Huffington Post Gay Voices – Puerto Rico’s Gay Rights Battle Slowly Heats Up

Puerto Rico’s Gay Rights Battle Slowly Heats UpLOVE is LOVE Orange

By DANICA COTO 03/02/13 01:37 PM ET EST109

 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The advance of gay rights across the United States is spreading into Puerto Rico, making the island a relatively gay-friendly outpost in a Caribbean region where sodomy laws and harassment of gays are still common.

The governing Popular Democratic Party is pushing a bill through the legislature that would outlaw discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation, a step taken by about half of U.S. states. Another bill would extend a domestic violence law to gay couples.

Soon after taking office in January, Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an order extending health insurance coverage to the live-in partners of workers in his executive branch of government, regardless of gender.

And a popular former conservative governor, Pedro Rossello, surprised supporters and foes when he stated last month that he unequivocally supports gay marriage.

“We’re in a period where it’s important to talk about human rights,” said Rossello, who 14 years ago signed a law as governor to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages held abroad.

“This is extraordinary,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, a Puerto Rican gay activist. “We’ve reached a point of no return in Puerto Rico … Equality is inevitable.”

“The issues that we’re discussing publicly now would have been unthinkable a couple decades ago,” said Osvaldo Burgos, spokesman for the Broad Committee for the Search for Equality, which represents more than a dozen local human rights organizations.

Gay rights activists also say they are encouraged that the island’s Justice Department is prosecuting its first hate crime case for the killing of a hairstylist who was set on fire.

The momentum has not all been one way, however. The island’s Supreme Court last week narrowly upheld a law that bars same-sex couples from adopting children. Despite a string of legalizations in the U.S. over the past decade, adoptions by same-sex couples remain banned in many U.S. states as well.

And many Puerto Ricans remain uncomfortable with the changes. Church groups in February rallied an estimated 200,000 people against a move to include gay couples under domestic violence laws.

The spokesman for that march, Cesar Vazquez, said the state should not meddle with marriage and the family, and a prominent Puerto Rican pastor, Wanda Rolon, said children should not be taught at a young age that different types of families can exist, a proposal that Garcia’s administration is considering.

“That is very dangerous,” she said. “It’s going to raise some doubts that can bring about confusion.”

“What we need to protect in these times is the strengthening of marriage, the strengthening of families,” Rolon said. “We will be a healthier society.”

Resistance to rights for gays was even stronger in the 1970s, when gay activists protested the island’s sodomy law, only to see legislators increase the penalty to 10 years in prison from three.

Many gays and lesbians lived in fear. A serial killer in the 1980s, nicknamed “The Angel of Bachelors,” was linked to the killings of 27 gay men.

Public opinion remained largely unchanged until the early 2000s, when legislators passed a hate crime law and abolished the sodomy law. Another watershed moment occurred in November 2009, when police found the decapitated and partially burned body of 19-year-old college student Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, known for his work with organizations advocating HIV prevention and gay rights.

Soon after, popular Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin announced he was gay, saying he couldn’t remain silent amid such hate, and legislators began considering gay rights bills. Last year, Puerto Rican featherweight boxer Orlando Cruz apparently became the first professional boxer to come out as openly homosexual while still competing.

“Puerto Rico at last recognized that homophobia was a social evil that had to be fought,” said Serrano, spokesman for the U.S.-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “After that, things began to change quickly.”

Many other islands in the Caribbean remain deeply hostile to homosexuality.

Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Grenada still uphold sodomy laws, and many gay people live in fear of exposure and violence. Those fears are not unjustified: Masked gunmen broke into a vacation cottage in St. Lucia in March 2011 and beat three gay U.S. tourists. Two of five suspects were arrested. A year earlier in Jamaica, police found the body of a 26-year-old gay rights activist who had been stabbed to death.

Last year, authorities in Dominica hauled a gay couple off a cruise ship and charged them with indecent exposure. Angry protesters have met gay cruise ships in Jamaica.

Meanwhile, a large gay cruise arrived in Puerto Rico recently and caused not even a ripple in the media.

