano told the Blade, noting García has signed four pro-LGBT measures into law since taking office in January 2013. “It’s incumbent upon them not to defend this law because it’s unjust.”

Multiple attempts to reach the Puerto Rico Justice Department for comment on Conde and Álvarez’s lawsuit on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

“I’m a U.S. citizen,” Conde told the Blade. “I have the same rights in the Constitution no matter where I am – in a territory, a commonwealth or a state. I’m claiming my full citizenship and equality as any other citizen in the United States of America.”

26
Mar
2014

Lesbian nominated to Puerto Rico Supreme Court

Puerto Rico, gay news, Washington Blade

A lesbian lawyer is poised to become the first out judge to sit on the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. (Graphic by Raimond Spekking)

A lesbian lawyer is poised to become the first out judge to sit on the Puerto Rico Supreme Court after Gov. Alejandro García Padilla on Wednesday announced her nomination.

Maite Oronoz Rodríguez appeared alongside García at his official residence in San Juan as he announced her nomination to fill a vacancy on the court. El Nuevo Día, a Puerto Rican newspaper, reported that Maite thanked her partner, Gina Méndez Miró, who is chief-of-staff for Puerto Rico Senate President Eduardo Bhatía, during the press conference.

“I am conscious of the enormous responsibility that has come to me,” said Maite as el Nueva Día reported.

Maite is currently the director of legal affairs for the city of San Juan.

“Today is a great day for equity,” said San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on her Twitter page.

Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, also applauded Maite and her partner.

“I congratulate, thank and celebrate Maite and Gina for living openly their love, for loving their homeland so much and for loving themselves openly,” said Serrano. “Today is a glorious day for equality.”

Dr. José Toro Alfonso, a faculty member of the University of Puerto Rico Department of Psychology who advocates on behalf of LGBT Puerto Ricans and those living with HIV/AIDS, described Maite as a “young, respected and openly lesbian woman.” He categorized her nomination to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court as “amazing.”

Puerto Rico has seen significant progress on a host of LGBT-specific issues since García took office in January 2013.

García has thus far signed four pro-LGBT bills into law — including measures banning anti-LGBT discrimination in the U.S. commonwealth and adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the island’s domestic violence laws. A lesbian couple from San Juan earlier this year filed a federal lawsuit seeking recognition of their Massachusetts marriage in Puerto Rico.

Homophobic and transphobic violence remains a serious concern among the island’s advocates, but Serrano stressed Maite’s nomination is another step forward for LGBT Puerto Ricans.

“I said last year when four laws in support of the LGBTT community were approved: There is no going back,” said Serrano. “Today we take a historic step in the right direction that demonstrates that Puerto Rico is for all of us. The governor has made an excellent nomination.”

Toro told the Blade he expects the Puerto Rico Senate will approve Maite’s nomination during confirmation hearings that are scheduled to take place next week.

04
Jun
2014

Lesbian’s nomination to Puerto Rico Supreme Court confirmed

Puerto Rico, gay news, Washington Blade

The Puerto Rico Senate on Monday approved a lesbian’s nomination to become the first openly LGBT judge to sit on the U.S. commonwealth’s Supreme Court. (Graphic by Raimond Spekking)

The Puerto Rico Senate on Monday confirmed the nomination of a lawyer who will become the first openly LGBT judge on the U.S. commonwealth’s Supreme Court.

Senators initially approved Maite Oronoz Rodríguez’s nomination in a voice vote, but they debated it after Sens. María de Lourdes Santiago and Larry Seilhamer made the request as as the newspaper el Nuevo Día reported. They ultimately approved Oronoz’s nomination by a 16-10 vote margin.

“The constitution says that the dignity of the human being is inviolable; we are all equal under the law,” said Senate President Eduardo Bhatía. “We have the ability to build a democracy where everyone is equal under the law.”

“The most important things are her professional qualifications, the historic nature of her nomination and her work as a lawyer,” added Sen. Tony Fas Alzamora.

Former Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz is among the six senators who opposed Orodoz’s nomination.

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla earlier this month nominated Oronoz to fill a vacancy on the court.

Oronoz’s partner, Gina Méndez Miró, is Bhatía’s chief-of-staff.

“I applaud her for this recognition,” said García in a statement after the Senate approved Oronoz’s nomination. “I echo my words from when I nominated her: She is an example of what this new generation can offer to Puerto Rico.”

Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, also applauded Oronoz.

“We celebrate this historic step,” he said.

Dr. José Toro Alfonso, a faculty member of the University of Puerto Rico Department of Psychology who advocates on behalf of LGBT Puerto Ricans and those living with HIV/AIDS, also praised the senators who backed Oronoz’s nomination.

