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Former Puerto Rican lawmaker comes out

Roberto Arango, Puerto Rico, gay news, Washington Blade

Roberto Arango (Photo public domain)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A former member of the Puerto Rico Senate who resigned after naked pictures he posted to a gay website were revealed has come out of the closet.

“Yes,” Roberto Arango told the Puerto Rican radio station NotiUno in response to a question about whether he is gay as Blabbeando reported on March 7. “On top of that I am a businessman. On top of that I am a father, I am a brother, I am a son. On top of that I like doing community work and volunteering.”

Arango opposed efforts to extend rights to LGBT Puerto Ricans that include civil unions for same-sex couples while in the Puerto Rico Senate. He also used an anti-gay slur to refer to a San Juan mayoral candidate during a 2004 rally.

Arango resigned in 2011 after nude pictures of himself that he placed on Grindr began to circulate in the Puerto Rican media.

12
Mar
2014

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

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

Senate confirms first openly gay Latina to federal court

Nitza Quiñones, United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Washington Blade, gay news

The Senate confirmed Nitza Quiñones by voice vote as a federal judge. (Image courtesy of the United States Senate)

The U.S. Senate confirmed on Thursday by voice vote for the first time ever an openly gay Latina to the federal judiciary.

The Senate confirmed Nitza Quiñones Alejandro, who has been a judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas since 1991, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, along with another nominee, Jeffrey Schmehl.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, commended the Senate for what he said was the confirmation of another well-qualified LGBT person to the federal judiciary.

“We are very pleased to see yet another highly qualified, openly-LGBT nominee confirmed to the federal bench – particularly a woman of color who helps reflect the diversity of the American people in the judiciary,” Cole-Schwartz said.

A Puerto Rico native, Quiñones breaks a glass ceiling as the first openly LGBT Hispanic to serve on the federal bench. Additionally, she’s the seventh openly LGBT person ever to receive confirmation as a federal judge.

President Obama first nominated Quiñones for the position in November and renominated her at the start of the 113th Congress in January as part of a group of 33 nominees.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who recommended the Quiñones nomination, said in a statement he’s “pleased” the Senate confirmed her along with Schmehl “in a bipartisan fashion.”

“Nitza’s life as a lawyer, judge and civic leader make her a true American success story,” Casey said. “Her 21 years on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas have prepared her well for a seat on the federal bench, and I’m confident she’ll serve the Eastern District of Pennsylvania well.”

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), a Tea Party Republican who spoke highly of Quiñones when she was first nominated to the bench, took to Twitter to congratulate her and Schmehl upon their confirmation.

According to a bio provided by the White House, Quiñones, before serving on state court, worked as a staff attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs and as an attorney advisor for the Department of Health and Human Services.

She received her law degree in 1975 from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law and graduated with honors in 1972 from the University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

13
Jun
2013

Man pleads guilty to threatening activist

Pedro Julio Serrano, NGLTF, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Puerto Rico, San Juan, LGBT equality, adoption, gay news, Washington Blade

A man whom federal authorities accused of threatening to kill Puerto Rican LGBT rights advocate, Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, pleaded guilty to the charges. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A man whom federal authorities accused of threatening to kill Puerto Rican LGBT rights advocate Pedro Julio Serrano pleaded guilty to the charges on July 15.

The newspaper El Nuevo Día reported that Joseph Joel Morales Serrano, 26, pleaded guilty to cyber-bullying and transmitting a message through means of interstate or foreign commerce. He told U.S. District Court Judge José A. Fusté he sent Serrano a tweet on May 6 urging him to “be careful” while attending an LGBT rights march in San Juan that commemorated the annual International Day Against Homophobia or he would “end up like” those who were wounded or killed during the Boston Marathon bombing in April.

Fusté sentenced Morales to time served and three years of supervised release. The judge also ordered him to close his Twitter account for three years.

The newspaper reported Serrano and Morales hugged each other at the end of the hearing.

17
Jul
2013

Gay Puerto Rican boxer marries boyfriend

Orlando Cruz, Jose Manuel, Puerto Rico, New York City, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Puerto Rican boxer Orlando Cruz (second from left) married José Manuel Colón , in New York’s Central Park on Nov. 16, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Pedro Julio Serrano)

Gay Puerto Rican boxer Orlando “El Fenómeno” Cruz on Nov. 16 married his boyfriend, José Manuel Colón, in New York’s Central Park.

New York City Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is among the frontrunners to succeed outgoing New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in the position, officiated the ceremony. Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Shirley Casiano were witnesses.

“Giving thanks to my heavenly father for one more day of life and with [my] husband José Manuel in it,” Cruz wrote in Spanish on his Facebook page on Sunday.

Cruz in Oct. 2012 became the first active professional boxer to come out as gay.

He wore trunks with a Puerto Rican flag in rainbow colors during his match against Mexican boxer Orlando Salido in Las Vegas last month for the WBO featherweight championship. Salido knocked Cruz out in the seventh round.

The National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame in August included Cruz among its first class of inductees.

18
Nov
2013

Puerto Rico mayor signs LGBT orders

San Juan, Puerto Rico, Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, Gay News, Washington Blade

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. (Photo by Melvin Alfredo via Wikimedia Commons)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—The mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital on Monday signed two executive orders designed to end discrimination against her city’s LGBT residents.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz ordered her city’s police department to apply the island’s current domestic violence laws with what the Primera Hora newspaper described as “the highest degree of respect” regardless of the reported victim’s sexual orientation. She also banned discrimination against San Juan municipal employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

Primera Hora reported gay boxer Orlando “Fenómeno” Cruz was among those who attended the press conference during which Yulín signed the orders.

16
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