“(Puerto Rico) has long had a reputation for being one of the friendliest places in the Caribbean,” said LoAnn Halden, spokeswoman of the Florida-based International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.

The court ruling on gay marriage already has caused some backlash in favor of further gay rights.

“What they did was barbaric,” said Eduardo Bhatia, president of the island’s Senate and member of the governor’s party, saying that children of gay couples should have equal rights.

Carmen Milagros Velez, a medical sciences professor at the University of Puerto Rico and the mother of the 12-year-old girl at the center of the adoption case, said the Supreme Court should reconsider its decision.

“We are a family like any other, with the same challenges, probably even more challenges because we have fewer rights,” she said.

Huffington Post – Puerto Ricans Protest Against Gay Rights And In Favor Of ‘Traditional’ Family Values

Puerto Ricans Protest Against Gay Rights And In Favor Of ‘Traditional’ Family Values
The Huffington Post | By Zuania Ramos
Posted: 02/19/2013 4:53 pm EST | Updated: 02/19/2013 6:00 pm EST

 

GET LATINO VOICES ALERTS:

“Puerto Rico Stands Up” Pro-Family March

Reaffirm the values of the “traditional” family and fight against gay rights, that was the mission of a group of more than 200,000 faithful Christians who met in “Puerto Rico Stands Up”, one of the largest pro-family demonstrations ever held in the U.S. commonwealth.

According to Puerto Rican daily El Vocero, from the early hours of Monday morning, members of different Christian denominations from all parts of the island began to gather in front of the Capitol building in the city capital of San Juan, paralyzing traffic in and out of the area.

With gospel music and banners alluding to the defense of exclusive marriage between men and women, participants also protested statements made by government officials seeking to grant rights to gay couples through new legislations.

Cesar Vazquez Muñiz, spokesman of Puerto Rico for the Family, the organization behind the activity, explained their purpose was to protect marriage and family values that would later affect future generations.

“We are concerned that laws will be created to discriminate against the church… We are concerned that public education will be used to change our children, presenting them with behaviors their parents don’t think are correct,” said Vazquez in an interview with El Vocero. “This demonstration tells the government that there are things that they cannot touch and those are marriage and family.”

Although its presence wasn’t as strong, a counter protest was also held by religious leaders and followers near the area in support of gay rights. The group repudiated the expressions made by the religious movement and demanded measures to promote equality.

“One of the struggles I’ve had with the church is its sexist and homophobic message, and obviously when I see that they are using the resources they have to promote discrimination I cannot stay quiet because that is not the message of God,” said Pastor Yenen Silén to Univision.

Other leaders, like Puerto Rican human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano, also made use of social media platforms to label the event as “full of hate and intolerance.”

“Today was a day filled with hatred and intolerance against the LGBT community. Thousands went to the Capitol, deceived by their leaders, supposedly to ‘defend the family’, but that was the least of what they did,” he said on Monday on his Facebook account. “You don’t defend a family by denying rights to its most vulnerable members, attacking the dignity of any human being with hate, discrimination, intolerance and exclusion.”

Meanwhile, at a press conference, the new governor of the island Alejandro García Padilla said he will keep defending the rights of all communities, without exception or discrimination by sexual orientation, yet he reaffirmed his position not supporting gay marriage.

“I have met with both sides of the leadership. As governor I react to reason, not pressure. My government is a government of inclusion, we all live in this country, we are all responsible for a better country,” said Governor Alejandro García Padilla to Univision.

“I favor the law 54 which protects domestic partnership… As for marriage, I do not agree that it should be anything except between man and woman. But the rights that are guaranteed to people are those we have to look for and secure for all human beings,” he added.

The protest comes at a time when Puerto Rico’s legislature is reviewing a new amendment to Law 54, which would protect all couples, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation, of domestic violence. In addition, members of the House of Representatives are also working on a bill that would prohibit discrimination due to sexual orientation in the work place.

Although the numbers of attendees haven’t been officially released by the authorities, Christian leaders claim between 200,000 to 268,000 people attended the event. The largest demonstration of this type reported so far was in France, which gathered 340,000 at the beginning of the year.