“It is a great advance for justice in Puerto Rico and an extraordinary triumph for the gay community,” Toro told the Washington Blade.

Oronoz’s nomination is the latest milestone for LGBT Puerto Ricans since García took office in January 2013.

The Democrat has thus far signed four pro-LGBT bills into law. These include measures banning anti-LGBT discrimination in the U.S. commonwealth and adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the island’s domestic violence law.

A lesbian couple from San Juan in March filed a federal lawsuit seeking recognition of their Massachusetts marriage in Puerto Rico.

García supports civil unions for gays and lesbians, but he has yet to publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Anti-LGBT violence and the Puerto Rico Police Department’s response to it continue to cause concern among the island’s advocates. They also remain critical of San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, Rev. Wanda Rolón and other religious leaders who continue to oppose efforts to expand rights to LGBT Puerto Ricans.

“Even with the openly opposition of the fundamentalist religions, including the archbishop of San Juan and some of the minority senators, this confirmation represents the right direction for human rights in our island,” Toro told the Blade.

24
Jun
2014

Four same-sex couples join Puerto Rico marriage lawsuit

Ivonne Álvarez Velez, Pedro Julio Serrano, Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, Ada Conde Vidal, gay news, Washington Blade

Ivonne Álvarez Velez, left, with Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s and Ada Conde Vidal. (Photo courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano)

Four gay and lesbian couples on Wednesday joined a federal same-sex marriage lawsuit in Puerto Rico.

Iris Delia Rivera Rivera, a former member of the Puerto Rico National Guard, and Maritza López Aviles have been together for 38 years and have a daughter. Zulma Oliveras Vega and Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro of Carolina also have a daughter.

José A. Torruellas Iglesias and Thomas J. Robinson of San Juan, who have been together for 13 years, married in Canada in 2007. Johanne Vélez García and Faviola Meléndez Rodríguez of Guaynabo, who have been together for six years, tied the knot in New York in 2012.

Lambda Legal and Puerto Rico Para Tod@s, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, also joined the lawsuit that Ada Mercedes Conde Vidal and Ivonne Álvarez Vélez of San Juan filed in March in the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico

Conde and Álvarez who have been together for nearly 14 years married in Massachusetts in 2004. They are raising their daughter in the Puerto Rican capital.

Conde is also one of the lawyers in the case.

“Puerto Rico is our home, we are very proud of our U.S. citizenship and we are not second-class citizens,” she said in a press release. “We demand our equality, proclaim our love though our marriage and our right to happiness in Puerto Rico.”

“Puerto Rico is loving, respectful, inclusive, supportive and responsive,” added Puerto Rico Para Tod@s Director Pedro Julio Serrano. “The majority of our people support marriage equality for partners of LGBTT people because it is consistent with our values of respect, inclusion and equality.”

Puerto Rican lawmakers in 1999 amended the U.S. commonwealth’s civil code to ban recognition of same-sex marriages — even those legally performed in other jurisdictions. Unions in which one person is transgender are also not recognized.

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla supports civil unions for gays and lesbians, but has yet to publicly back marriage rights for same-sex couples. The Democrat has signed a bill that added sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to Puerto Rico’s anti-discrimination law and three other pro-LGBT measures into law since taking office in January 2013.

Maite Oronoz Rodríguez will become the first openly LGBT judge on the U.S. commonwealth’s Supreme Court after the Puerto Rico Senate on Monday confirmed her nomination.

San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, Rev. Wanda Rolón and others religious figures are among those who continue to oppose efforts to expand rights to LGBT Puerto Ricans.

“Our people are already on the right side of history,” said Serrano. “Now it’s the government’s turn.”

Same-sex couples can legally marry in 20 states and D.C.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Wednesday struck down Utah’s gay nuptials ban. A federal judge in Indiana earlier in the day ruled the Hoosier State’s prohibition of same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.

More than 20 federal and state courts have ruled in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

25
Jun
2014

Puerto Rico House approves non-discrimination bill

Hector Maldonado, Puerto Rico, San Juan, gay news, Washington Blade

Bayamon, Puerto Rico, resident Hector Maldonado stands outside the island’s capital on May 16 before the Senate approved a non-discrimination bill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Puerto Rico House of Representatives on Friday approved two bills that would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in the U.S. territory and add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the island’s domestic violence laws.

The voice votes on the two measures that each passed by a 29-22 vote margin took place at the end of a nearly three hour debate. Lawmakers had been scheduled to consider the bills on Thursday, but they adjourned after a marathon session that ended well after midnight.

The Puerto Rico Senate on May 16 approved the non-discrimination measure by a 15-11 vote margin.

