18 Killed in Wave of Homophobic Violence in Puerto Rico

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 In the past year and a half, 18 LGBT individuals have been killed in Puerto Rico. Those murders include a frightening surge in violence over the past week, in which three people were found murdered in the span of 36 hours.

“We haven’t seen this spike in violence against LGBT people since the ’80s, when we had a serial killer who killed 27 gay men,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, communications manger for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force who’s currently working from the island.

The details of the crimes are grim, according to a press release from the Task Force. On Saturday, June 4, Alejandro Ponce Ponce was found stabbed to death. Then on Monday, Karlota Gómez Sánchez, a transgender woman, was shot to death in Santurce. On Tuesday, Ramón Salgado was found dead near a highway in Humacao. The New Civil Rights Movement has compiled a list of all 18 victims over the past year and a half. That list includes the high-profile murder of 19-year-old Jorge Steven López Mercado, whose dismembered body was found alongside a desolate road in November 2009. Though a suspect was eventually convicted in that case, authorities have been much slower to investigate similar crimes.

In the wake of these attacks, LGBT activists and allies on the island and in the mainland United States are rallying to address both the short and long term crises that face Puerto Rico’s queer community. First, they’re calling for authorities to investigate the crimes under the island’s decade-old hate crimes law, which includes protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Second, they’re calling for an end to anti-gay rhetoric from some of the island’s high-ranking conservative lawmakers and religious leaders, who activists allege are inciting a climate of hate.

The political climate has grown considerably more hostile for LGBT individuals in recent years. In 2010, Republican Gov. Luis Fortuño aggressively worked to strengthen the island’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. But activists on the island say that’s just the most formal effort in a wide-ranging attack against the island’s queer community.

“Part of the problem is we have a government that’s been silent on these murders,” said Serrano. “The president of the Senate has called LGBT people ‘twisted’ and ‘mentally ill’ and that incites violence.” He added: “Also we have religious leaders that have been using language that also incites that violence, and we hold them accountable for these crimes as well.”  Read more here.