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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 9, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 49
Puerto Rico moves to exclude LGBTs from hate crimes law
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Puerto Rico moves to exclude LGBTs from hate crimes law

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Puerto Rico's House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on a revision of the island's hate crimes law that would exclude sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity, and religious beliefs from protection.

All those characteristics had been included in the hate crimes law passed previously in 2004.

The Puerto Rican Senate approved the new law in November, and Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño is expected to sign the measure into law if the House passes it.

Only political affiliation, age, and disability would remain part of the revised hate crimes statute if the Puerto Rican House approves the new penal code and Fortuño signs it.

Pedro Julio Serrano of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force accused both Senate President Thomas Rivera-Schatz and Gov. 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 News.

'It's an outrage and now we're calling upon the House to restore this to where it should be.'

Both the island's LGBT community and Dominicans who work on the island continue to suffer disproportionate rates of discrimination and bias-motivated violence, Serrano said.

Some 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 teen Jorge Steven López Mercado, who was stabbed to death, decapitated, dismembered, and partially burned in November 2009.

His killer claimed to have mistaken him for a woman, and to have reacted in anger when he discovered Lopez was a man. The case was never investigated or charged as a hate crime.

Three other LGBT Puerto Ricans - Alejandro Torres Torres, Karlota Gómez Sánchez, and Ramón 'Moncho' Salgado - were found dead within a 72-hour period in June this year.

The U.S. Justice Department issued a harshly critical report on the Puerto Rican police department in September, citing an inadequate response to hate crimes as one of the Puerto Rico police's numerous deficiencies.

The Puerto Rico Department of Justice's own reports indicate that prosecutors have yet to convict anyone of a bias-motive crime on the island.

Puerto Rican Rep. Héctor Ferrer and Sen. Eduardo Bhatia joined LGBT and Dominican activists at a press conference on December 4 to criticize the proposed revisions.

'To eliminate these groups as protected categories is to invite the commission of hate crimes in Puerto Rico,' Ferrer, told Vocero newspaper. 'It is a setback in the country's public policy.'

'In an advanced society, this is dangerous for society,' Bhatia told a Primera Hora reporter.

Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who lived in Puerto Rico before he attended college in Chicago, noted the island's spiraling homicide rates as he blasted the proposed provision.

'To say this is appalling is an understatement,' he said. '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.'

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