“I can serve God without having to discriminate against anyone,” Rep. Lydia Méndez Silva of Sabana Grande said before she announced her support of the anti-discrimination bil.

Rep. Waldemar Quiles Rodríguez of Lares described the proposal to ban anti-LGBT discrimination as “bad, twisted and perverse.” Other opponents of the measures earlier on Friday launched an online campaign that urged lawmakers to vote against it and the domestic violence measure.

“We have expressed our disagreement with SB 238 (the anti-discrimination bill) and HB 488 (domestic violence measure,)” they said in a tweeted image that also contained Proverbs 24:12. “We have given just and solid reasons. We once again remind all lawmakers that God always has the final say.

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla met with lawmakers earlier on Thursday to secure additional support for the anti-discrimination bill that Sen. Ramón Nieves Pérez of San Juan introduced in January. The governor also supports the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the island’s domestic violence laws and the extension of second-parent adoption rights to gays and lesbians in Puerto Rico.

Gay Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin on Wednesday also urged lawmakers to support the anti-discrimination measure.

“The rights of gay people are human rights, and human rights are for everyone,”he wrote in an open letter to members of the Puerto Rico House. “The passage of [SB 238] would represent the respect of our brothers and sisters’ rights.”

García has said he will sign the anti-discrimination bill into law. The domestic violence measure will now go before the Senate.

“Today is a thrilling day in Puerto Rican history,” Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said after the vote. “A decade ago, LGBT Puerto Ricans were criminals under the sodomy law, today we’re second-class citizens and when this bill is signed into law, we will be closer to achieving the first-class citizenship that we deserve. Equality is inevitable. Puerto Rico will be for all.”

24
May
2013

Puerto Rico governor signs LGBT bills into law

Alejandro García Padilla, Puerto Rico, Washington Blade, gay news

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla (Public domain photo by the U.S. Department of Labor)

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla on Wednesday signed two bills into law that ban anti-LGBT discrimination on the island and add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the U.S. commonwealth’s domestic violence laws.

“The dignity of being a human being is inviolable because we are all the same and we must be equal under the law,” the governor said in a tweet before he signed the measures at his official residence in San Juan. “Today is a great day for Puerto Rico. I feel that I have fulfilled my duty as a Christian to sign these laws.”

The Puerto Rico Senate on Monday approved an amended version of the non-discrimination bill that passed by a 29-22 vote margin in the island’s House of Representatives on Friday. Lawmakers on the same day also approved the domestic violence measure.

The Puerto Rico Senate first approved the non-discrimination bill on May 16 by a 15-11 vote margin.

“It’s a new day in Puerto Rico,” Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force told the Washington Blade before García signed the measures into law. “After years of struggle, we are on the brink of equality. Puerto Rico will be a place for all.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and singer Ricky Martin are among those who have also applauded the passage of the two bills.

A number of prominent Puerto Rican religious leaders criticized lawmakers who supported the measures.

29
May
2013

Puerto Rico Senate approves non-discrimination bill

Hector Maldonado, Puerto Rico, San Juan, gay news, Washington Blade

Bayamon, Puerto Rico, resident Hector Maldonado stands outside the island’s capital on Thursday, May 16. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.

16
May
2013

Puerto Rico police agree to strengthen hate crime response

Gay News, Washington Blade, Puerto Rico, Hate Crimes

Pedro Julio Serrano (Photo courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano)

The Puerto Rico Police Department agreed to strengthen its response to hate crimes in a settlement the Justice Department announced on Dec. 21.

DOJ ordered the PRPD to “collect accurate and reliable data hate crimes” on “an ongoing basis” and submit it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for inclusion in its annual Hate Crimes Statistics report. (The FBI currently reports statistics based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity and expression. It will begin to collect transgender-specific data this year as outlined in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act that President Obama signed in 2009. The agency will begin to report them in 2014.)

The department agreed to develop policies that will improve the way its officers interact with transgender people while in custody. The PRPD will also provide officers with bias-free police trainings at least every two years and annually after 2017. Components of these sessions will include “the protection of civil rights as a central part of the police mission” and “arbitrary classifications and stereotyping” based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and other factors.

“These provisions are designed to promote police services that are equitable, respectful, and free of unlawful bias in a manner that supports broad community engagement and effective crime prevention,” the agreement reads. “These provisions will enable PRPD to provide members of the public with equal protection of the law, without bias based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

“We appreciate the hard work of [then-Gov. Luís] Fortuño, [PRPD] Superintendent Hector Pesquera and their staff,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ Civil Rights Division, said in a press release that announced the agreement. “Together, and with great input from the public, we have designed a comprehensive blueprint for reform that provides a solid foundation that will professionalize and support the hardworking men and women of PRPD as they protect the people of Puerto Rico.”

