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HRC, Task Force Respond to "Alarming" LGBT Puerto Rican Deaths

by Michael K. Lavers

National News Editor

Thursday June 9, 2011

In response to the deaths of three LGBT Puerto Ricans in recent days, national LGBT organizations have urged both local and federal authorities to effectively address what they describe as an epidemic of anti-LGBT violence on the island.

Eighteen LGBT Puerto Ricans have been murdered in a year and a half. These include Jorge Steven López Mercado and Ashley Santiago. Alejandro Torres Torres was found stabbed to death in his Ponce home on Saturday, June 4, while Karlota Gómez Sánchez was found shot to death in a Santurce intersection on Monday, June 6. Ramón "Moncho" Salgado's body was found along a highway near Humacao on Tuesday, June 8.

"The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force stands in solidarity with the LGBT community in Puerto Rico and sends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of Karlota Gómez Sánchez, Ramón Salgado and Alejandro Torres Torres," said Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force in a statement. "As someone who grew up in Puerto Rico and has been very active in its LGBT community, this is a heart-wrenching moment. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to all of the victims' loved ones at this difficult time."

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, described the rate of violence against LGBT Puerto Ricans as "alarming."

"Puerto Rican government officials and law enforcement, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, must ensure that LGBT people have the protection they need to survive," he said. "When a community has to live in constant fear of violence and even death for who they are, everyone suffers."

Puerto Rico's hate crimes statute includes both sexual orientation and gender identity, but activists have long complained that local authorities have failed to apply them.

Speaking to EDGE from Puerto Rico earlier today, Serrano once again criticized Gov. Luis Fortuño and his administration for their continued silence around these deaths. Serrano also pointed to homophobic rhetoric from Puerto Rican political and religious leaders that he said contributes to this violence.

"When you have that rhetoric, you insight violence," he said. "If you are a perceived leader, there are some homophobes who are going to take your lead and act upon what you say. I do think that is contributing to the rise in anti-LGBT violence in Puerto Rico."

Serrano also urged the White House to do more to address the situation in Puerto Rico. President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the island on June 14, but a White House spokesperson did not immediately return EDGE's request for comment.

"The State Department calls out human rights violations in Uganda and other places," said Serrano. "It should raise its voice for things in Puerto Rico."

Skyrocketing crime rates remain a serious problem on the island, but Serrano again stressed the violence against LGBT Puerto Ricans has been disproportionate and particularly brutal.

"They aren't the usual crime [where] you shoot the person and that's it," he said. "That tells you something else is going on. There's homophobia and transphobia that's playing out in these crimes."

Meanwhile, Gómez's wake was held on Wednesday, June 8. El Nuevo Dia reported on the same day that Joshua Torres Acevedo, 19, confessed to police that he stabbed Torres to death after he made a sexual advance towards him.

Serrano said he plans to ask organizers of the Boquerón Pride march on Sunday, June 12, to observe a moment of silence for each LGBT Puerto Rican who has been killed over the last year and a half.

"We cannot forget," he said.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.

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