To the uninitiated, the island of Puerto Rico is quietly turning into a Republican social laboratory for the rest of the United States, and recent news out of the island regarding the proposed legislation of its hate crimes bill confirms the following: the pro-statehood and GOP administration of Governor Luis Fortuño is trying to force laws that negatively impact Puerto Rico’s LGBT community.
As reported by Edge of the Net, Fortuño and his political pro-statehood Progressive Party allies are seeking to exclude LGBT-specific protections from the island’s hate crimes law.
The Puerto Rico Senate late last month approved a provision that would eliminate sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity and religious beliefs from the hate crimes statute that was included in the penal code that lawmakers approved in 2004. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the amended penal code this week during an extraordinary legislative session that Gov. Luis Fortuño convened.
Representative Héctor Ferrer and Sen. Eduardo Bhatia joined LGBT and Dominican activists at a press conference on Sunday, Dec. 4, to criticize the proposed amendments.
“To eliminate these groups as protected categories is to invite the commission of hate crimes in Puerto Rico,” said Ferrer, as Vocero reported on Dec. 4 “It is a setback in the country’s public policy.”
“In an advanced society, this is dangerous for society,” added Bhatia, as Primera Hora reported.
Political affiliation, age and disability would remain part of the revised hate crimes statute if legislators approve the new penal code and Fortuño signs it into law. Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force accused both Senate President Thomas Rivera-Schatz and Fortuño of homophobia.
“Basically they took out the communities hardest hit by hate crimes in Puerto Rico out of the hate crimes statute,” Serrano told EDGE, referring to both LGBTs and Dominicans who work on the island who continue to suffer disproportionate rates of hate and bias-motivated violence on the island. “It’s an outrage and now we’re calling upon the House to restore this to where it should be.”
Nearly two dozen LGBT Puerto Ricans have been murdered on the island since late 2009 in what Serrano and other activists have repeatedly described as an epidemic of anti-LGBT violence. These include gay teenager Jorge Steven López Mercado, who was stabbed to death before his decapitated, dismembered and partially burned body was dumped alongside a remote roadside near Cayey in Nov. 2009. Three LGBT Puerto Ricans-Alejandro Torres Torres, Karlota Gómez Sánchez and Ramón “Moncho” Salgado-were found dead within a 72-hour period in June.
The article points out that Puerto Rico is being called out by the US Department of Justice for its inadequate response to hate crimes on the island, as well as its record-breaking homicide rate. In addition, leading Fortuño critic and Illinois Congressman Luis Gutiérrez weighed in on these new developments:
“To say this is appalling is an understatement,” [Gutiérrez] said, noting record homicide and other crime rates on the island. “Excluding more people from protections under the law is exactly the wrong thing to do, especially right now.”
“Puerto Rico’s recent rash of hate crimes against the LGBT community is a sad reminder of why hate crimes laws are needed,” added Human Rights Campaign spokesperson Paul Guequierre. “Removing sexual orientation and gender identity from the law would set Puerto Rico back and endanger LGBT people in the commonwealth.”
An equality march is being held in the city of Mayagüez to protest the actions of Fortuño and other Puerto Rican lawmakers who favor the exclusion provision.