The DOJ’s announcement comes after its damning Sept. 2011 report that listed an inadequate response to hate crimes as among the PRPD’s numerous deficiencies.

More than 30 LGBT Puerto Ricans have been killed since gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado’s decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was found alongside a remote roadside in Nov. 2009.

A judge sentenced Juan José Martínez Matos to 99-years in prison after he pledged guilty to the crime, but the Puerto Rico Department of Justice’s own reports indicate Puerto Rican prosecutors have yet to convict anyone under the island’s hate crimes law that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The Puerto Rico Senate in late 2011 approved a proposal that would have eliminated LGBT-specific protections from the aforementioned statute.

Pedro Julio Serrano and other Puerto Rican LGBT advocates repeatedly criticized Fortuño and his administration for what they contend was an unwillingness to speak out against anti-LGBT violence in the American commonwealth in the wake of López’s brutal death that sent shockwaves across the island and around the world.

“It’s definitely too little too late for the outgoing administration,” Serrano told the Washington Blade in response to the DOJ agreement. “But it’s a good blueprint and protocol that is necessary to finally have this in place for the prosecutors in Puerto Rico so they can work on the hate crimes on the island and make sure they are correctly prosecuted and investigated as hate crimes because it hasn’t happened in Puerto Rico.”

The DOJ also met with Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, who succeeded Fortuño on Wednesday, to discuss the agreement.

“We look forward to working with Governor-elect García Padilla and his incoming administration to finalize the agreement and begin the critical work of rebuilding PRPD,” Perez said before the current governor took office. “Ensuring effective, constitutional policing is not a partisan issue, and we appreciate the commitment of Gov. Fortuño and Governor-elect García Padilla to the reforms embodied in the agreement. The successful implementation of the reforms contained in this agreement will help to reduce crime, ensure respect for the Constitution and restore public confidence in PRPD.”

García pledged during his campaign he would support a number of LGBT-specific proposals that include the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the island’s anti-employment discrimination law, civil unions for same-sex couples and including LGBT Puerto Ricans in the island’s domestic violence statutes. Serrano urged the incoming administration to amend the hate crimes law to allow prosecutors to introduce bias-related evidence at the start of a trial as opposed to during the sentencing phase.

“We want it from the get go to be prosecuted as a hate crime so the evidence and a way the case is prosecuted is a following the motivation of the crime and it’s not left to the end of the process where usually after they get a conviction or someone pleads guilty then they don’t have to deal the motivation because they already got what they wanted,” he said, adding he feels both the PRPD and the Puerto Rico Justice Department do not understand how to address hate crimes. “The only way to curb anti-LGBT violence in Puerto Rico is we finally prosecute these as hate crimes and people understand the motivation behind them was anti-LGBT.”

The DOJ agreement will take effect on April 15.

03
Jan
2013

Puerto Rico Supreme Court upholds gay adoption ban

Gay News, Washington Blade, Puerto Rico, Hate Crimes

Pedro Julio Serrano (Photo courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano)

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court on Wednesday narrowly upheld the island’s ban on gay adoption.

The 5-4 ruling came in response to an unidentified woman who sought to adopt her partner’s child that she conceived through in vitro fertilization. The two women had argued the American commonwealth’s law that prohibits same-sex couples from adopting children is unconstitutional.

Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force described the decision as “nefarious” in a statement.

“The constitution is clear: All citizens should be treated equally and their dignity should not be violated,” he said. “This decision violates, threatens and challenges these two premises of our Magna Carta. The Supreme Court has once again failed the Puerto Rican people.”

Gay Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin also criticized the decision.

“How sad,” he said in a Twitter post. “I see this as turning our backs on childhood. So many orphans want to have the warmth of one home.”

The court issued its decision a day after advocates met with Gov. Alejandro García Padilla to discuss anti-LGBT violence and other issues on the island.

Tens of thousands of people who oppose the proposed inclusion of sexual orientation in Puerto Rico’s domestic violence law marched through the streets of San Juan, the commonwealth’s capital, on Monday. Many of those who took part in the protest held signs in support of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Serrano and other activists have repeatedly criticized Puerto Rican officials for not doing enough to combat anti-LGBT hate crimes on the island in the wake of gay teenager Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado’s 2009 death.

The Puerto Rico Police Department agreed to strengthen its response to hate crimes as part of an agreement it reached with the Justice Department in December. Prosecutors in Mayaguez earlier this month announced they will seek a first degree murder as a hate crime charge against a man who allegedly used a machete to kill a gay hairdresser after he reportedly became enraged because they were unable to catch fish in three local rivers.

20
Feb
2013